An oft-asked question of the Godbold family, who founded the Zuluflora Group in 2013, was what prompted their initial foray into protea-farming in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands – a region not traditionally associated with proteas, and certainly, protea-growing.
Originally a dairy enterprise, the shift to cut-flower production at Haycroft Farm in Hilton, where the first real commercial protea cultivation in KwaZulu-Natal was born in 2003, can be attributed to various ‘push’ factors – and even, to some extent, to serendipity – but changing farming conditions was perhaps the single greatest catalyst.
The initial seed for protea farming in the KZN Midlands was in fact planted by a few local protea hobbyists. Miles Godbold, the family patriarch, takes up the story: “They had been growing proteas for several years with varying success but without large commercial aspirations. Nevertheless, this got me thinking whether we could turn their pioneering efforts into something commercially viable in KZN that could rival the Cape producers.”
As fate would have it, Miles’s musings coincided with the sale of his agricultural contracting business, which he had operated for 20 years. Seeking new challenges, he decided to take a closer look at cut-flower production, which had been successful in Zimbabwe, albeit on a smaller scale.
He travelled to Holland to study the sales end of the supply chain and was staggered at the sheer size of the flower industry. Follow-up visits to protea growers in the Cape, Zimbabwe, Australia and New Zealand further convinced him it was a venture worth pursuing.
Reinforcing this was the sage advice of a Zimbabwean friend, who told him: “If you want to farm in Africa you have to produce something that earns hard currency, an exportable product.”
Looking back on Zuluflora’s success from its fledgling start in 2003, Miles concludes: “What I underestimated was the capital requirement to reach a meaningful size in the industry and my mistakes were many, but Zuluflora has grown to a size I never envisaged in the early years.”