Mega success with Merinos
08:51 (GMT+2), Mon, 20 June 2011
Andries Pienaar and his son Jacques run their award-winning Mega Merinos in three countries. As part of the Middelburg Farmers' Tour, Robert Southey visited them to learn what makes their operation exceptional.
Andries Pienaar and his son Jacques need no introduction – over the years, this family, their registered Mega Merino stud and their staff have covered the walls in Andries’ study with dozens of awards. The Pienaars have been farming on Klipplaatsfontein in the Colesberg district for 123 years, and the Mega Merino Stud is 103 years old.
Warmly greeting the Middelburg Farmers’ Tour, Andries and Jacques shared with us their story of hard, committed teamwork, business strategies, marketing tips and staff training. “I don’t work,” says Andries. “I live my dream!” And that attitude has paid off. Andries was nominated as SA Farmer of the Year in 1985. At 36 years old he was the youngest ever winner, at a time when there were 64 000 farmers in South Africa, compared to the current 33 000.
Son Jacques was 35 when he was named SA Young Farmer of the Year in 2006, and in 2010 they jointly won the Sheep Farmer of the Year award. The achievements of their staff testify to the time and effort put into training and encouragement.
Lessons in business
The Pienaars run five Merino businesses: Mega Merino Stud, a flock empowerment business in Hanover, an irrigation pasture farm, Mega Merino Australia and Mega Merino New Zealand. “Farming is not a lifestyle anymore, we need to see it as a business,” says Andries. “Optimum productivity will keep us on the farm. Make your costs productive, analyse the output divided by input. Poverty is a state of mind, not of money.”
He stresses the importance of keeping up with inflation. When Andries started farming, 500 ewes could support a family. Now it takes 1 500, and the original 26 farmers in the lower Seekoei River area have dropped to six today. “The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad explains the Law of 72, where you divide 72 by the inflation rate, to give you the time in which you need to double your income to keep ahead and survive. So at an interest rate of 10% you’d have 7,2 years. We’re challenged regarding what we’re planning, what steps we’re taking, to make sure our farming businesses survive,” Andries explains.
But each generation has its challenges. “Our grandfathers had the Boer War, the depression, then the Second World War. This is not the most difficult time ever.” Andries’s five key performance indicators are marketing, finance, product, factory, people. “Technology plays a large part and we need to be on the cutting edge. In Australia a man will shear 300 sheep/day, but in South Africa, the same man would shear 30 sheep/day.”
He believes agriculture’s biggest weakness is marketing. “Marketing will propel us into the future, and farmers need a professional to do their marketing for them.” Andries met John Joubert, a director of Coca-Cola, during the Mega Merino centenary in 2007, and John impressed upon him that although Coke is world-renowned, the company still markets the product 24 hours a day.
Branding can also protect a farmer’s product because it guarantees quality. During Andries’ travels overseas, he found that all types of fibre are sold as wool, producing scratchy, coarse garments that can only give wool a bad name. The Pienaars therefore brand their wool as “Charisma Fleece”, used in superior woollen garments worldwide. Their Merino lamb is also branded as “Shepherd’s Selection”, and they dream of opening a chain store. Their brand assures consumers of quality – Mega Merino carcasses win many inter-breed competitions.
Contact Andries Pienaar on 051 753 3000, or visit www.megamerinos.co.za.
Read more about \'mega\' Merinos, veld and feeding, and needing each other in the 17 June 2011 issue.
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