THE GROWER WHO TEACHES PEOPLE TO READ AND WRITE
A partnership that has been growing since day one. That description is how the South African company Schoonbee Landgoed sees the working relationship with Aartsen. The grower describes itself as a business with citrus fruits, grapes and people. As it stands, the grower indirectly takes cares of some 10,000 people. In this 'Supplier in the Spotlight', we talk with Gert Upton, the company's marketing and sales manager.
Most valuable asset
Limpopo, the northernmost province in South Africa, is home to the lush Loskop Valley.
Schoonbee Landgoed's picturesque farm is located in the heart of the fertile valley. Citrus
fruits and grapes are cultivated on 3,000 hectares. The farm employs 700 people on a permanent basis and an additional 1,300 during harvest time. Its employees are considered its most valuable asset. 'We always say: we're a farm with citrus fruits, grapes and people. If we take good care of our employees, they will do the same for their family members. Thus, if we employ 2,000 people, we indirectly take care of 10,000 people.'
At Schoonbee Landgoed, 'taking care' extends further than paying employees a monthly salary. The company supports schools in the region and is currently building its own health clinic. In addition, the company is in the planning phase of building a training centre to help employees with basic skills such as reading and writing. “We also want to pass along our farming-related expertise”, says Gert Upton.
Source of inspiration
Mutual trust is important in the company because it makes employees feel involved. This idea was conceived by Gert Schoonbee, Gert Upton's grandfather. He founded Schoonbee Landgoed in 1971. In the beginning, his focus was on tobacco, cotton and corn. Later, it became fruit. Gert Sr. was a remarkable man who received numerous awards. He was chairman and member of various committees in South Africa's agricultural sector. Moreover, he was a man who never gave up and constantly challenged himself as well as the people around him to do better. Although he died in 2011, his mindset lives on in the company. 'He inspired many people in terms of work, but he also instilled confidence in a lot of people. Working with him wasn't always easy; he was very results-oriented. However, he loved the employees, which had a positive effect within the farm', Gert Jr. said. Today, the quality he engraved in the people are seen in the second and third generation managing this family-owned farm.
Special packing facilities
During the 1990s, Schoonbee Landgoed took the lead in the region's grape farming operations. The first grape harvest was packed in Gert Sr's garage in 1994. Today, the farm boasts 380 hectares of lush vineyards under net covering, which supplies an extensive range of the best seedless and seeded table grape varieties available in the world. This exciting growth pushed the existing facility to the maximum. A new 8.000m² packing facility was required. Production capacity was increased to more than 1.1 million cartons annually. Expansions to the current 11 000m² citrus packing facility are also planned to assist with
the planned 3 million cartons annually.
Schoonbee Landgoed’s oldest citrus orchard dates from 1981, when the founder Mr Gert
Schoonbee planted the first valencias. His aim was to transform Schoonbee Landgoed into
a reputable citrus producing and exporting farm. Today the blossoming citrus trees are standing proud on 850 hectares of premium citrus growing land in the Loskop Valley, producing a high yield of novel varieties, carefully selected for their production ability and world class eating experience. The subtropical climate in the Loskop Valley also allows for good colour and brix favoured by buyers worldwide. The packing facility is adjusted annually, in order to accommodate the anticipated production growth. The company aims to maintain its leading position
in South Africa this way.
Meeting with Aartsen
Schoonbee Landgoed exports fruit to 33 countries in Asia, America, Europe and elsewhere. Gert met the Aartsen team during the Asia Fruit Logistica trade fair in Hong Kong in 2015. A new partnership was created. 'The season for Asia was too close to start working together for that part of the world during 2015. However, we were able to start in
the European market.' Since then, the partnership has expanded. Last year, Schoonbee Landgoed produced citrus fruits and grapes for the Asian and European markets on behalf of Aartsen. The company operates under its own ‘Schoonbee Landgoed’ brand.
Gert describes the working relationship as fantastic. 'This partnership has been growing since day one. We reinforce each other, maintain good contact, are on the same page and can be direct. It's one of our best working relationships and we look forward to the future'. According to Gert, Schoonbee Landgoed is a good partner for Aartsen because the company is able to farm year-round. 'This aspect allows them to work with a single grower while knowing that the grapes and citrus fruits are of the same high quality.'
South African humour
For this issue of nonstopfresh, the theme is humour. Gert is an articulate man who enjoys a joke. But he is not the only one; in South Africa, humour plays a key part in everyday life. 'To us, the South African government doesn't always take the right decisions, so we make a joke about it. Our humour is very open and direct.' Consequently, Gert's jokes do not always make sense in other parts of the world. 'You may find yourself in an awkward position as a
result; after all, you're making a joke that isn't funny to them as they don’t understand the context thereof', says the marketing manager with a laugh.
He thinks that South Africa is a wonderful country. Most of all, he loves the people, the weather and the nature. 'It's a fantastic place and we're very proud of having the privilege to be part of it. There is so much potential for this country. Thousands of people from other countries live here, creating a world in one country. It brings about a fascinating diversity in a sympathetic country.'
Continued growth together
He sees a bright future for Schoonbee Landgoed. Over the next three to five years, the company wants to sell up to 20 per cent more. 'At the same time, we're looking into whether selling blueberries, apples, avocados and nuts would be profitable.' And how does he envision the partnership with Aartsen in future? 'The growth in recent years clearly shows the potential for continued growth together. We can ensure the timely growth, packing
and transport of the fruit that the Aartsen team needs.'
IN SOUTH AFRICA, HUMOUR PLAYS A KEY PART IN EVERYDAY LIFE