Raymond Koopstad is a farmer going the distance – African Farming

Wanting to grow produce is something that is either in your blood or it is not. It’s always been part of Raymond Koopstad’s make-up. Through perseverance he is now an export producer of deciduous fruit in the Witzenberg district, earning the respect of his peers. Gerrit Rautenbach paid him a visit.

Raymond Koopstad’s journey into agriculture took many turns, but strategic partnerships made it work splendidly. Eventually. Raymond and his wife Mary’s farming on La Vouere near Ceres in the Witzenberg Valley began in 2003 when they purchased the 110ha farm with government LRAD funding in the 30 member La Vouere Trust that consisted mostly of family members.

With funding from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, the Trust planted their first peaches in 2004. Although the project was successfully mentored by Adrian Wolfaardt of Verdun Estates near Prince Alfred’s Hamlet, some difficult years made them realise that the business model was not sustainable.

“We either had to sell the farm or grow in a new direction,” explains Raymond. In 2015 Raymond and Mary bought out the other shareholders and parted on good terms. A new company, La Vouere (Pty) Ltd, with Raymond and his immediate family as shareholders was established.

At the same time Witzenberg PALS was launched, a private initiative by a group of commercial farmers in the Witzenberg district that wanted to reach out to black farmers to assist with the successful transformation of the fruit industry. The project’s objective was to form commercial partnerships with black farmers offering mentorship, training, linkages with the market and other support systems to successfully grow their businesses. It was at PALS that Raymond met his previous mentor’s son, Peter Wolfaardt.

“Because of my relationship with his father I approached Peter and Georgina Hewitt about our plans to restructure the farm. We eventually formed a partnership on both the production and marketing levels.”

The partnership is called La Vouere Stonefruit (Pty) Ltd with La Vouere (Pty) Ltd as the majority shareholder that provides the water and the land and the minority shareholder is Verdun Estates that provides mentorship, marketing, packing infrastructure, technical and administrative support. Peter and Georginia helped Raymond with water and soil analysis, budgets as well as orchard and variety planning.

“Our family has been farming in this region for decades and this is the first time we have established a business relationship with someone outside our family. We are excited about the future of this business partnership and see this as a potential template for future agricultural partnerships aimed at promoting land reform,” Peter said.

Raymond also received a grant from the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Project Allocation Committee (CPAC), managed by Hortgro.

“This well-timed and helpful capital injection meant excellent infrastructural upgrades. We were also granted Jobs Fund funding and were able to plant 15 hectares of mostly export variety nectarines in August 2017,” Raymond explained.

“The trees have grown very well and we had our first harvest in November 2018. Verdun Estates packed and marketed the fruit through their established marketing channels, such as Stems, a South African Stone Fruit supplier to premium local and international markets and programmes with local retailers.”

Their farm is 110ha in total and during 2017 they established 15ha with a further 4.5ha in 2018, topped by an additional 7.9 ha the following year, bringing the total to 38 ha. Most importantly, this expansion created jobs in the area.

They did not plant any new orchards in 2020-’21 as they were waiting on new varieties to be released and also to mature the 38ha of plantings. It was a rough four years in establishing the new development.

“Some local skeptics frowned when we started planting these orchards while it was so dry but as the trees have received the water and nutrition they needed to be established successfully,” Raymond said.

“The harder I try, the luckier I get,” goes the famous Gary Player quote. “So, it was in 2022 that an extra piece of land with very good water became available,” Raymond explained.

“But the only way to afford it was to finance it. My partners, the Wolfaardts have been dealing with FNB for a long time. Their good name and connections were key to the outcome of this transaction. With the newly acquired water we were able to plant an additional 18 ha of stone fruit. Which in turn resulted in more jobs.”

Yet again proof that all good farming businesses have partnerships at their heart. At the Deciduous Fruit Industry Gala awards in 2019, Raymond Koopstad received the New Generation Award for his exceptional performance and intelligent decision-making as a new entrant to the deciduous fruit industry.

“Koopstad is living proof of what can be achieved when beneficiaries of land reform who are serious about agriculture are provided with solid partnerships and adequate support,” the judges stated.

For a few years Covid-19 derailed the Gala awards, but it was back in splendid form on 31 March this year. This time Raymond Koopstad won the Value Chain Breaker Award for his success in the export industry.

“Through hard work and dedication La Vouere is now a farm exporting deciduous fruit of note, especially after recently extending the operation with an additional 18 ha stone-fruit development. Which in turn resulted in more job opportunities,” noted the judges this time.

“I am privileged to work as a farmer in the fruit industry. The agricultural sector and the fruit industry are well positioned to drive inclusive economic growth, food security, job creation and better social cohesion,” was Raymond’s response. All proof that Raymond is not only here to stay, but he’s going the full distance.

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