Food is so much more than just what we consume – food systems need to not only resolve issues of hunger but they also need to contribute to improved well-being, balanced eating plans, reduced diet-related disease and the health and sustainability of the planet.
In May, Thoko Didiza, minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, said: ‘Land delivery is vital in reversing the land inequality in our country. However, the productive use of the land is equally an important function.’
This is exactly where we see our Grain SA Farmer Development Programme making an impact. We don’t have the power to give farms to individuals nor do we have funds to assist farmers financially. What we do have is a wealth of knowledge and a passion to see successful transformation and sustainable development within the agricultural sector. We have a team of dedicated development agriculturalists that is skilled and equipped to share this knowledge with developing farmers.
During September 2021 our team made 59 farm visits to some of the advanced farmer members who are participating in the different programmes being implemented by our farmer development teams. The teams also had contact sessions with 81 study groups. We aim to build relationships, get to know the regions where our members farm and offer timeous advice.
September was a busy month for summer grain farmers as we were closing off the 2020/2021 growing season, while at the same time preparing for the new season ahead. These are some of the important activities that received attention.
It is important to conduct a post-season business analysis. Farmers have to know what their profit margins look like.
Grain SA’s teams of development coordinators and mentors are meeting farmers and encouraging a business minded approach. Farmers must ask questions like: What did the year cost them and what were the returns on the crop? Were there good profits or were the margins small? Too many farmers head straight on into the next season without considering the strengths and weaknesses of their operations. Can improvements be made? Is there an area where there could be savings? Should any of the operations be abandoned? Is there any way there could be a value add onto the crop, for example feed some of the maize crop to broiler chickens or livestock?
Farm maintenance needs to be done. Read more on page 19.
Soil sampling, analysis and corrections are early season activities that make all the difference to yields. We teach the importance of soil status every year.
A key activity now is planning, budgeting, drawing up cash flows and sourcing financing for new season inputs. Costly mistakes can be made if the input requirements for the season are not carefully calculated. Developing farmers rely heavily on guidance from our team. We are encouraged when new farmers join Grain SA because they have seen the excellent results of their neighbours. Farmers who are willing to learn and lean on the wisdom and experience of others will most certainly grow their businesses faster.
AT GRASS ROOTS
Farm maintenance is vital
During farm visits and study group sessions the importance of farm maintenance is discussed. Some of these are essentially post-harvest tidy up activities, but it is also important to service the tractors and machinery for the new season. Recently one of the mentors’ trained eye noticed that the bolts had not been tightened properly on a disc about to start preparations. The farm workers quickly tightened them and a potentially costly stoppage was avoided. Fencing and watering points all need to be checked and maintained now.
Growing for gold
Grain SA’s Grow for Gold National Yield Competition is a platform where grain producers compete to see who achieves highest yields. The competition is for maize, wheat, sunflower and soybean producers.
Jurie Mentz, the development coordinator from Louwsburg regional office, is proudly celebrating the success of a new era commercial farmer and member of Donkerhoek study group, Bheki Mabuza who farms near Amersfoort in Mpumalanga. Bheki achieved top yields of 14,7167 t/ha which saw him a top 3 finalist in the Eastern Highveld region.
The Mabuza’s have participated in Grain SA’s programme for ten years. Previously a taxi owner, Bheki decided to leave that industry to rather farm full time. Their farming operation has grown significantly thanks to hard work and wise investments. He has been proactive about learning as much as possible about the land and the crops they grow. The Mabuza’s have expanded from 2 hectares to 30 hectares to 110 hectares – and there are many more plans for the future.
Jurie says a key ingredient to the Mabuza’s success is a thirst for knowledge that causes them to read a lot and ask questions all the time. Bheki has focussed on getting his soils balanced with excellent liming and fertilisation practices. Regular soil sampling is done and problems are identified and rectified. Jurie also says the fields are always prepared in good time.