The Corner Post
In this new series, The Corner Post will feature the mentors who form part of the Grain SA mentorship programme. A mentor is that person who gives you advice on how to achieve your own goals and dreams.
Although Solomon Masango from Carolina was only employed as a mentor for a period of four months – from October 2016 to February 2017 – the mentorship programme had a tremendous impact on his own life. ‘I like farmers and love farming and therefore I want people to do the right thing when it comes to agricultural practices,’ he shares. The changes he saw in the lives of these farmers as they became more successful meant he couldn’t just walk away. After his contract expired he decided to stay involved and visits them as often as possible. ‘I love being a mentor. When you teach others, you learn,’ he says. ‘If you see a problem someone else experiences, you can learn to avoid it!’
Winning leads to losing
Solomon was the humble winner of the 2015 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year Award. He was also the first to receive a huge prize from sponsors John Deere Financial in partnership with Absa. Unfortunately, this prize, a John Deere 5403 48 kW tractor, led to a huge family dispute, which eventually saw him losing the land on which he had been farming for five years. After working hard to ensure fertile soil and producing good crops, the disagreement amongst the family made it impossible for him to continue farming there. However, he feels blessed that he has managed to find land to rent from neighbouring farmers – 150 ha from one farmer and 80 ha from another. Here he farms with maize, soya and sugar beans and also has some beef livestock. Although he has had to start over again, he admits that farming is his passion and no stumbling block can change that.
‘The soil on this farm is rather acidic and not very fertile. On the previous land, I had worked hard for five years to build the soil to produce a good yield,’ he shares. Where he had achieved a yield of about 3 t/ha on soybeans, he is now expecting only 500 kg/ha to 800 kg/ha this season. Fortunately, the outlook for the maize is more positive with a possibility of 6 t/ha tot 8 t/ha seeming feasible. ‘Unfortunately, the price has fallen, so I am not sure how I will do. Times are tough now, but I know that hard work will produce results,’ he says.
Three steps to successful farming
To Solomon the three most important aspects of farming he tried to share with the group, are the following:
- A farmer must know his soil, as the type of soil determines what can be planted. Take soil samples and have it analysed, know the pH of the soil and when to add fertiliser or lime. Soil is like a child. Just as a child can’t grow without food, soil can not initiate growth if it doesn’t receive nutrition. Solomon believes soil gives back what you put in. If you want your soil to deliver a good crop, you have to feed it.
- You cannot plant just any kind of seed. You must know what you can expect from the kind of seed that you use. Make sure you know how labour intensive the process will be, how much diesel and fertiliser will be used and what yield you can expect. If you plant the wrong kind of seed, you will waste money.
- Keep the fields clean. Weeds kill the crop. If you want to plant maize, there should just be maize on the land and no grass or weeds. Keep lands clean as dirty lands means lower yield.
After sharing this advice with a group of 32 small farmers in the Breyton area in Mpumalanga, he has had very positive reports from them. Excited farmers are sharing the news of an increase in their yield from 1 t/ha to 4 t/ha or even higher. ‘My part was just to teach them to make sure their soil is ready before planting,’ he says. Seeing the difference these improved production practices made on the yield obtained by these farmers has given him hope and made him more positive about the future of his own new venture.
Solomon was so enthusiastic about his role as mentor that he even utilised his own tractor and implements to help with the soil preparation on their land. ‘It was great to help grow small farmers and as they had no implements and I had received mine as a gift, I had to share it with them,’ he says. He says once you share in the success of the group you are mentoring, you want to continue being involved in the process. ‘I was taught and now I want to teach,’ he adds enthusiastically.
Following his own advice, he should be able to build up his new farming enterprise and reach his previous high standard again within a few years. As one of America’s previous presidents, Lyndon Baines Johnson said, ‘Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.’
This month’s edition of The Corner Post was written by Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication: July 2017