The Zylem Story – How It All Started

The Zylem Story – How It All Started

At Zylem, we have been providing agricultural technical services for almost three decades. But where did it all begin? And how have our services evolved and expanded over the years?

Read on to find out more about our story…

Farming runs in the blood of Zylem’s founder and managing director Justin Platt. Justin grew up on a farm in Mooi River in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, where his father ran a dairy herd and grew cash crops like cabbages and butternut. It was a small, intensive farm, where Justin and his two brothers got up to all sorts of adventures.

After school, Justin studied a BSc in Plant Pathology and Botany at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which furthered his interest in plant life and the science of crop production.

It was while working for Bayer and Cyanamid in Johannesburg that Justin became aware of the hazards of working with agrochemicals and realised some pitfalls of conventional pesticides.

In 1990, Justin started Zylem and began working as an agricultural consultant.

Rooted in potatoes

Our first large contract with Rainbow Chickens opened new doors for us. In 1991, Justin met with the managing director of Van Rijn (agriculture and irrigation electrical service experts in the Netherlands) and agreed to represent their potato business in South Africa.

To this day, we still represent the interests in Southern Africa of Netherlands-based potato breeding companies. We are currently responsible for varieties owned by Stet Holland B.V, which is based in the key potato-breeding area of Emmeloord, and Plantera B.V, located very nearby. We administer the breeding programmes for new and registered potato varieties as well as manage their contract seed potato growing.

The scope of our expertise includes both the development and commercialisation of potato seed for consumer and commercial purposes.

The philosophy – and science – of balance

In 2004, Justin came to hear about Brookside Laboratories Inc.’s (BLI’s) superior technical services and lab equipment, and he also felt aligned with their agricultural philosophy. He visited the lab in Ohio, USA to undergo consultant training and has been involved with the organisation ever since. Today, Justin is one of a handful of Southern African-registered consultants for the internationally-respected facility.

BLI offers an outstanding analytical service for highly efficient and professional testing of soils, leaf matter, fertilisers and water. Justin continues to rate their equipment and analytical processes as some of the best in the world.

Brookside’s ‘Philosophy of Balance’ completely echoes that of Zylem’s. It emphasises the enhancement of the relationship between soil health, plant health and animal health through understanding the interdependency of their chemical, biological, and physical environments.

Today, the technical support via the superior analytical services of BLI is one of the critical advantages we offer our growers and consultants. We have access to BLI’s Soil Health Tool (S019), which has revolutionised the effective analysis and amelioration of soil utilising an integrated approach that combines chemical and biological test data.

A serendipitous meeting on soil health

As our company continued to flourish, Justin noticed a growing awareness of the need to farm more sustainably. It was a serendipitous meeting with Graeme Sait of Nutri-Tech Solutions (NTS) that really cemented his resolve to develop a business around our concept of: ‘Soil Health, Plant Health for Human Health’.

In 2005, Graeme Sait conducted his first series of soil health seminars in South Africa, hosted by Zylem. Since then, educating farmers, growers and the general consumer market has become extremely important to us, and our regular seminars have become sell-out events.

As NTS’s Southern African representative, we advise growers on the effective use of NTS’s products, several of which are imported or manufactured here under licence and sold throughout South Africa by our distributors.

Run in the family

As we continued to grow and expand on our services, Justin was able to convince his wife Gill to join the business in 2005, and she has never looked back since. Gill added a Business Management Diploma to her marketing and PR skills and the dynamic duo now makes a formidable team – Justin with his ‘big-picture’ ideas, vision and technical knowledge, and Gill with her administrative and managerial skills.

Supporting the future of farming

We are continually inspired and motivated by our partners, growers, consultants and other players in the agricultural industry to source or produce innovative products and services, which will assist them to be more profitable and effective in their sustainable farming endeavours.

Our vision is to provide an integrated service to agricultural and horticultural communities in the region, facilitating cost-effective, sustainable biological farming practices, with the assistance of professional services such as BLI; and by researching and developing new, improved products. Our farmers will benefit from this innovation, and greater economic opportunities for previously disadvantaged communities can be created by continually researching new technologies and biological inputs.

With a passionate and motivated team at our helm, we firmly believe that our whole country, and the entire African continent, can benefit from improved soil and plant health, which secures the future of producing more nutrient-dense crops more cost-effectively.

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