South African agriculture company ZZ2 is one of the largest growers of fruits and vegetables in the country raising produce for domestic and international markets. Owned and operated by the van Zyl family, ZZ2 employs close to 10,000 people and has farms “Cape to Cape” in the southern part of the continent.

The van Zyl family traces their South African farming roots to 1702 when Williem van Zyl purchased a farm in Franschhoek.

The ZZ2 name harkens back to when the family purchased the “ZZ2” brand to identify their cattle in 1906. At that time brands were being sold by the government to help raise funds for the Boer War in South Africa.

Today, Tommie van Zyl heads the company as CEO for a business that is owned by two family trusts.

ZZ2 has evolved from a cattle ranch into the largest producer of tomatoes in the southern hemisphere. The tomatoes are grown on 2,000 hectares (4,940 acres) of open farm land at 11 different farms and 150 hectares (370 acres) in net houses on 4 farms. 

“We probably have 50% of super market sales for tomatoes in South Africa, but tomatoes only make up 10% of our business,” van Zyl says.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal)
 

Other fruits and vegetables grown on the farms include:

  • Onions, grown for the domestic market on 300 hectares (741 acres)

  • Avocados, are raised primarily for the export market on 800 hectares (1,976 acres) at five different locations

  • Mangoes, are managed with a special set of gene blocks for breeding and grown on 150 hectares (370 acres)

  • Deciduous Fruit, is capital intensive, but it is a stable market and is open to exports. Three farms have 200 hectares (494 acres) of fruit such as pears and apples

  • Cherries, 12 hectares (29 acres) of trees on three farms produce fruit that are flown for export to Hong Kong and in the near future there should be access to China

  • Medjool Dates, are grown on a 100 hectare (247 acres) farm in neighboring Namibia and are primarily exported to the Middle East

There are packing facilities at many of the farm locations where the produce is packed for transport across the country and world.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal)
 

Cattle are still a part of the operation with ZZ2 running the largest Pinzgauer breeding farm in the world. PinZ2yl cattle are another breed that ZZ2 has developed by breeding Pinzgauer and Nguni, creating a more heat resistance animal for the warm weather in the country. There are 6,000 cattle in the cow-calf business.

(Wyatt Bechtel/Farm Journal)
 

Van Zyl points out that ZZ2 is not the typical South African farm. “Instead of being a farm that handed down to the next generation my father created a company.”

His father and two uncles formed a partnership to maintain the farming enterprise as one family company rather than splitting up farming acreage amongst themselves.

“That led to the foundation of where we are now,” van Zyl says. “The business can only survive if there is a customer that wants our products.”

Fortunately a focus on quality produce has helped raise the awareness of the company’s ZZ2 brand and it has continued to move the farm forward from cattle ranching into vegetables and fruit.