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February 2019

When Willie Prinsloo was approached by two brothers from Bothaville with no farming background to find out whether he would assist them to become farmers, he decided to take up the challenge. 

Although he is not officially part of the Grain SA Mentorship Programme, Willie has been the Mabaso brothers’ mentor for nine years and is very excited about the role he has played in their growth as farmers.

Willie, who is also a well-known businessman in Bothaville, has been a maize farmer in the Viljoenskroon area for as long as he can remember. 

The best place to begin
‘Let´s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C, when you sing you begin with do-re-mi…’ These words of advice come from a song from the classical musical, The sound of music

Willie believes that starting from the beginning, with the basics, is the only way to train beginner farmers. ‘We all have to go through school from Grade 1 to Grade 12 to be prepared with the necessary skills – reading, writing and arithmetic. I decided to apply the same principle in training President and Anton – to begin with the basics. Once they had mastered that, I could move on to the next level,’ says Willie about the approach he applied to train the Mabaso brothers. He believes that it takes about ten years to truly understand agricultural practices and become a real farmer. ‘Most beginners give up before then,’ he says.

The two brothers were born on a farm in the Bothaville district to parents who were both farm workers on Willie’s father’s farm. They have a small enterprise in town and feel very privileged to have been able to secure land from the Bothaville Municipality as it is not easy to obtain land in this area. Although they never worked on a farm, they always had a keen interest in agriculture as it was their father’s passion.

Seeing sunflowers grow next to the road on unattended soil, could lead a beginner farmer to believe that it is a crop which can grow with little effort. Willie therefore knew that the most important agricultural practice he had to instil in them was about the value of soil status. He compiled a document to try and improve their knowledge by emphasising the fact that to achieve a higher yield, one must understand the soil. ‘What you see above the ground means nothing. The soil is the factory – what you put in, you get out,’ he explains. ‘A good crop comes from rich healthy soil.’

‘I don’t think people realise how much money goes into the soil before you plant. It is a long-term goal to raise the production level of the soil and not something that happens overnight. It takes time, something you must work at constantly. One can spend up to R20 000 before reaching the right pH (phosphates and nitrogen) levels for maximum yield. You have to spend money to make money,’ he explains.

A dream becomes a reality
Willie is very proud of Anton and President as they worked hard to put into practice what they had learned about soil management. Managing pH levels and knowing the type and amount of fertiliser which needs to be applied now form part of their farming practices. 

In the first year they managed a sunflower yield of only 300 kg. The two then joined Grain SA on Willie’s recommendation and started attending numerous study group meetings, information days and training courses. Together with mentor Willie they began their journey to become commercial farmers and realised a yield of 5 ton/ha of maize and 1,5 tons/ha of sunflower. When the season gets too busy and extra equipment is needed, Willie steps in to ensure that an extra tractor keeps the work on track. ‘It is wonderful to be involved on this level,’ he shares.

The Mabaso brothers were finalists in the 2018 Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year category and although they did not walk away as the winners, Willie sees this as the highlight in their farming career and to him as mentor. He says all he did was share his knowledge about agriculture, the hard work and determination was all their own. ‘As a mentor you see their improvement and hard work, but it is marvellous when other people, like the judges, note it as well.’ 

The next phase
The nomination has made more land available to them and Willie knows that there is a bigger work load ahead. He admires their willpower and determination to succeed and wants to help them to become completely independent farmers. 

‘Being business owners these two already understand finances. They are self-sufficient, planting independently and have a very good general knowledge about agriculture as well as imports and exports. Now they have to market and develop their marketing skills.’ He plans on enrolling them in a course by Dalevest.

To Willie the Grain SA Mentorship Programme is a remarkable programme. He would like to see enough farmers get involved, so that developing farmers who are farming on a bigger scale than smallholder and subsistence, can get one-on-one mentoring. ‘Although knowledge is crucial, value-adding comes from the support and personal involvement a mentor provides,’ he mentions.

The Greek philosopher Plato said: ‘The beginning is the most important part of the work,’ and the method Willie Prinsloo used to turn two determined businessmen into farmers started at the beginning and as their success shows, it has proven to be a very good place to start.

This month’s edition of The Corner Post was written by Louise Kunz, Pula Imvula contributor. For more information, send an email to louise@infoworks.biz.

Publication: February 2019

Section: Pula/Imvula