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January 2019

‘Rather than reinventing the wheel, entrepreneurs need to find the wheel-maker and leverage the wheel-maker’s expertise and experience.’ This advice was shared in a blog by Mike Rowlands in the Huffington Post, an American internet newspaper.

The 2018 winner of the Grain SA/Bayer Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year, Paulus Mosia, used this method when he approached Francois Fivaz in 2015 and asked him to become his mentor. Instead of trying to figure out farming methods, he decided to use the experience and expertise of the ‘wheel-maker’ next to him, who was also a seasoned commercial producer.

Neighbour becomes mentor and financial advisor
In 2007 Paulus, who had a farming dream from a very young age, joined the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme and in 2008, he was given the farm Sterkwater by the DRDLR through the PLAS Programme. Little did he know that one of his neighbours would in later years play a vital role in his success. 

Francois has a mixed farming operation in the Edenville district in the Free State. He farms with Bonsmaras cattle and also plants maize, sorghum and sunflower. His added expertise on agricultural inputs stems from his second job where he also sells inputs such seed, fertiliser and chemicals. His extensive knowledge in this field is also one of the reasons why Paulus wants to do business with Francois. He knows that the advice is not just sales talk, but honest and sometimes firm help from a neighbour and fellow agriculturalist who has proven that he does not mind walking the extra mile. 

Although Francois only mentored Paulus during 2015, he remained involved in the Mosia farming enterprise. ‘I was Paulus’s mentor for a year and now play a much smaller role – more of an advisory role – in his farming operation mainly to help him draw up his budget,’ Francois explains. ‘Whenever we get together to work on the budget, I realise that Paulus is a farmer at heart who wants to farm for years to come – he is not in it for the money. He sometimes pays himself less than the minimum wage!’

Budget planning is done systematically by first looking at how much money was made from the harvest. ‘The first thing Paulus does, is pay his tax. With the money that is left other farming decisions can be made,’ Francois explains. The financial planning done for the year ahead includes the decision about what should be planted in the next season and salaries that have to be paid. Then a list is drawn up of inputs needed monthly – seed, fertiliser, pesticide and herbicide according to the season’s requirements.

As mentor Francois paid a lot of attention to the mechanisation aspects of planting as Paulus already had a very clear concept about what planting entailed as well as the basic agricultural practices. ‘We focused on how to calibrate the planters. I would demonstrate practically what had to be done and then Paulus would have to do it. He had to work out how to set the planter for the different crops, how much fertiliser was needed per row to achieve the correct amount per hectare.’ These practical sessions obviously helped Paulus develop and to become even more independent. 

Their method worked – Paulus would see what Francois was doing and then copy it on his own farm. Francois says he would love to help his own farm workers develop into farmers in the same manner. ‘These are people that already know how tough it is to be a farmer. There are too many people who want to farm but know nothing about what it entails.’

A successful partnership
Although Paulus was the winner of the Farmer of the Year competition, Francois has shared in the success with people phoning to also congratulate and thank him for the role he played in mentoring a winner. ‘It is wonderful to witness how successful this process is and great to know that someone paid attention to the advice I shared and put it into practice.’

There are many producers in the area who have become more aware of the mentorship programme and are showing an interest in joining this worthy programme. ‘I think there are more producers who are willing to get involved than is realised.’

For Paulus the award has meant a lot and according to Francois he is now seen as ‘one of us’ in the farming world (i.e. as a commercial grain producer). Francois is excited about the doors that are opening after Paulus won the award. There is a huge opportunity to expand his hectares. Unfortunately, this also causes a problem as more hectares needs more finances and more equipment.

For the hardworking developing farmer getting finance is a huge issue. ‘You cannot expand your farming operation if you only plant 50 ha to 100 ha, no matter what yield you achieve’, Francois says, so he really hopes that that problem will be solved, and that Paulus can realise his dream of becoming a commercial producer. 

At this stage Francois is involved in his community mentoring farmers in the area who are not yet part of the Grain SA Development Programme. He says the developing farmers say that he is too strict and rather try to find someone less stern. Luckily Paulus did not make that mistake!

‘Paulus was ready to learn from the word go; he is open to guidance and I really admire him as he has not ever taken offense. He is willing to learn, very humble and always invests in the farm before he buys something for himself. He even walked to the farm before he decided the time was right to purchase a bakkie.’

When asked what the mentor had learned from the mentee, Francois is quick to answer: ‘If I could stick to my budget like Paulus does, my financial statements would look quite different! I also admire his drive to become a successful farmer and he is truly an example of humility.’ 

It seems that there is always something that the wheel-maker can learn from the apprentice!

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

Publication: January 2019

Section: Pula/Imvula