Message from John Firth

John Firth is a 5th generation Firth, current CEO of the Firth Group. Other farming divisions within the Firth-family farms include: Maquassi Spruit Pecan NutsHighlands CycadsFirth Red Brangus, Firth Wagyu and Hillcrest Game Estates.

Dear fellow farmers, friends and readers

As we begin to transition towards Lockdown Stage 4, it’s apparent that we’re moving into rough uncharted waters. It’s real: we’re heading into the post Covid-19 era—the dawn of a new way of doing life and business.

Since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, a seismic disruption to our previous way of existence continues to take place. It’s no wonder there’s been a resurgence in YouTube visitors listening to the popular R.E.M. track, It’s the End of the World as we know it. This R.E.M. single was released in November of 1987 (when I was but a teenager stepping into adulthood).

Right now, farmers everywhere might be experiencing mixed sentiments surrounding the imminent future that they see unfolding before their very own eyes. Thankfully, for some—like the wine farmer—there may be renewed positivity as news of the easing of export restrictions allows their product to reach overseas markets. On the other hand, the ongoing local prohibition of alcohol sales might cast a dampener on their mood, as wine stocks remain in warehouses and shelves until who knows when.

For others, there might be feelings of trepidation as they are forced to contend with the implementation of the intricate set of Covid-19 protocols intended to keep their labour force healthy and their businesses compliant. In this regard, even the slightest misstep could see their entire business operation being shut down by the authorities.

For most of the past month, our management team, advisory board and Exco have regularly been meeting online via Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Planning and charting the way forward has been key. Never before has agility been such a powerful driver in our decision making. The Oxford dictionary defines agility as: the “ability to move quickly and easily” and the “ability to think and understand quickly.” In the context of our management planning and response, the application is twofold: as farmers, in order that we might respond both quickly, yet easily, we first need to think and understand quickly. In other words, time is of the essence—no longer do we have time to delay on the implementation of change.   

As we transition and transform towards this new post Covid-19 era, a totally new set of business and farming best practices are likely to evolve. Exactly what these might be, we still have to wait and see. They’re rapidly beginning to form and take shape at this very moment—like the ever-changing shapes of cumulonimbus clouds in the sky. However, with God’s guidance, we’re able to confidently adopt a proactive approach to this transformation process: we must take the bull by the horns and seize control. We need to decisively deal with whatever it is that needs to be done in order to move forward. In other words, it’s unwise to simply sit back passively and allow the situation to take control of us. To do so would be to allow these seismic changes to dominate us—to mould and shape us in a way that would not be desirable, healthy or good.    

For the Firth Group (inclusive of the Hillcrest Game Estates farming division), one of our pivotal best practices, is to concentrate on fostering the establishment of solid, mutually beneficial stakeholder partnerships with varied interest groups—environmental organisations, educational and research entities, commodity groups, non-profit organisations, government departments, local communities and other farmers. Relationships will be key in the post Covid-19 era.

Gone are the days where the principle of ‘survival of the fittest’ dictates our dealings in the business world! Gone are the days where one’s business competitor is to be regarded as the enemy! Gone are the days where a ‘business as usual’ ethos serves as the platform upon which operational farming strategies are built!

I close with these words: Farmers everywhere, be encouraged—All will not be lost in the post Covid-19 era. In fact, to be honest, I feel curious and courageous for what’s to come.  As the lyrics in the R.E.M song go on to say: “It’s the end of the world as we know it … and I feel fine.” 🙂 👍🏻

Warm regards

John Firth


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