This month I thought I would talk about the whole year rather than the month, as we have just had our AGM.
Looking back, I suppose it has been a difficult and frustrating year, although immensely enjoyable so I didn't notice. We had a simple plan. Raise about 10 billion Rupiah and plant15,000 vanilla orchids. We actually raised 2 billion and planted 12,000, making a total of 15,000.
The lack of money has made life difficult but this can be blamed partly on Covid. Instead of the company being ready and rolling by March, it actually took till September because certain government offices were shut, from whom we required essential licences. This meant we were unable to obtain visas and work permits till October and this caused us to lose vital members of the fundraising team. It also meant the website and marketing collateral took a long time.
Nevertheless, we didn't allow this to stop us and we moved ahead strongly, planting gardens in different ways and financed in different manners as we experimented. The weather didn't help with the longest and wettest rainy season in forty years. But we planted another 12,000and we have another 4,000 waiting for the shade trees to be big enough. So, here we pretty much hit target.
More importantly, our gardens are magnificent! Garden 4, our very first raised bed, is superb. The bigger vines have up to 20 hanging branches, which will each produce 3-4 flower heads. We’ll pollinate about 10 per head, so we are looking at 400 pods per vine, which is a lot more than the 5kg we have estimated. And our pods are huge! The latest harvest gave us 90% Grade A, over15cm. In fact, we have enough over 20cmto create a brand new grade, Royal Twenty! Length is everything in vanilla, so we think this will be popular.
Our harvest was disappointing. We had 500 vines which we expected to produce, of which 74 did. The reason was the unseasonal rain, for when a flower bud is bombarded by rain it changes its mind and becomes a new shoot… Our reaction to this is to bring forward our pruning by two months, so the flowers appear and are pollinated before the rains arrive.
We have learnt a great deal about growing vanilla. Not least is the appreciation that it likes a lot more sunshine than is presumed. Some of our better vines are in pretty much direct sunlight. Our raised bed method is now our standard, for not only does it create a wall of vanilla but it is pretty much immune to the root rot which has destroyed plantations in the past and is the bane of vanilla farms. We’ve tested just about every method of growing and we’re sticking with raised beds.
This is our first KPI, can we grow vanilla and we’ve passed it magnificently.
Sadly, another innovation for which I had high hopes did not succeed. This was our laboratory where we wished to grow vanilla from seed. The entire crop was wiped out by fungus and we have discontinued the laboratory which also failed to process and cure vanilla properly. In its stead we have a traditional nursery on Garden 10 and we are experimenting with different cures. Dadap has a new scientific process we are currently testing from Thailand, not known for great vanilla. We are also negotiating with a professor from the local university who did his thesis on vanilla and has been curing it for 40 years. His dream is to make Balinese vanilla the best in the world, funnily enough much the same as ours! We are still working out how we shall work together and ironing out the details which we shall do, for he makes superb quality vanilla.
We are not giving up on the laboratory, but we shall take a different approach and look at working with the local university, perhaps funding a PhD.
Fundraising may not have gone well, but I am not discouraged for we have learnt a great deal and again done much experimenting, while working our way through enthusiastic people who claim they can sell. Our marketing materials have shifted from emotional and warm to cold and accountable. Not to my surprise, warm and fuzzy works better. We’re shifting back, while hanging on to the accountable elements. Talking of which, I attach the current ten-year projection to this email. It is rather pleasing…
We are encouraged by our new salesman, who is insisting on ridiculously high targets which he appears to be hitting…
So, have our plans changed for the future? Not really, we will plant at least 15,000 this year with a high chance of making 25,000. We shall harvest a good crop next year, maybe even as much as a ton. This is actually a hard quantity to sell… but we shall see if we can sell a suitable amount to several buyers to establish a relationship. We shall also see how well we hit our next KPI, which will be on the quality of the vanilla.
This will become the forte of our Managing Director designate, Paul Preston, who is a Six Sigma consultant and has more than 20 years’ experience as the top man in a number of fields. His expertise is ensuring we repeat operations correctly, so once Dadap finalises how to process and cure vanilla, Paul allows us to scale up without losing quality. He will also be keeping an eye on accounts and legal compliance and making sure the company runs perfectly. We have a new lady, Lia, who actually has Quick books experience, who is keeping the accounts in order and ensuring tax compliance. Andi continues to do the administration.
We have formed a Board of Directors to govern the company. The motion has been passed and will happen. We just need to amend the Articles of Association and I am really waiting for Paul to oversee this, as not my forte.
One final question I can answer; why we haven’t started testing any other crops. Simple answer, no budget. We have some great ideas, but they must be tested before going forward.
There are some great things on the horizon, and please keep an eye on our emails, website and Facebook page to know what is happening.
With best wishes for the coming year
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