Lessons from the Sani2c

‘Unless you are able to grow your business to a size which gives it real bargaining power, there’s only one way you can fix this weakness – get together with fellow producers.’
Issue date : 10-17 April 2009

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‘Unless you are able to grow your business to a size which gives it real bargaining power, there’s only one way you can fix this weakness – get together with fellow producers.’

James and Steven were covered in mud. Their bikes were caked in it, jamming the chain and gears. Maritzburg College boys were manning the water stop and Clover water tankers were standing by with helpers and hoses to wash off bikes and riders and set them off for the next section of the event. This was the Sani2c mountain bike ride from Underberg to Scottburgh, covering 260km in three days over hill and dale, through pastures and forests, along footpaths, through cane fields, conservancies and nature reserves. Five hundred teams of two riders each with hangers-on and supporters, swelled the numbers to well over 1 000 people.

At each of the overnight stops, riders cleaned up their bikes, got them safely stored, picked up personal belongings transported for them, cleaned themselves up, had their aches, pains and bruises treated by the paramedics and physios, were fed, housed and bedded comfortably. And all this was done in the middle of farmland and countryside where there were no permanent facilities.

Large-scale organisation
Just imagine the amount of effort the organisers of this fantastic event had to put in. This included route planning, sections of which had to be specially built, permission from each landowner to bring this mob of cyclists over their property, erection of a tent town to cope with the overnight requirements of the riders and their followers, the provision of food and drink, medical care for the riders – it’s mind-boggling.
But Glen Haw, a farmer from the Underberg and his team of helpers not only do it, but do it to a standard unsurpassed anywhere in the world. But it could never succeed without the enthusiastic assistance and cooperation of farmers, their families and the communities all along the route. It truly is a team effort that brings people together. So successful has this event been that more than 1 000 riders are on the waiting list to ride the next Sani2c.

A lesson for farmers
This is just an example of what farmers can do when they have great leadership, a common vision and if they all pull together. As I witnessed this incredible event, I wondered why it is that we farmers, and particularly dairy farmers, are so often not able to do the same thing in our businesses. Do you remember Porter’s Five Forces from my last column? They are the five forces on which the success and survival of businesses depend. (Farmer’s Weekly 27 March). Diagram 1 will remind you.
It’s Force 3 – bargaining power with suppliers and Force 4 – bargaining power with buyers, where farmers are often weak. There are thousands of individual farmers, but few suppliers and even fewer buyers. Unless you’re able to grow the business to a size which gives it real bargaining power, there’s only one way to fix this weakness – get together with fellow producers.

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In industries which lend themselves to large-scale corporate farming like sugar and timber, you can build a big business with real bargaining muscle. But in something like the dairy industry, which is generally more successfully managed at sole-owner or family level, cooperation with fellow farmers is the only way.

The week before the Sani2c
I had the privilege of attending the SA Large Herds Conference in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Philippe Jachnick, from CNIEL, the National Inter-professional Centre for Dairy Economy in France, told us world milk consumption grew by a compound 2,2% per annum from 2001 to 2007. Per capita consumption grew from 96kg to 102kg over this period. Milk is a growth industry. In fact, food production is a growth industry and investors all over the world are starting to realise this. There’s increasingly more interest in agriculture as a home for secure long-term investment. Unless we leverage our combined buying and selling power, we’ll never derive the benefits of this new awakening that farming is good business. If the dairy farmers can do it for the Sani2c, why can’t they do it to build bargaining power in their businesses? – Peter Hughes ([email protected] or call (013) 745 7303).     |fw