A Dynasty Grows
For almost 100 years, the SIS Farming Group has been a staple in Southern Africa’s agriculture landscape. Based in Middelburg, the farm, a family run business, is now being led by the third generation of the Hyman family. Succession plans are underway for the next leader and the farm hopes to corporatize its business in the next 5 years.
“We are in a capital accumulation phase to expand vertically in the supply chain,” says Desmond Hyman, Managing Director, SIS Farming Group. “The farm is currently perfectly balanced in its use of its assets to produce income for shareholders. Our vertical integration into exporting will be the next growth phase.”
The farming group is known for its world class products which include maize, corn, cherry, apple, beef and potatoes. A priority for the farm is to expand its potato growing business into Africa, with Mozambique being a prime objective in the next 5 years.
Almost a Century of Feeding South Africans
Hyman says that in order to ensure the continued success of his family business, it’s crucial to “maintain a certain level of skills and management” at the farm.
“Business grew in the last 20 years that we’ve been here,” he says. “We built a state-of-the-art feed factory to feed our cattle, plus we built our own grain silos and added autopilot and GPS on our tractors.
“We’ve embraced a lot of technology in the last few years to tread water and keep pace with everybody else. I think if you don’t embrace the technology, you are just going to go backward and not survive. Farming is becoming harder and harder.”
Hyman says that the farm sets itself apart from its competitors because of the skills base they have. He adds that it wouldn’t be successful without his staff, some of whom have been there for longer than 20 years.
Staff is Like Family
“The farming has been built around them. Without them, this wouldn’t have been a success,” he says. “We never could have done this on our own. Our whole management structure, from bottom up, everybody has bought into the idea.
“People don’t only see this as a job, they see it as home. We’ve got people who worked for my father in the 1960s and now their kids are working for us.”
To support its staff, SIS Farming Group has been meticulous with providing services which enrich their daily lives. They have constant training for all staff members, in health, safety and general work related issues.
“We have an onsite clinic for staff members,” says Hyman. “This makes it easier for staff that lives on the farm to access primary health care and HIV support.
“We have a computer room and Internet access and have made this available to the children of farm workers. This has assisted them with their projects and homework. We will be looking to employ a teacher to add value to the children’s homework.”
Pride and Honesty Key
Hyman says that pride for one’s work is the single most important characteristic that drives people to succeed in farming and that he hopes his peers would describe him as honest and as an asset to farming in Southern Africa. He says that he is inspired by J.R. Simplot, an American farmer, who started his own farm at just 20 years old. The Simplot enterprise became the largest shipper of fresh potatoes in the United States and it made billons after the company became the primary provider of frozen French fries to the global fast food giant, McDonald’s.
It’s obvious that farming to Hyman is more than just a business but rather it is his calling. He says he used to watch his father work on the farm and that he loved to help him. Even after he left for university, he came back as soon as he could.
“I grew up here. I went to primary school until Grade 7 and I went to high school and university in Johannesburg,” he says. “I got married and came back to the farm and have been living here ever since…I was raised here so it’s sentimental, but we’re industrious farmers.”
With succession preparation on-going and plans of expanding into the rest of Africa underway, the next 100 years for SIS Farming Group will be without a doubt momentous and beneficial for the industry and for the continent as well.