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February 2021

Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to louise@infoworks.biz  

Gardner Khulekani Khumalo (37) is a proud fourth generation farmer who farms at Madadeni in the Amajuba district on the outskirts of New Castle. With a yield of 8,01 t/ha, he became the first winner in the Small-scale maize farmer category of Grain SA’s Grow for Gold national yield competition. 

Sandile Khumalo, a representative from Dekalb, who ensured that the Khumalo’s bought the best seed for their soil – the cultivar DKC 68-58 BR – entered Gardner into the competition.

‘I started farming at a very young age as my father was a farmer, as was my grandfather and great grandfather,’ Gardner says that he was born a farmer. As soon as they learned how to drive he and his twin brother, Sphephelo, had to help on the farm. ‘When I was in Grade 11, we started growing vegetables on a 7 ha piece of land at my grandmother’s place.’

After completing his school career he attempted a course in animal production, which he did not complete as he wanted to farm. ‘My passion for farming is definitely motivated by my family – from my father to my great grandfather.’ Farming runs through this family’s veins.

As time went by the twins and their father realised that if they wanted to make a difference they had to grow their enterprise. To contribute to food security in South Africa they needed more land. At this stage they were already the proud owners of some equipment and tractors. They successfully applied for a loan at Ithala Bank in 2011 and purchased a 672 ha farm, Liesbethdale. From here Mgodeni Farming Primary Cooperative started producing maize and soybeans in 2012 on 285 ha of arable land. The rest of their farm is utilised as grazing for the 96 cattle. 

‘We tried our hand at planting potatoes on 15 ha between 2012 and 2014, but unfortunately it was not a profitable venture, so we decided to focus on maize and soybeans.’

Although Gardner had the knowledge of three generations to guide him in his farming operation, he never realised how much he still had to learn until Chris de Jager was appointed as his Grain SA mentor two seasons ago.

‘A lot of what we were doing on the farm before Chris came on board would probably not be considered as good agricultural practices,’ he says with a grin. ‘Chris is a wonderful teacher’, Garner says who attends the study group sessions regularly to increase his agricultural knowledge. He says having a mentor played a huge part in his success as well as the input from wonderful neighbouring commercial farmers in the area.

The first big lesson they learned was the importance of water conservation and preserving the soil quality for the future. ‘Our knowledge about technology was also not up to date, but thanks to Chris our knowledge in this area improved.’ 

Gardner says they were not keen on soil sampling, but now that they have witnessed what a difference it makes, this is one practise they are taking very seriously. ‘After our harvest the previous season, we took soil samples. When the results came back we made the necessary applications according to the results.’ This way they know that they can look forward to a good yield. 

A strict and effective spraying programme is also followed on the farm and they ensure that no mistakes are made when applying fertiliser.

According to Gardner success in farming is not about hard work or luck, but a combination of good agricultural practices, a good cultivar and the right amount of rain. ‘Good rain can’t be overlooked, but it is more than enough now,’ he chuckles. At the time of the interview early in January they still had 13 ha left to plant but rain was delaying the planting.

Gardner happily shares some tips with other farmers who would also like to improve their yield:

  1. ‘To have a good yield, you need to know you soil,’ is Gardner’s advice to other small-scale farmers. ‘If you don’t know your soil, you will waste money on things the soil does not need. This way you only have to buy what is needed.’
  2. He also says it is important to buy certified seed as good advice from a knowledgeable source, the seed company representative usually comes with the purchase.
  3. Follow a spraying programme to ensure healthy crops and prevent yield loss.
  4. Stick to the correct planting date.

Gardner is dreaming of expanding their farming operation. ‘I hope to eventually have 1 000 ha of arable land to plant. 285 ha is a bit too small to make serious money!’

This passionate farmer loves target-shooting and enjoys watching soccer. However when the farming activities have quieted down, you will find him at one of the three dams on the farm with a fishing rod in his hands. Here he can relax and plan for the next successful season.

Publication: February 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula