It Takes Flexibility, and a Village …

I’ve often heard business moguls liken their businesses and its phases to that of a child. Of course, I raised my eyebrows at that because I was raising real children and couldn’t see the similarities. Now that my children are almost grown and I have a business in nappies, the parallel is haunting. Having launched in 2016, SugarBytes is still an infant and having a 2-year-old “in the house” is exhausting work. It seems to attract danger and requires constant supervision. Waddling off down the wrong road, stopping to pet the “big worm with a frog in its mouth”, taste-testing everything not nailed down … how do they survive!?

The truth is: it takes a village! And, being a ‘single parent’ of SugarBytes, I have a real need for the ‘village’. I have found that in so many people: the ones who give me their time, wisdom and guidance free of charge – you know who you are, and I hope you know that I am eternally grateful.

So, what has brought on this nostalgic interlude? I gave today as the day that I would publish the list of 2017 Top Farmers. Despite having done everything I can to deliver that, I can’t. After having beaten the daylights out of my ‘child’ for the non-delivery, I tried the softer approach of visiting her teachers. Having been brought up on hidings first and questions later, this came naturally but I promise all the pacifists out there that I will try to mend my parenting methods and ask questions first next time. So, what did the teachers say?

  • “Your timing is all wrong. The sugar season runs April to March, so why are you asking for results midway through February?” To which I meekly scratched my head and stared blankly. Clearly confused by the fact that 2 of the mill group areas have managed to deliver their lists of top farmers to me, so why can’t they all … I was reminded that each Mill area is very different and, for the sake of uniformity, I should work with the annual cycle that is common throughout.
  • “There’s too much going on in the industry. How can you expect anyone to spend time on this?” uuhhmm … what’s going on? And that’s when I learnt all about the SACGA / SAFDA debacle. I am sure you all know a lot more than I do, but, for anyone else who’s been under a rock, here’s a summary:

Basically, without going into the political minefield of discussing what lead to this, there’s now a new farmer representative group called SAFDA – SA Farmers Development Association (whereas previously there was only SACGA – Canegrowers). Farmers must now choose which body they would like to belong to. Because there are now two farmer groups (and legislation has opened the door for there to be others as well), a consolidated group has been formed that will represent them all to SASA – this is called CFF (Cane Farmers Federation).

NB: There are many other minor tweaks like name changes but those are all details we won’t bog you down with now.

Here are some questions I had (maybe you share them) and the answers I got:

  1. Do you HAVE to belong to any of them? Yes. There are functions performed by Grower Representative bodies (like SACGA or SAFDA) that benefit the industry as a whole – free (fence) rides are not an option.
  2. How will the ‘fees’ be paid? Before, SACGA was paid from the growers share of the industry revenue and then the RV price established and growers paid out accordingly. Now, no deduction will be made from the growers share of the industry revenue. The RV price will be established first and then the farmer’s chosen grower representative body paid at that point. In picture form …

  1. How much will the fees be? SACGA does not anticipate much of a change from the R3,27 per tonne it has needed to cover costs to this point but nothing is cast in stone as at 23 Feb 2018. I asked SAFDA what they anticipate their fees will be and will update this newsletter with any feedback I receive from them.
  2. What services will be offered? Again, for now, SACGA will not be changing its offering from what they are doing currently. And … hopefully SAFDA will give me feedback on their plans soon …
  3. When will this all go live? SACGA is up and running, offering business as usual. SAFDA …
  4. Who are the people behind the organisations? SACGA will continue operating with the current Board of Directors. Below is a little introduction of the leadership as I have gleaned from research. That will hopefully be added to as soon as SAFDA furnishes me with their leadership details.

How does all this affect SugarBytes?

So, as you can see (and know), there’s been a little shake up, distracting everyone from my “all important Top Farmer lists” …  I have also encountered resistance to supplying any kind of list. I thought we were all okay with identifying and celebrating the “top” farmers but it seems I was wrong. By nature, the word “top” requires a ranking. Ranking has to be based on something – either objectively, through a quantitative formula (performance data), or subjectively, through someone’s judgement. I have always recommended that it be done objectively, by using the formula tonnes X RV / total hectares under cane but that requires someone to work the figures and deliver a list … this makes some people nervous because of POPI (Protection of Personal Information) contraventions etc. and some people just battle to find time for the task in their already jam-packed schedules. So, how about the subjective option? Ie: supply a list of Top Farmers based on your knowledge of the players. This makes people even more nervous as no one really feels confident enough to decide who makes the list. I’ve come to accept that it’s not going to happen.

So, how do I know who the best farmers are? Who is worth interviewing? Who should the other cane farmers be learning from?  (Can you hear the deafening silence?) Million dollar question right here. Right now, I only see one solution: I am going to have to remove the word “TOP”. And bring you articles on farmers, who are worth learning from, based on innovation, work methods, pioneering, ground-breaking, simple excellence or just really interesting stories! Which has always been the motivation behind finding the Top Farmers anyway. I feel a new company mission statement coming on … new, because I haven’t had one before … and there’s no time like now to put that right …

So, in the interests of sustaining this initiative and being able to bring you more interesting articles, we will no longer publish a list of “Top Farmers”, instead, we will simply continue to search out the best farmers we have and bring you stories full of innovation, excellence and good old great advice, along with a smattering of insight into their history and current situations.

Thank you for your continued support of this initiative that is always going to be geared towards the excellence of sustainable sugar cane farming.

Next fortnight we’ll bring you the first of 20 farmer profiles to be published in 2018. As there are 6 areas participating in SugarBytes this year, we will focus on getting you 3 enlightening and interesting stories from each of them (Gledhow, Sezela, Umzimkulu, Pongola, Maidstone and Darnall) plus two extras.

As always, I am open to all (my village) your input on raising my youngster into someone you’ll be proud to be associated with for a long time to come, so keep the communication flowing.

Sweet salutes,