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 Spotting opportunities where others see difficulties


 Many of the most hard-nosed business people would see the South African agricultural sector as frightening space to operate in, with rocketing minimum wages, unionisation, climate change, uncertain markets, the scrapping of farm subsidies, extreme seasonality and constant disruptions caused by technological advances, among other difficulties.

For Wynand Haasbroek, however, the sector is teeming with opportunities. The 35-year-old entrepreneur based in Paarl has over the past nine years taken probably the most difficult aspect of farming – people management – and turned it into a thriving business. The core business of Haasbroek’s Boland Agri Personeeldienste (BAP) is to provide labour to farms in the Winelands out of his pool of 400 well trained and well managed farm workers.

Today, the business counts some of the most prestigious company farms in the region among its clients – Distell, Simonsvlei, Ova Mira and Asara Wine Estates. Just in the last year the business has doubled, and has diversified into three divisions. One provides trained workers who do everything from planting, pruning and harvesting in the vineyards. Another division provides workers who specialise in bottling and labeling at wine cellars, and a third provides full farm management services.

Haasbroek has come a long way since 2006, when he started BAP with R1 000 in his bank account and an old Isuzu bakkie with 300 000km on the clock.

His childhood was steeped in agriculture and entrepreneurship seems to run in his veins. Haasbroek grew up on a farm where his father worked as a manager, and he spent his days accompanying the farmer on his rounds. When he finished school – an agricultural school, of course – his family gave him the option to study further, but the entrepreneur in him decided to rather jump at the chance of starting a courier business with his uncle in Cape Town.

Haasbroek says it was exciting to build the company, but the experience confirmed for him that his passion was in agriculture. A year or two later he was back in the Winelands, about to embark on a “degree” in agriculture. The opportunity came in the form of an ex-patriot German who desperately needed help with establishing and managing his wine farm, and appointed Haasbroek as manager.

Haasbroek found himself on a massive learning curve. “It’s one thing to have learned at school how to plant a vine. It’s altogether a different challenge to plant an entire vineyard so that it is perfectly square. I was knee-deep in the mud teaching myself how to put in irrigation systems.”

Another formative force in Haasbroek’s career was Vinpro, a non-profit association that provides information, training, and consulting services to the wine industry. As a member, Haasbroek was able to stay at the forefront of local and international best practice in the industry, and today the institution plays a crucial role in the training of his staff.

Within a few years, the workload changed from establishing the farm to maintaining it, and Haasbroek’s entrepreneurial spirit started wandering. He was keenly aware of the shock waves that had shaken the industry as labour legislation tightened, unionisation increased and minimum wages tripled. One of the many skills he learned as farm manager was working productively and enjoyably with farm labour, and he saw a clear opportunity in providing it as a specialised service to farmers.

A large part of the service is take on the pain of labour compliance and red tape so that the farmer does not have to deal with it, but it goes beyond administration. BAP prides itself on the fact that it provides motivated, hard-working, well-trained and productive teams to their clients. The only way in which it can be done consistently is for the company to genuinely care for its workers. Fairness, strong ethics, safety and empowerment are the fundamental values driving his work and that of his team of skilled managers and overseers, says Haasbroek.

It did not take long for him to land his first contract from a large corporate wine farm in 2006, and since then one of his main challenges has been to keep the cash flow healthy even as the contracts started pouring in. Every new contract means more recruitment, equipment, management and transport costs, and of course a wage bill that would make any entrepreneur’s eyes water.

It helped that many of his clients pay on a weekly basis, but the corporate farms mostly work on a 30-day cycle. There came a point where the annual increase in overdraft facilities at his bank simply was not enough to finance his growth, and Haasbroek approached Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) for a working-capital injection.

Now BAP is ready to continue with its steady growth. Haasbroek sees lots of room for growth of its existing core services, but he never stops looking around for opportunities to diversify.

He has just returned from France where he studied the latest developments in vineyard mechanisation with the view to developing a division that provides machinery such as tractors and harvesters to farms that are too small to afford buying them.

He is also looking into a division to buy up bulk wine from cellars to export under his own label. He looks forward to the day when we will have conquered the whole of the industry, from the planting of vines right through to the marketing of the final product




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