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Our South African Journey Begins

This Business of Farming

Farm tour will see broad range of agribusinesses over next two weeks

Published on: December 3, 2013

Flowers.

Not a bad way to begin an exotic journey into a land most of us only dream to see firsthand.

Yet, here we were, bleary-eyed from a 14-hour flight from New York, shaking off the jet lag to visit Krugersdorp and South Africa 's largest privately-held... flower farm.

This is the first Farm Futures tour to this continent, and we are once again in the capable hands of Tiffany Trump, of Trump Tours, Bentonville, Ark. We consist of 16 hearty travelers, many of whom have traveled with Tiffany and myself on past tours to China and Brazil. Many of these farmers say visiting Africa was something on  their 'bucket list' – me included. This will be my 33rd country and the first time I've ever stepped foot on African soil.

Chrysanthemums, carnations and gerbera fill the greenhouses at Zanthe Flora, one of South Africas largest flower farms.
Chrysanthemums, carnations and gerbera fill the greenhouses at Zanthe Flora, one of South Africa's largest flower farms.

Jan Breeweg, managing director and owner at Zanthe Flora, greets us with a hearty, booming laugh. Right away we learn he is Dutch, one of the early pioneering people to settle this country. He immigrated here in 1974 and started building greenhouses on this farm in 1989. In 2007 he and his wife Wimke bought the business.

With 30 acres of flowers – mostly carnations, chrysanthemums, gerberas, zinnias, peonies and hydrangeas – this place is huge by any measure. Breeweg estimates the flowers are worth around $68,000 per acre per 'crop.' Cut flowers will be sold in Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.

A Dutch settler, Jan Breeweg came to South Africa in 1974 and bought the flower farm in 2007.
A Dutch settler, Jan Breeweg came to South Africa in 1974 and bought the flower farm in 2007.

Business plans

Our tour consists mainly of corn and soybean farmers, but they still connected with Breeweg and his business. How much labor did he need? How did he keep the flowers alive during the cold season? What about fertility?

Turns out Breeweg uses contract labor and needs upwards of 7 workers per acre to manage the flowers. The minimum wage is $10 per day, including room and board, but the federal government is planning to hike that to $15 per day just prior to next year's election. Some foremen earn as much as $100 per day.

He samples soil every 6 weeks and uses dairy cow manure as well as commercial fertilizer mixed with water and sprayed during irrigation. Steam from a boiler goes into the soil once manure is applied to kill any weed seeds or other contaminants.  They only use electricity for irrigation; the main energy need is for heat. They use 5 million liters of water per day, heated to 149 degrees F.

The Zanthe Flora farm is highly labor intensive. Workers here earn from $10 to $100 per day.
The Zanthe Flora farm is highly labor intensive. Workers here earn from $10 to $100 per day.

And at the end of the day Breeweg can look around and see some of the most beautiful 'crops' you can possibly imagine.

Not a bad way to make a living.

Before this is over we're going to make stops that should be really familiar - corn, wheat, cattle and dairy - and some that will seem wildly exotic. Think, mangos, penguins and big game. Tomorrow we'll be headed to Bapsfontein and the Chalmar Beef Feedlot, with a feedlot capacity of 18,000 head and a further 10,000 cattle on pasture.

Stay tuned for more updates from South Africa.