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Next Generation Farmer Series: Ricard Myburgh

Ricard Myburgh, a 25-year old apple and pear farmer from Vyeboom in the Western Cape, was crowned the Toyota New Harvest of the Year 2017.

The young Ricard who has been farming on the family farm, Cortina Farms, for the past five years, was crowned at a gala event on October 19 in Centurion. Ricard is the fourth Toyota New Harvest in a row from the Western Cape deciduous fruit industry.

Louise Brodie spoke to him shortly before the big evening.

Cortina Farms is situated at beautiful Vyeboom, between Villiersdorp and Grabouw in the Western Cape and this 54-hectare top fruit farm was bought by the Myburgh family in 2000. Ricard’s parents Richard and Yvette Myburgh are originally from Pniel but subsequently moved to the farm where they have developed 40ha of orchards as well as sizable fruit packing, marketing and transport business.

After matriculating from Stellenbosch High School and completing a two-year Diploma Course in Pomology at Elsenburg College, Ricard joined the family business in 2013. “I am passionate about farming and agriculture in general,” explains Ricard. “There has never been any doubt in my mind about what career I wanted to pursue so joining the family farming business was just part of the natural progression for me. I am committed to the success of our farm although I work hard to achieve this, I would not want it any other way,” says Ricard with a broad smile.

“My main responsibility is managing the farming production process. We have 40ha of orchards and currently, the farm produces between 6000 and 6500 bins of apples and pears annually. Of this, 50% is for export, 40% is class 2 fruit and 10% goes to Elgin Fruit Juices. While I am mainly on the farm, I also assist with the packing and marketing business from time to time.”

Besides the farming business, Cortina Farms also has an apple and pear storage, packing, transport and marketing business on the same premises.  The Myburgh family’s roots were originally in domestic market fruit trading and they continued and expanded this business at Cortina Farms, buying class 2 fruit from local pack houses and growers. Today Cortina Farms has five Controlled Atmosphere storage rooms and supplies the South African domestic market with apples and pears throughout the year. The company incorporates the transport function and has a fleet of Freightliner trucks which deliver the fruit to markets across the country.

“I am very positive about the future of agriculture and believe that our sector really offers many opportunities for young people,” says Ricard. “South African farmers are generally quite old and we truly need young people to bring young thinking and new ideas into the sector. Farming is by no means the only career in agriculture as growers need a wide range of fundamentally important support services. Agriculture is increasingly embracing technology and this requires agricultural scientists, engineers and many other specialists as service providers. The field that offers a range of opportunities to young people and yet it is often overlooked.”

Ricard is also proactively facing current production challenges and has travelled to other production regions to investigate possible solutions first-hand. “I have recently visited apple production regions in Italy and the USA to investigate the new varieties and rootstocks available and also to study the advances in production methods. One of our challenges is that our climate has become warmer and we need new low-chill varieties to cope with these changes. We are also investigating the availability of dwarfing rootstocks as we need to start producing smaller trees that yield exceptional volumes of high-quality apples and pears to replace older large tree varieties which are not necessarily good bearers. I also plan to trial narrower spacing planting practices to possibly increase productions. We also need to consider mechanisation and to do this we need to plant our orchards in the required way to make this possible. I plan to start trialling these methods in the near future.”

“Despite my positive attitude to our industry, I am very aware of the big challenges we face. Right now the drought is the biggest problem facing agriculture in the Western Cape and we really never expected this to become this serious. We will have to plan very carefully and see this through to the best of our ability. Our export fruit faces also increasing pressure in our international markets and the exchange rate fluctuations also pose further challenges to our sustainability.

“I believe that we do not receive the level of government support that agriculture needs, both to expand our productions and productivity as well as to remain sustainable and competitive in the world markets. This has a negative effect on South African competitiveness when we compete in the marketplace against other Southern Hemisphere countries who receive good support from their governments.”

“Throughout my life, my parents have been remarkable role models to me. They run the business and I work closely with them.  I have grown up working on the farm or in the packhouse during holidays so I knew what to expect when I started here. I have two younger brothers and a sister and my brothers both plan to join the family business.

“Rural living is quiet but I do have some good friends in our farming neighbourhood and we socialise when possible.  Despite our busy schedule on the farm, I find time to do some mountain biking as well as motorbike riding and playing golf. More recently I have also started camping end really enjoy this as a leisure activity.

“I am very excited about the nomination and selection as a finalist in the Toyota SA/Agri SA National New Harvester competition. It is really an honour to have been nominated and has been a great motivation to continue improving our farming practices.”

Ricard Myburgh (second from left) receiving the 2017 New Harvest of the Year award. With him in the photo is prof Carlu van der Westhuizen (judge), Chrismaine Abrahams (Hortgro) and Leon Theron (Toyota SA).

The other deciduous fruit Toyota New Harvest winners were:

  • 2014 – Trevor Abrahams (Trevor’s Boerdery, Ceres and Wolseley)
  • 2015 – Jacky Goliath (De Fynne, Wellington)
  • 2016 – André Cloete (Altius Trading, EGVV)
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