THE CORNER POST
If there is one thing that northwest mentor, Jan Pretorius, strongly believes in when it comes to farming, it is time awareness. ‘with farming, you cannot wait until you think it is time, it is about doing the right thing at the right time.’ To him planning ahead is key and one of the most important lessons he has tried to convey as a mentor is time awareness.
PART OF THE FAMILY
Jan has been farming on Klipdrift in the Sannieshof region for the past 40 years. He cultivates maize and sunflower in a rotation system and also has a beef cattle component. His son, Jan George (who is also on the Grain SA Executive), joined the farming operation five years ago. Having his son on the farm has made it possible for Jan to spend more time investing in his mentees.
Jan has been a member of Grain SA for many years and feels privileged to have been part of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme since its inception. ‘I was part of a fire fighting committee eight years ago and we helped to extinguish a fire on a Tswana-speaking fellow farmer’s farm. ‘To see that commercial farmers were prepared to help, changed the perception of the Tswana-speaking farmers in the area and probably paved the way for the mentorship programme.’
He initially had five mentees – three in the Sannieshof and two in the Delareyville areas. ‘These farmers all have the same passion as commercial farmers. They want to farm like we do and most of them knew how to plant maize but needed guidance about the finer details of certain agricultural practices.
Currently Du Toit van der Westhuizen handles the study groups in this area and Jan is only involved in one farming enterprise, Dwaalkraal Co-operative. Dwaalkraal Co-operative has seven members who all worked for the farm owner of this farm and gained experience from him. The farm was bought for them by the DRDLR in 2011.
Although they were hesitant about group farming at first, they are now very positive about it and a wonderful example of what can be achieved if people work together and make use of good advice. They plant maize and sunflowers in a crop rotation and also have a livestock component. In planting season, he visits them daily and thereafter twice weekly or when needed. ‘If they need any advice or are uncertain of what to do, I am ready to assist them.’
‘The first two years were quite a challenge. In the first year we had money to purchase implements and seed and then came the drought. Not one of the farmers had a harvest.’ It was difficult to keep them motivated, but if one has a passion for farming you have to learn sooner or later what the reality of agriculture is. ‘In the second year we were in the privileged position to have money in the bank. We could thoroughly prepare the soil and had a good harvest in comparison to farmers who did not prepare in time and once again had no harvest.’ Jan says this helped him prove how important time awareness and timeous preparation is. ‘Without time awareness and moisture conversation you cannot farm successfully.’
The three areas on which Jan focused to improve their farming skills are:
- Taking the time to do a soil analysis, as knowing the nutrient makeup of the soils will enable farmers to make an accurate assessment of what fertilisation programme is required. It may also help realise a higher yield.
- In our area moisture conservation is of the utmost importance as groundwater is decreasing. Conserving moisture remains vitally important for crop production and it also ensures a reduction of soil degradation.
- Developing a sense of time awareness or time management was a big challenge. Like the weather, time can’t really be managed as no-one can stop the clock. If you miss the planting date, the season could be a disaster. Planning ahead will avoid unnecessary problems like input suppliers running out of stock.
Jan says farming is filled with challenges, but for his mentees – apart from the financial difficulties – the biggest stumbling blocks have been nature (the weather) and choosing the right planting date. ‘Insufficient implements also cause a delay, so I have had to help them with my own equipment when time is limited.’
Another one of their big challenges are that neighbouring farmers in the adjacent township are not prepared to have their cattle tested for Brucellosis. Because of this their herd recently declined from 64 to only nine.
PRIDE AND JOY
Being a mentor has made a huge impact on Jan’s life. ‘To see that the advice I give makes a difference not just to the farmers, but to the whole family, is wonderful. Their children have been able to get a better education as there is more money available.’
One of the highlights that stands out in Jan’s memory is when Dwaalkraal Co-operative harvested sunflower for the first time and realised a higher average yield than their mentor. ‘They beamed and were so pleased with their effort.’ Another was when they were chosen as finalists in the Smallholder Farmer of the Year category in 2014. ‘They were very proud of this achievement and still can’t believe they were beaten by a female farmer.’ (Lungelwa Kama won that year.) Who knows, we might still see them as winners in the future.
Publication: May 2019