Fruit farmer André Cloete runs his company Altius Trading on leased land in Genadendal in the Western Cape. Photo: Carmé Naude
Fruit farmer André Cloete runs his company Altius Trading on leased land in Genadendal in the Western Cape. Photo: Carmé Naude

André Cloete vividly remembers the moment when, as a six-year-old farmworkers’ son, he decided that one day he would own his own farm.

He was sitting with his peers and their mothers, listening to a daily radio drama. Peter Micklem, who owned the farm Cloete grew up on, arrived on a motorcycle, riding in a standing position. This impressed the small boy so much that he excitedly told his mother that he wanted to be like Micklem and own a farm one day.

However, despite a lifelong focus that has seen him earn the Toyota New Harvest of the Year award in 2016 and build a successful farming business on leased land, the 54-year-old from Grabouw in the Western Cape has yet to achieve his dream of owning a farm.

He has the option to buy the farm that his currently leasing in 20 years’ time, when he will be 75. “I feel exhausted and the years have flown by. I turn 55 this year and for the past 10 years we’ve just invested, invested and invested in this farm. I’ve even written to the Minister of Agriculture to ask if I can buy the farm, because when I die I need to leave something behind to my three sons.”

André Cloete. Photo: Carmé Naude

Cloete cultivates a number of apple varieties, including Rosy Glow apples and Peckham pears. Apart from the 38 hectares of apples and 20 hectares of pears, he also keeps 1 000 Dohne Merino sheep and his planted 300 hectares of barley and oats.

He was born and raised on a farm in Grabouw, where his parents were farm workers. This is where his love for farming was born. He boasts that at 13 years old he was the foreman of his young team working on the farm.

“We called Micklem master and he played a key role in my journey. He was a role model for me, when it came to all things farming,” remembers Cloete.

“When I grew up in the 70’s, you returned from school and had to chop wood. When harvesting season came you were picking apples. During that time age didn’t matter, we enjoyed it and we were paid well.”

This award winning farmer’s life could have taken a totally different direction after matriculating in 1985, when he was accepted to study mechanical engineering. His high school principal, however, suggested he study agriculture, seeing that it was a subject he had known all his life.

“My passion for farming and the dream kept calling. That’s why I opted to study agriculture.”

Despite having his heart set on studying agriculture at Elsenburg Agricultural College, this was not an option for people of colour at the time. Cloete instead completed a two-year diploma at Kromme Rhee College of Agriculture in 1988. The following year he specialised in irrigation design systems at the then Cape Technikon.

For six and a half years Cloete was employed by Elgin Co-op, first as a surveyor and then as assistant irrigation designer. Later he became the manager, overseeing the irrigation systems on 350 farms.

In 1993 Cloete moved to the farm Sutherland, where he worked as a farm manager until 2007. Here he managed 100 hectares of fruit orchards, but never lost sight of his childhood dream to have his own land. He started looking for a smallholding or communal land where he could start farming, but no opportunity arose.

During this time the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform just launched their Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development programme, but Cloete disapproved of the concept. “There were too many people making decisions and the failure rate of the programme was way too high,” says Cloete.

Soon thereafter the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) programme came into existence, providing the opportunity to lease land from the Department of Rural Development. Cloete says that although he met all the criteria he was unable to gain access to the programme.

Cloete and his wife Charmaine. Photo: Jacqui Taylor
Cloete and his wife Charmaine. Photo: Jacqui Taylor

In 2008 he approached Capespan for assistance and, with their support, a lease agreement for land in the Genadendal area was obtained through the PLAS programme. Capespan is an international fresh fruit production, procurement and logistics group of companies that exports fruit to over 60 countries.

Unfortunately the land was allocated to Capespan and not to Cloete. He was appointed manager of the farm, Klein Ezeljacht for the first time. In the second year, after further negotiations, he received a caretaker’s agreement from the Department of Rural Development.

The Department agreed to buy the farm without providing the capital for the acquisition of the moveable assets, which included 640 sheep, four tractors and a number of implements. Capespan provided the necessary R1,87 million through a bridging finance agreement and created a new company, Altius Trading, to facilitate the agreement.

Although Cloete did not have a bad relationship with Capespan, he wanted to be his own boss. He returned to the Department of Rural Development to apply for a rental agreement in his own name. He was granted a rental agreement on a year-to-year basis, if he could reach an understanding with Capespan.

In 2010 he received the first funding for the project, which was not nearly enough to buy Altius Trading from Capespan.

During this time circumstances with the company became intolerable. “They appointed a new mentor who wanted to teach me how to prune and thin trees, something that I had been doing for years.”

The first year on the farm, Two-a-Day, a deciduous fruit growing, packing and marketing group of companies, gave Cloete an advance and he could continue without an overdraft. He later approached them to subsidize the purchase of the company Altius Trading.

In 2011 Cloete obtained a loan from a commercial bank with the support of Two-a-Day and he bought the company. He has a lease agreement with the Department of Rural Development, with the option to eventually buy the farm at the end of it. That is still 20 years in the future.