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Standing on the shoulders of GIANTS...

August 2016

Standing on the shoulders of GIANTS...

Farmers in the 21st century face many challenges ranging from economic constraints to environmental pressures and climate change risks to pressures from consumers who are very vocal about what farmers should and should not be doing.

The only way a farmer can manage his business into the future is to make sure he keeps a finger on the pulse of what is happening in the sector. This is achieved through researching: Looking, listening, learning and reading. Dr Seuss said: 'The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn the more places you'll go!' and effectively you could take your farming to another level - if you learn everything you can about it.

Being a researcher requires inspiration and consistent dedication in the pursuit of fresh understanding. Sir Isaac Newton is regarded as one of the most influential scientists in history. Even he acknowledged the inspiration he got learning from others saying: 'If I have seen further…it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."

There are many benefits, seen and unseen, for a person who is well informed. Not only is he empowered with information to manage his own business more effectively, but he also grows in confidence about himself and his decision making abilities.

Confidence contributes to self-esteem and self-belief and knowledge builds confidence. When a person believes in themself, this translates into high performance. Also, farmers who know what they are doing and what they are talking about soon get the attention of others, whether it is an agribusiness, service provider or fellow farmers. That person stands tall among others and soon they look to him or her for advice and even leadership.

We have all heard the theory of 'the survival of the fittest' and this is true in farming too. It is the strong, hardworking, wise and learned individuals who are best able to take advantage of changing circumstances and new opportunities. We are not talking about how literate a person is, or what educational opportunities a person had. We are also not talking about the size of a farm or bank account. We are talking about a willingness to learn, to reach out to others who have walked the road before one, a passion which drives one to absorb every bit of information, filter it and apply what is suitable. This may mean taking risks, trying something new or even lobbying for improved services or infrastructure from those government departments and extension officers who are meant to be helping and guiding the farmers.

The only thing that is constant is change – nothing stays the same. The environment around us is always changing. We need to monitor those changes to make sure we adapt accordingly. Have you ever wondered why one farmer suddenly changes from what he has been doing for a lifetime? I recently read of top grain producer who has made a drastic change. He has completely stopped growing grain and now only farms livestock. I know a few farmers who have been doing calculations comparing their cropping and livestock operations costs and return on investment. Not all will change, but at least they are re-evaluating.

Standing on the shoulders of GIANTS...

What sort of questions should farmers be asking?

They should be informed on current trends regarding:

  • The most suitable, modern farming systems in their region.
  • The climate, annual rainfall and temperature patterns.
  • The most suited crops or livestock enterprises in the region.
  • The potential yields.
  • The market demand for the produce – it doesn't help growing anything for which there is no demand, the produce simply will never sell.
  • Anticipated prices.

They should be aware of challenges ahead:

  • Agricultural production needs to double in the next 25 - 30 years.
  • There will be increased competition for land.
  • Increased competition for water – how are we going to produce 'more crop per drop'?
  • Pollution from industries and urban areas will affect water quality.
  • Rising input prices.
  • Climate change impacts like floods and frequent droughts, less rainfall and higher temperatures.

Learn from other researchers and become a researcher yourself

  • Know your own strengths and weaknesses. Ask what new skills could be helpful in the future and find out how you might acquire them;
  • Acquire a basic knowledge of how the market works. Find where you can get training if necessary;
  • Know what is going on in your business. Keep records of everything you do;
  • Set goals for yourself and your business; and
  • Investigate how to lower costs and increase output.

Carl Jung said: 'The world will ask you who you are, and if you do not know, the world will tell you.' This is true for farmers too. If you are unsure of yourself, sooner or later there will be some agri-salesman or extension officer pushing you into accepting their recommendations. To make independent decisions farmers must be well informed. They need to know what the choices and options are; they need to talk to as many experts as possible. We need to recognise that change is happening, and we need to learn, ask questions, lobby government and policy makers and farm the land at our disposal efficiently. We are custodians of the earth and carry the burden of responsibility to grow food for our families and keep the nation food secure through sustainable farming practices.

Article submitted by Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula contributor
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Publication: August 2016

Section: Pula/Imvula