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Inspiration leads to discovery

July 2021


Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States of America (USA), said: ‘the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. It is the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.’ part of the success of Grain SA’s Farmer Development Programme is that the team has many great leaders who are inspiring others to achieve great success.

Fanie Pienaar, trainer for the Free State and North-West areas, is a fifth-generation farmer from Clocolan in the Free State, who became involved in the programme through some of its passionate leaders. He is still a full-time farmer and has to carefully plan the training sessions around his own farming activities.

Fanie grew up on a farm in the Winburg area, where he started learning about farming almost before he could walk and talk. He later farmed on rental land in the Ficksburg area for 20 years, before moving his family and farming operation to the family farm near Clocolan. Here he manages a mixed farming operation, where soya and maize form the core of the crop production.

Fanie’s wife, Elizabeth, is also a farmer. Their three daughters – aged 8, 11 and 15 – share their parents’ passion and are therefore also involved in the farming activities.

Initially he wasn’t aware that teaching is his other passion, but being a good neighbour has led to this discovery. Fanie’s path crossed with that of his neighbour, Isaac Khuto, when he was a relatively new farmer with little equipment. When Fanie discovered that Isaac, whose fields were clean and ploughed, could not plant as he did not own a planter, he offered to do the planting for him. Since then a friendship developed between those two passionate farmers.

Isaac, who was a finalist in Grain SA’s Developing Grain Producer of the Year in 2008, said in an article in Farmer’s Weekly of 9 February 2009 that Fanie’s advice was critical to his transformation from a beginner farmer to a recognised developing farmer.

Through Isaac’s nomination for the competition, the Grain SA Farmer Development team became aware of Fanie’s support and paid him a visit. ‘They told me I was a mentor to Isaac. This was actually the first time that I had heard of a mentor. However, I did not see it as mentorship. In my eyes I was only helping a fellow farmer who loved what he was doing as much as I did.’

Teaching was ignited as a new passion during his first presentation at one of the sessions of the provincial coordinator, Johan Kriel, at a farmers’ day in Ladybrand. ‘I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my knowledge with others and it gave me quite an energy boost.’ For Fanie the planting courses (for soya, maize, sunflower, sorghum and groundnuts) are always a highlight. ‘These sessions are my favourites, as I have experience in this field and can really share my own knowledge with the farmers.’ Other courses such as welding, tractor maintenance, business ethics and ‘Farming for profit’ all form part of the curriculum compiled by Grain SA. 

Apart from a passion for your subject and a knowledge of people, language skills are the most important skills to be an effective trainer,’ says Fanie, who is fluent in Sotho. He can speak, read, write and even pray in Sotho. The farmers who know Fanie and are in regular contact with him, are always first to apply when he advertises a course.

Fanie has noticed that the farmers are very keen to improve their agricultural practices through knowledge. ‘They believe that knowledge is important and have started realising that the wrong information will derail their efforts,’ he shares.

On his own farm, Fanie practises minimum tillage and wants to progress to no-till practices. Many farmers who have formed a close bond with him, have got on board with these practices after witnessing the results. However, he is sensitive to the more senior farmers who firmly believe in the older way of doing things. I would never force my practices on someone and try to help every farmer as best I can.

He loves sharing in the excitement of farmers who are making progress and achieving success – whether it is increasing their yield or reaching their goal of purchasing their own land. The fact that very few younger family members are involved in farming, concerns Fanie. People who were born in 1940, are attending the courses. Where are the young people?

He sees it as his duty to stay involved in the programme and to contribute in closing this generation gap – in getting the youth excited about agriculture.

To have people trust him enough to implement what he is teaching, has become one of the most satisfying experiences in his life. Fanie doesn’t mind if farmers ask challenging questions. This way he can help them to discover what best suits their farming style. ‘As long as they remember that to get the right answer, they must ask the right question! he says.

Publication: July 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula