Former seasonal worker wins top farming award

Vivian Jakobs of Crispy Farming recently won the Western Cape Agri Prestige Awards Competition of 2023. Glenneis Kriel went to find out more about this inspiring farm manager.

Former seasonal worker wins top farming award
Vivian Jakobs (left), the Agri Prestige Awards Winner of 2023, attributes much of his success to his mentor, Jacques Visser.
Photo: Glenneis Kriel
- Advertisement -

Vivian Jakobs says that when he was growing up on the farm Wanganella, which has since been renamed Beste Wens, in the Warm Bokkeveld, people at school in Ceres used to look down on him; they did not expect him to amount to much in life.

Jakobs believes this was because he was a farmworker’s child, just like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him.

READ Making the most of the Cripps Red

- Advertisement -

But he has proved them all wrong by working his way up from being a seasonal worker to becoming manager of one of the farms belonging to Crispy Farms, in which the Dutoit Group has a 49% stake.

Jakobs inspects Summerfire nectarines as they arrive in the packhouse. Photos: Glenneis Kriel 

Farmworkers, including himself, have a 51% stake.

On top of this he was recently crowned winner of the Western Cape Agri-Prestige Worker of 2023, which means Jakobs has won a cash prize and an educational trip overseas worth around R80 000.

Jakobs has also become a member of an elite forum consisting of previous winners of the competition, that regularly meet with the Western Cape agriculture minister to discuss matters affecting farmworkers and the agriculture industry.

A valuable tool

“I knew I did not have the financial means to study after matric, but my family equipped me with a very valuable tool: they taught me, from a young age, that you can get somewhere in life if you work hard,” he says.

After school he joined the military for two years. When he got back home, work was scarce so initially he was a contract worker on farms.

He admits it was not always easy to motivate himself to go to work, especially on very cold or hot days: “On those days, I would remind myself that I was doing this work to provide for and create a better future for my family.”

READ Farmworker’s son now a premium wine producer

After three years of doing seasonal work he was appointed as a permanent general worker at the table-grape farm Swaarmoed in 2000.

This was a great step up but also an adjustment: “Even though I always worked when work was available, I usually only worked for seven to eight months a year.

“Getting used to the idea of having less time off was quite difficult.”

He was paid about R33 a day. “It was not much at the time, but it was enough to get us through and taught me to be grateful and appreciate what I have.”

After only four months in the job, Jakobs was promoted to assistant foreman, with eight people working under him in the vineyards. In that same year, he was asked to help in the packhouse, and two years later was promoted to packhouse manager.

He would work in the packhouse in the picking season and in the vineyards the rest of the year.

Strong support system

Jakobs identifies Jacques Visser and his wife, Ilze, as two people who made a major contribution to his career success.

“Jacques and I met while we both worked at Swaarmoed. Whenever I hit a challenge and did not know how to solve something, Jacques was ready with advice and support, while his wife, Ilze would go out of her way to identify courses at the Koue Bokkeveld Training Centre that I could do to fill knowledge gaps.”

Jakobs is in charge of one of Crispy Farms‘ production units in the Ceres Valley.

Visser, from his side, says that Jakobs stood out from the first day he met him: “Jakobs was always the first to put up his hand when something had to be done; he is intelligent, hardworking and a fast learner. More importantly, he has a good heart for people, which makes him an incredible leader.”

But their path split when Visser moved on to another job.

Jakobs says he felt a little angry with Visser for leaving him behind, and at the time, after 10 years at Swaarmoed, decided to pursue a career outside agriculture in construction.

Three years in construction was enough to make him realise that agriculture was the thing he really wanted to do.

“It is difficult to appreciate agriculture for what it is when you grow up in a house where everybody works and breathes it. I needed some distance to fully understand what it meant to me.”

During this time he also realised he enjoyed a challenge and the diversity that comes with agriculture: “I get bored when I’m doing the same thing day in and day out. I love that every season is different and brings its own challenges in agriculture.”

Fortunately for him, Visser was working at Crispy Farms at the time and was looking for an assistant production manager.

READ Getting the best out of pear orchards

“I wanted to offer Vivian another job earlier, but the jobs did not pay enough. The assistant production manager job was perfect for him and offered good career prospects.”

Jakobs was promoted to junior farm manager only a few months into the job, and two years later, in 2018, was promoted to production manager of one of Crispy Farms’ farms, Coshla, which has 68ha under apple and pear orchards.


Jakobs believes that by improving himself, he is benefitting people who are appointed above and below him.

“You need to take the people who work under you along on your growth path, as you will not be able to increase tonnage and fruit quality if you don’t. People who do their job well truly are the biggest contributor to fruit production success.”

While Jakobs owns a share in Crispy Farms via the farmworker trust, he dreams of having his own farm one day so he can leave a legacy for his children.

Visser points out that they have been looking into ways to realise this dream, but so far had been unable to identify a workable solution because of the high cost of land and the cost of establishing new orchards.

“It costs almost a million rand per hectare these days just to put up a new orchard under nets, and takes more than four years before such an orchard will yield any income,” Visser explains.

Jakobs says agriculture is a highly underrated sector: “People often feel sorry for farmworkers and make them out as being disadvantaged. Farm work, however, is one of the only jobs where you can still build yourself up from nothing by being consistent and doing your best. It is also the ideal job if you don’t want to sit in the office all day.”

Email Vivian Jakobs at [email protected].

Previous articleKranskop Merino Stud Production Sale
Next articleDrop in diesel price welcomed
Glenneis Kriel is a senior agricultural journalist for Farmer's Weekly. Her ventures into agricultural journalism started out by chance, more than 20 years ago, when someone suggested she freelance for the magazine, which turned out to be her dream job. Her passion is to write stories that inspire greatness and make people evaluate the way they are doing things.