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Grain SA Congress 2015 in retrospect

April 2015


JANNIE DE VILLIERS, uitvoerende hoofbestuurder/CEO

In my opinion there were two big new tendencies at the Grain SA Congress 2015, namely: Politicians started listening to producers; and producers’ ability to overcome problems.

Minister Senzeni Zokwana was the first Minister of Agriculture since 2004 who attended Congress and did not merely walk in, deliver a speech and drive off again immediately – he spent a whole five hours at Congress.

I really enjoyed his firm reaction when the media enquired about the absence of the MECs from other provinces: “They will all be here next year!” Let us hang on to this and build on the good disposition present at Congress where politicians asked for our opinion.

The Minister’s sympathy with the drought conditions the producers are experiencing came from his heart. I cannot help but repeat the words of Ralph Swart’s (new era producer from Elim) father in this regard: “Talking is downhill and doing is uphill”. This expression precisely reflects the situation in which our country currently finds itself as far as land reform is concerned, as well as with regard to assistance with the current drought.

Some three weeks before Congress, a group of maize producers brought their aeroplanes to NAMPO Park to fly over the North West Province and the Northern Free State so we could observe the situation from the air. On our return the reports from all directions made us quite despondent. I still cannot erase from my mind the picture of the producer driving aimlessly through his maize fields in his bakkie. The emotion and loneliness of that picture completely overwhelmed me.

What struck me was that, three weeks later, those same producers attended Congress and that, in their minds, they have moved on to the new season. It does not take away the pain and problems of the current drought, but these unique people are capable to overcome and handle problems in a way that you will not easily find elsewhere. This takes some doing!

The whole concept of “data science” shared with us by the American producer, Mr Kip Tom, has awakened a new era of technological grain production. It is a pity that the land issue dominated discussions and that we could not learn more from him.

However, Grain SA’s staff got the message and will take this matter further to help each grain producer to make sense of the heaps of information. A recommendation from Mr Tom’s side remains certain: “A dry year is perfect for gathering information”. Let us ensure that we record the maize plants’ reaction to the environment so that we are able to perform better in future.

I am also hopeful that we will, within the next few months, be able to present something substantial to the wheat producers with which to forge ahead. The attitude of all role-players is encouraging and if all can be integrated, it can be possible to enter a new dispensation.

Publication: April 2015

Section: Features