Southern Africa farmers remain optimistic

A visit to South Africa and Botswana finds producers taking steps to improve their operations and prepare for the future

Farm attacks in South Africa are reported almost on a daily basis.

There is no denying they happen — the tragic results are plain to see. But what can be done about it? How does this affect how other farmers get on with life and their daily work?

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit and report from South Africa on five separate occasions during the past 12 years and came away each time with a sense of dismay but also hope.

South Africa is a beautiful country, physically, and produces some of the best food and wine in the world.

Politically, it’s a different place — a place where the state is not in charge, a state that cannot even control its basic power supply without corruption.

The question is, where does that leave agriculture and farmers? No matter what political persuasion anyone holds, everyone must eat.

Over the years of visiting farms in South Africa, I noticed farmers becoming despondent, feeling let down, feeling a sense of “what’s the point of it all?”

I’ve talked to farmers who were attacked, who lost loved ones and who gave up.

However, during my latest visit in early March this year I witnessed a positivity among farmers that I never experienced before.

Nothing politically has changed for the good — the situation has become worse — but farmers are more defiant, more ambitious and are investing to make their farms more efficient for the future.

During the big livestock equipment show EuroTier in Germany last November, I talked to a few South African farmers interested to see how technology could make their farms more efficient.

It was comforting to visit a number of farmers on this trip who are putting new technology into play to improve their businesses.

Visiting Greenway Farms Ltd., with headquarters at Tarlton, to see how business partners Vito Rugani and Vincent Sequeira handle more than 60,000 tonnes of carrots per year grown on about 6,200 acres, was inspiring.

The passion and ambition shown by these leading vegetable farmers has resulted in a range of Rugani juices that are being exported around the world.

They have invested heavily in new state of the art equipment to extract juice from vegetables.

The science is baffling, the setup is professional and as for the juice, well, I have to admit this was the first time I ever tried carrot juice and it was delicious.

The knowledge I gained from Vito and his team will stay with me for a long time. I hope he finds a way to export his products to my neck of the woods, in the United Kingdom.

Next, I visited Corne Nel’s Doornfontein Melkery in Randfontein, where they milk 700 cows. Dairy unit manager Pieter Barnard toured me around the farm.

Having been brought up on a dairy farm myself in Northern Ireland, this visit was particularly interesting and I was impressed once again to see equipment investments designed to make life easier.

A new rotary parlour installed two years ago speeds milking time up, and future investment into robotic milkers may help with the different milking groups.

The sun can be a challenge where livestock are concerned and it was good to hear plans to build new housing in the corrals to keep the cows cooler.

With excellent production figures and a sound understanding of the cows, Corne Nel is gearing up.

Before travelling across the border to visit farms in Botswana, I went to see Sarel Haasbroek’s grain farm in the Carletonville area. He is another progressive farmer positive about the future and he is excelling in importing the Horsch machinery brand into South Africa.

In Francistown, in eastern Botswana, I was hosted by the Munger family at Wayside Brahman Stud Ltd. for four nights. During my stay, I was given a comprehensive run down of the breeding herd, commercial herd, game farm, and the egg-laying enterprise.

What a farm. Rowland and his son Rowly are well-respected in the area and for the cattle they produce.

Wayside was started by Rowland’s father, Keith, who was also present during my visit.

Then it was off to see another beef farmer, this time with the Bonsmara cattle breed and Calla Visser, for an early start checking his cattle.

Every night, Visser rounds up more than 400 cattle and herds them into outdoor corrals to protect them against theft and predators, such as hyenas or leopards.

Every morning, Visser and his staff go around the five corrals on his 15,000-acre farm counting the cows, calves and bulls, hoping they all made it through the night alive.

This was a new line of management for me, but it was interesting to learn.

I also visited Bobbsie’s Chickens Ltd. based in the east at Tshesebe and was guided by general manager Gerhard van der Merwe.

Like farmers in South Africa, Botswana farmers also impressed me. I received detailed insight into the beef and poultry industries there and look forward to the next time I can visit.

Some of the Botswanans, though, need to learn how to drive.

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