The month of May saw the summer crops reaching their peak, as farmers were busy with many different tasks while the season drew to a close. Not only was it necessary to organise the actual harvesting of the crops, it was also important to pay attention to the logistics.
Farmers must look for the most cost-effective way to get the crops off the field and the money into the bank. Grain SA regional development managers and mentors are actively involved in these processes, assisting farmers in finding the best solutions.
The team supports the participating farmers with informed decision making and expert opinions. The organisation acts as watchdog to ensure there are no chancers taking anyone for a ride on high contracting prices or confusing marketing schemes.
During May, 129 farm visits took place, where the team assisted farmers in diverse decision-making activities which include:
Crops were monitored for moisture and readiness to harvest.
Fields were assessed to decide on the optimal harvesting mechanisms.
Contractors were sourced and negotiations were conducted where necessary.
New season planning goes hand in hand with the closing of a season, so soils are tested and decisions are made to decide which crops will be planted next. Consequently, decisions are made about the necessary treatments, such as the liming of soils and other soil corrections that must be done.
Safe storage of the crop is essential – otherwise it is a weak link in the chain and negatively impacts yields, profits and the safety of the food source. Marketing the harvest successfully can be complicated and the best options must be found for each farmer within his unique set of circumstances.
Even while it is a busy time out in the fields, the farmer needs to keep careful track of his income and expenses. It is time to balance the books, pay back all loans, honour debts and assess which crops were profitable. Some farmers find themselves in a strong enough position this year to consider expanding their hectares. This involves negotiations for access to land and necessitates the careful drawing up of new lease agreement contracts, which are important for farmers to access financial support going forward.
It is also the time of the year when drawing up accurate inventory lists must be done. This will help you see what you own, what you have at your disposal, what you owe in the big picture and what must be paid off in the immediate future. It is helpful for the budget plan for the new season to list all the inputs that are left over in the farm store from the past season.
AT GRASS ROOTS
Practical skills from courses
During May, four practical skills courses about planter and boom-sprayer calibration were held in the Dundee region. These sessions were all sponsored by the Maize Trust and Paul Wiggill, from the Bergville area, was the trainer.
Paul reported that most of those farmers plant by hand, so the training entailed the use of a backpack. ‘On the surface everybody think it is very simple, but one must follow procedures for correct results. Many people just chuck chemicals in and do not even wash the container, and some did not know how to repair the backpack if it fails, but now they do.’ He said that the farmers are willing to learn and asked many questions.
Some feedback from the farmers:
We learned how to plant according to specifications, the required distance between the seeds and the amount of fertiliser that must be applied. We also learned about the calibrations of the sprayer and how to check whether the amount of seed and fertiliser we are using, is correct.
The theory was very informative and presented in a way which was easily understood. Sums were made easy for us and we were given charts to work off, which helps a lot. We also learnt how we can measure our lands, which is important to know before you start spraying.
During the practical session, we were all involved and had to do all the demonstrations. This was good cause it made us aware of how to repair any problems we may have with the backpack.
Resilient farmers remain hopeful
Farmers are busy in the fields, so only six study group meetings were held in the various regions. The focus was on monitoring the crops in the region, learning from the season as it draws to a close and planning for the new season.
Driefontein Study Group members farming in Mpumalanga met with their mentor, Timon Filter from the Louwsburg regional development office, on 17 May. This area struggled with the rainfall this season.
Many fields are prone to be wet fields, so this season was tough. The price for the inputs was a struggle and now with the harvests not looking the best, most farmers are worried about how they will afford inputs again, but they remain resilient.
‘What a privilege to visit my farmers – I could encourage them to keep going and not give up. This is a good time to see what happened and what we could have done differently, to try and grow in our knowledge and expertise as farmers of substance. Our hope is always to find our next commercial farmer out of those groups,’ says Timon.