Following months of behind-the-scenes drama, Agri-Expo has appointed a new general manager, Breyton Milford, to usher in “a new era” at the oldest agricultural society in South Africa.
Milford’s appointment, announced earlier today, follows the early retirement of Agri-Expo’s former chief executive, Johan Ehlers, last year. Insiders tell Food For Mzansi that Ehlers was at loggerheads with the organisation’s council over a process that eventually led to the retrenchment of ten employees.
These employees include Isabeau Botha, its corporate communication manager, and Eunice Joubert, the marketing manager who is also the Xhariep regional chairperson of Agricultural Writers SA.
In its new structure, posted on Agri-Expo’s website, the only remaining employees are Milford, financial manager Wynand Wessels, financial secretary Liezel de Villiers, and farm crew supervisor Richard Lumko. That means Agri-Expo now only has three full-time employees based at its office and one on its farm. Its board, however, remains 15 people strong.
Agri-Expo president Pieter van Wyk says, “We unfortunately had scale down on projects not generating a profit, as well as some very knowledgeable and skilled staff, but people that Agri-Expo can no longer afford to employ. We had to bring our expenditure in line with our income.”
The organisation says the “inevitable restructuring” was due to “significant losses due to projects not generating a profit during the past couple of years, as well as the poor economic climate.”
Agri-Expo, whose registered name is the Cape of Good Hope Agricultural Society, adds that its council is excited about Milford’s appointment. As the former operations manager, he is no stranger to the agricultural sector.
Milford says, “I believe that this is a new era in Agri-Expo’s history. We will have to follow a back-to-basics approach. To ensure sustainability, all new projects will have to pass a strong affordability and relevancy test while promoting agriculture. I look forward to refocusing and streamlining Agri-Expo.”
Cheese festival axed
Agri-Expo further confirms that only some of the agricultural events for which it has become known has survived the chop. This includes the SA Dairy Championships, the SA Young Wine Show, support for agricultural schools and its member shows.
While Van Wyk does not explicitly mention this in the media release, Food For Mzansi can confirm that the SA Cheese Festival has been cancelled along with Agri-Expo Livestock, the Western Cape Youth Show Championships and many other events.
Meanwhile, at least three former Agri-Expo employees tell Food For Mzansi that the lay-offs have been “a rather unpleasant” experience for many.
A senior staffer, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity, says, “It was a bloody battle between showmen and the council, and the big loser was agriculture in the Western Cape. They did not really understand nor respect the work that was put in over years.” Another adds: “We were not in financial trouble. Nothing was unsuccessful. All that has happened is Covid-19 which has led to two difficult financial years. What are they going to do with all the money?”
Van Wyk, however, describes the retrenchment process as “dynamic and interactive”. He adds that affected staff members have already received “fair and above average” redundancy payments.
“If we did not make these hard decisions now, in approximately 10 years’ time, this 192-year-old agricultural society would have had to close its doors. We thank the staff who left our employ for their dedication and skilled service to Agri-Expo and the wider agricultural industry.”
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.