Lucerne king of the Karoo sets his sights on mega sheep feedlot

The story of Cor­nel Land­man shows what can be achieved through good busi­ness sense and sheer de­ter­mi­na­tion. He told Glen­neis Kriel about his farm­ing en­ter­prise, which grew from hum­ble be­gin­nings.

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents -

As a school­child grow­ing up in Oudt­shoorn in the Klein Karoo, Cor­nel Land­man, the owner of Karoo Lusern, al­ways kept a few sheep or cat­tle. He started mak­ing veni­son bil­tong for hunt­ing par­ties when he was only 16, and even had a few goats that sup­plied the milk for the milk tarts his grand­mother used to sell.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing school in 2009, he was un­able to af­ford ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, let alone re­alise his dream of own­ing a big sheep feedlot. In­stead, he started work­ing for Wil­low­more farmer Ger­hard Janse van Rens­burg, from whom he learnt much about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of live­stock pro­duc­tion.

In 2012, how­ever, Janse van Rens­burg re­ceived a good of­fer for his land, leav­ing Land­man with­out a job or a place to keep the 80 Boer goats, 120 sheep and 40 sows he had ac­cu­mu­lated. He there­fore sold the live­stock and used the money to buy a bakkie, to “at least be mo­bile”. (The ve­hi­cle was sold ear­lier this year with 560 000km on the clock.)

His next step was to rent 22ha un­der lucerne from a farmer near Oudt­shoorn.

“In ret­ro­spect, I should have started my own op­er­a­tion when I left school,” he says. “Farm­ing in Wil­low­more, how­ever, boosted my con­fi­dence. It was most prob­a­bly the push I needed to do my own thing.”

CRE­AT­ING A MAR­KET

Land­man started small, ini­tially rent­ing equip­ment. He steadily planted new lucerne and bought his own equip­ment as his cash flow im­proved. As he be­came more fa­mil­iar with the in­dus­try, he re­alised that there was “more to the lucerne mar­ket than just plant­ing and mak­ing de­liv­er­ies”.

With the out­break of avian in­fluenza in 2013 and the re­sul­tant culls, many os­trich farm­ers in the Klein Karoo found them­selves with a sur­plus of lucerne.

See­ing an op­por­tu­nity, Land­man rented a se­cond-hand feed mill with the ca­pac­ity to process about 12t of lucerne a day, and be­gan buy­ing the farm­ers’ sur­plus. Af­ter hav­ing it graded (se­cond- and third-grade), he used the mill to process a mix­ture of grades with a high enough pro­tein con­tent to sat­isfy the re­quire­ments of the feed com­pa­nies. They, in turn, used the meal to pro­duce feed pel­lets.

By 2014, Land­man’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion had im­proved so much

that he was able to se­cure a loan to pur­chase a new mill with a 70t/day ca­pac­ity.

He also bought a large square baler, which pro­duces bales of about 750kg each. He uses this on his land and as a ser­vice on the lands of his sup­pli­ers.

“Trans­port­ing round bales works out at about dou­ble the cost of square bales, be­cause you can only load about 16t of round bales on a truck, in com­par­i­son with 30t to 32t of square bales. It makes a huge dif­fer­ence, con­sid­er­ing we trans­port be­tween 1 200t and 2 000t of lucerne a week,” he says.

To­day, Karoo Lusern pro­duces an av­er­age of 240t of lucerne meal a week, em­ploys 100 full-time staff, and owns five Scania trucks.

“I was scared of go­ing into the trans­port busi­ness but re­alised I had to if I wanted to of­fer quick and re­li­able ser­vice,” says Land­man.

The de­mand for his prod­uct is so great that he also rents 520ha and buys lucerne in from more than 50 farm­ers, not only in the Klein Karoo but also North­ern Cape re­gions such as Dou­glas, Hopetown and the Orange River.

“Buy­ing in lucerne from a wide ge­o­graphic area re­duces pro­duc­tion risks and in­creases the qual­ity of our prod­uct,” he ex­plains.

With the on­go­ing drought in the Klein Karoo, he cur­rently sources most of his lucerne from the North­ern Cape.

ADAPTION AND EX­PAN­SION

Land­man has switched to lucerne seed pro­duc­tion as it re­quires less than a third of the wa­ter needed by or­di­nary lucerne.

His clients have also un­der­gone a shift. Where feed com­pa­nies used to be his main clients, he now also sup­plies prime-grade lucerne and lucerne meal to farm­ers across the coun­try and in Namibia. Small vol­umes are ex­ported via Al­phaAlfa, a large ex­porter of the crop, to the Mid­dle East and Saudi Ara­bia.

The Chi­nese mar­ket is due to open to lucerne from South Africa, pend­ing fi­nal gov­ern­men­tal agree­ments, and Land­man is keenly await­ing this event.

“The qual­ity re­quire­ments for the Chi­nese mar­ket will be much lower than for Saudi Ara­bia or the Mid­dle East, pre­sent­ing promis­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for South African lucerne pro­duc­ers,” he says.

He fore­sees that the open­ing of the Chi­nese mar­ket could drive lo­cal prices up by 15% to 20%.

SHEEP PRO­DUC­TION

To add value to lucerne sur­pluses, he has ex­panded pro­duc­tion to sheep, cat­tle and a dairy.

In 2014, he started farm­ing Dohne Merino sheep. To en­hance the qual­ity of his flock, he bought top rams at pro­duc­tion auc­tions and from stud breed­ers, build­ing up the flock to 2 000 an­i­mals. Re­cently, how­ever, he de­cided to al­le­vi­ate the im­pact of the drought on his op­er­a­tion, and held a pro­duc­tion auc­tion to re­duce the flock to 630 ewes.

The sheep are kept on 80ha of rented dry­land near Oudt­shoorn.

Land­man stocks his feedlot with sheep from his own flock and lambs bought in from auc­tions or other farm­ers.

At the time of writ­ing, the feedlot was filled to only half of its 12 000-sheep ca­pac­ity.

Lambs are bought in af­ter they have been weaned at eight

to 10 weeks of age and are then kept for 42 days be­fore be­ing sold at a live weight of be­tween 25kg and 30kg to GWK, Knysna Meat Whole­salers, and other small butcheries all the way from Cape Town to De Aar in the North­ern Cape.

Un­der nor­mal con­di­tions, be­tween 4 000 and 6 000 an­i­mals are sold a week.

“One of my ad­van­tages is that I’m in a po­si­tion to wait for prices to im­prove if they are not favourable,” he says.

He also owns a small butch­ery, where meat from a lo­cal abat­toir is pro­cessed.

FEEDLOT MAN­AGE­MENT

Es­sen­tial in­vest­ments when start­ing the feedlot in 2016 were a ra­dio fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID) scale and elec­tric fenc­ing to curb stock theft. Twen­ty­four hour se­cu­rity also helps to keep the an­i­mals safe.

All the an­i­mals are weighed weekly from the time they ar­rive on the farm.

“Hav­ing an RFID scale helps to re­duce stress as­so­ci­ated with an­i­mal han­dling, as the sheep ba­si­cally just have to run through the han­dling area,” he says.

Keep­ing a record of sheep weight helps him track in­di­vid­ual per­for­mance and adapt feed­ing regimes to pre­vent feed from be­ing wasted on poor grow­ers.

“I’ve started pay­ing a R1,80/kg pre­mium to farm­ers who sup­ply me with more ef­fi­cient grow­ers, as these sheep re­duce my feed­ing costs,” he says.

Land­man is in the process of buy­ing the 80ha of land on which the feedlot is sit­u­ated and has al­ready had plans drawn up for the “sheep ho­tel” he has long dreamt about. This will be in a closed build­ing with au­to­mated cli­mate con­trol to en­sure the best pos­si­ble pro­duc­tion en­vi­ron­ment.

It will be 150m long, 60m wide and have ca­pac­ity for

12 000 to 13 000 lambs.

The floors will be made of meshed cor­ru­gated iron to al­low the dung to fall out of the build­ing and ease clean­ing. The dung will be used as fer­tiliser for lucerne pro­duc­tion, as is cur­rently the prac­tice on the farm.

He is also in the process of buy­ing a 2 800ha farm for his sheep near Jansenville in the Karoo.

BEEF CAT­TLE AND DAIRY

In ad­di­tion to sheep, Land­man runs a cat­tle feedlot and a dairy. He puts about 400 an­i­mals, mainly Bon­s­maras, through the feedlot each month. In 2016 he started a dairy con­sist­ing of 123 Friesians.

“The cost of the feed we use in the dairy is about a third of what it costs at a nor­mal dairy, so we’re okay with mak­ing less money out of their pro­duc­tion. Feed­ing costs amount to about R1/kg,” he says.

STRENGTHS

Land­man ad­mits he would not have been able to op­er­ate such a di­verse op­er­a­tion with­out his “highly ca­pa­ble” staff. He has eight man­agers in charge of the di­vi­sions, each run as a sep­a­rate en­tity. “Each has to buy pro­duce at mar­ket prices from the other di­vi­sions. There’s is no cross-sub­sidi­s­a­tion.”

The com­pany’s turnover rose 52% in the fi­nan­cial year end­ing Fe­bru­ary 2015, 25% in 2016 and 31% in 2017. Turnover had al­ready in­creased by 103% in Oc­to­ber 2018. His debt bur­den ra­tio de­creased from 7:1 in 2014 to 5:1 last year.

Land­man doubts whether he could have grown his busi­ness as he has if he had started in the cur­rent fi­nan­cial cli­mate.

To­day, he says, farm­ers need to pro­duce more to keep their head above wa­ter. How­ever, it is forc­ing them to be­come more busi­ness-ori­en­tated.

• Email Cor­nel Land­man at ad­[email protected]­roo­lusern.co.za.

PHO­TOS: GLEN­NEIS KRIEL

ABOVE LEFT: Cor­nel Land­man started Karoo Lusern with a rented feed mill that had a 12t/day ca­pac­ity.ABOVE:Ac­cord­ing to Land­man, it is eas­ier and more cost-ef­fec­tive to trans­port square bales than round ones.

ABOVE:Dur­ing droughts as ex­pe­ri­enced this year, Land­man pro­duces more lucerne seed on his rented land.ABOVE RIGHT: About 400 cat­tle are put through his feedlot in Oudt­shoorn each month.

ABOVE LEFT:The mill has the ca­pac­ity to process 70t of lucerne a day.ABOVE: Sur­plus lucerne meal is used as the base for feed­ing pel­lets in the feedlot.

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