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January 2022


At the tenth anniversary of the World Agriculture Organisation (WAO), Theo de Jager, president of the WAO, said: ‘we believe there’s only one way to eradicate poverty, and that’s through the creation of wealth, and no one is better positioned to do that, than the current generation of family farmers. Because farmers learn more from other farmers than from anyone else.’

Clifford Mthimkulu (32) from Senekal in the Free State is a second-generation farmer who developed his keen interest in agriculture watching his father work on the farm. His father, Koos, was a shepherd who became a farm worker and later developed into a top farmer who became Grain SA’s 2011 Developing Farmer of the Year. After taking over the farming duties, Clifford’s hard work has also turned into success.

Koos received various implements from his employer at the time Frikkie du Preez, in 2004. He started farming on land leased from Frikkie and developed into a successful grain producer. In 2008 when the duties became too much for Koos to handle on his own, Clifford who had qualified as a paramedic and worked in the security industry, returned to the farm to join his father in growing their farming enterprise.

Together father and son managed to secure their own farm through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy. Astoria is a 493 ha farm with the potential for a sustainable dryland cropping business. As they did not receive ownership of the land, they (like so many of the developing farmers) struggled to access finance. They realised that they would have to start small and cautiously grow their operation over the years.

Now Clifford has taken the lead on the farm and like his father, Clifford has already proven himself as a producer to be reckoned with. In the 2019/2020 season he realised 6,5 t/ha on maize and 2,1 t/ha on sunflower. The past season (2020/2021) his maize yield was 5,8 t/ha and sunflower 1,8 t/ha.

His passion, dedication and hard work has seen him become a finalist in the 2020 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Farmer of the Year competition. He came third in the Toyota New Harvest of the Year competition – a competition aimed at young developing farmers who have owned or managed a farm for five years or longer and who have overcome a previously disadvantaged background to become a successful farmer.

Trading as MC Enterprise, Clifford manages nearly 1 000 ha of land which includes land leased from neighbours. His main farm (Astoria) extends to 517 ha with the land he leases from neighbour Althea Triegaardt. Another 300 ha located 35 km further is leased from Dawie van der Merwe. Here he plants maize, soybeans, sunflowers and oats for the livestock. The livestock is kept as an income buffer in case the crops cannot bring in the necessary income to pay the bills.

To those young men who are interested in following in their father’s footsteps, Clifford has the following advice: ‘If you want to farm, you have to be passionate, determined and willing to work hard otherwise you won’t succeed. To become remarkable, you must hold yourself accountable.’

Clifford has been a member of Grain SA for about ten years. He has attended almost all the courses presented by the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme and says the organisation plays a huge role in his enterprise. ‘Grain SA is a good organisation that wants to see developing farmers succeed,’ he says.

With farming having become a lot more focused on science and the environment in the past few years, he has also learned the value of minimum and no-till agricultural practices thanks to Grain SA. ‘I had to convince my father about the advantages of no-till, but after a trial planting, he was convinced that this is the way to go,’ says Clifford about his decision to take responsibility for the environment too.

Johan Kriel, Grain SA provincial coordinator in the Free State, has been mentoring Clifford for a number of years. ‘Ntata Johan has been holding my hand through all the years.’ He sees him as his other father as they communicate daily. ‘He always gives me the best advice and informs me about new products. I don’t know what I’d be without Ntate Johan. He made me.’

He attributes his success to the support he has received from various organisations and individuals over the years. His father remains the inspiration behind his success. ‘And perhaps the fact that I am always willing to learn and try new things, makes me successful.’

Agricultural practices that contribute to his success include careful soil management and moving to precision farming practices. Other good agricultural practices include:

  • Taking soil samples yearly to determine which crops to plant.
  • Applying agricultural lime every year to lower the soil’s acidity. 
  • Rotating crops every two years. He first grows maize, then sunflowers, followed by soybeans and oats.
  • Good management skills. 

The sound and smell of the farm and the recollections of his father repairing and building implements from scratch into amazing implements are the memories that inspired Clifford Mthimkulu’s farming career. ‘It wasn’t by luck but through hard work that I can today say I am a farmer because I followed in my father’s footsteps.’ 

Publication: January 2022

Section: Pula/Imvula