An economic analysis of the factors that affect the success of new freehold growers in the South African sugar industry.
Floyd, Warren N.
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The South African (SA) Sugar Industry is committed to transformation in land ownership and supports the SA government's target to transfer 30% of freehold sugarcane land to previously disadvantaged individuals (PDls) by 2014 via the land market under the willing buyer/willing seller principle. The medium-scale farmer scheme for emerging commercial sugarcane farmers, which was introduced in 1996 to help redistribute commercial sugarcane farmland to PDIs is an important component of the SA Sugar Industry's land reform strategy. The average financial performance of emerging commercial farmers (now called New Freehold Growers or NFGs) in the SA Sugar Industry was below that of large-scale commercial farmers during 1997-2007 (real average annual net return per hectare of R390 versus R3 075 in 2007 Rand). Given that this trend raises concerns about the long-term viability of NFGs, the first aim of this study is to identify factors that distinguish between successful, less successful and unsuccessful NFGs using a stratified random sample of 96 NFGs in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) surveyed during July-November 2008. These NFGs were classified according to whether their mortgage loans were current (successful), in arrears (less successful) or in the process of legal action (unsuccessful). Student t-tests indicate that successful NFGs, on average, had statistically significantly more experience in farming sugarcane, larger farm sizes (proxied by average annual gross farm income), greater solvency and liquidity, and larger areas annually replanted to sugarcane than the less successful and unsuccessful NFGs. The successful NFGs also placed relatively more emphasis on computerized record keeping systems that can save time in conducting production and financial analyses to improve farm profitability. They also on average tended to make more use of their own financial record keeping system in addition to the services of bookkeepers, and used more risk management strategies than unsuccessful NFGs, in particular having off-farm investments and keeping cash and credit reserves. A multinomial logit model of factors affecting the sample NFGs' mortgage loan repayment status estimated that extension contact, production and financial risk management capacity, farm financial and production management ability, own record keeping and cash management, and having more sugarcane farm experience to operate larger farm sizes were key determinants of successful loan repayment. The results suggest that policy makers can promote the viability of NFGs by (1) encouraging them to manage solvency and liquidity levels and implement replanting schedules in line with industry norms (e.g. debt:asset ratio of 0.5 or lower, and the replanting of 10% of the area under cane (AUC) per annum); and (2) facilitate the transfer of adequate size farms (expected annual gross farm income can meet annual loan repayments) in commercial transactions or transactions funded via government grants to farmers who have the relevant farming experience. New Freehold Growers are also encouraged to build business relationships with industry support staff, implement good record keeping practices, and develop strategies to manage risk (e.g. off-farm investment and holding cash and credit reserves). The second aim of this study was to document the NFGs' perceptions of the scheme and industry role players in order to identify what aspects could be improved for both current and future farmers. The results suggest that most sample respondents (84%) can identify with, or have experienced the relatively low current returns (cash flow problems) usually associated with the early years after land purchase, while about 60% of the sample NFGs would have preferred to first lease their land before buying. Future NFGs, or the beneficiaries of other land reform initiatives, must be informed that an investment in land has low current returns relative to capital growth and that the annual profit from farming is low relative to the land value. The possibility of leasing could also be considered for future land transfers to NFGs or other land reform beneficiaries to help manage the liquidity constraints associated with land purchase. Ninety-nine percent of the sample NFGs felt that it was important for new farmers to have a mentor. Post-settlement support thus needs attention from industry role players, and a sustainable mentorship programme could, in part, meet this need.
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