This post is also available in: Afrikaans
Adapt to change; plan a strategy; don’t let things that you cannot change stop you; utilise technology to your advantage; provide for bad times; accept everything that makes farming a cyclical industry; scrutinise alternatives; diversify; add value; be positive; dig deep for your strong points and build on them; dream big dreams . . .
This message flowed like a golden wave over participants from all the presentations during the Laeveld Agrochem Sail Safari on the luxury MSC cruise ship, Musica. This agricultural show on the waves succeeded last year’s successful presentation. A full programme, with simultaneous sessions, forced the farmers to consider carefully what they wanted to attend. There were times when a farmer had to hurry virtually from the stern to the prow to be in time for a specific presentation by an expert.
After casting off and once on the open sea, the ship’s rolling action on a rather choppy sea forced attendees to make haste for their venues. In the four sets of lifts continuous discussions touched on deck numbers, auditoriums, restaurants and where was prow and where stern.
By Tuesday morning everybody at least knew where Deck 13 was – the venue of the 24 hour free restaurant where fresh pizza is baked non-stop. The Laeveld Agrochem Hall and the Toyota Theatre were other popular spots. The more than 2 000 travellers were soon installed in their sleeping quarters – comfy cabins, each with a view of the sea. But the overbearing purpose of the excursion was not a holiday but a study opportunity for farmers and technical personnel to come to grips with present agricultural conditions, available technology and future possibilities.
Dream and map the road to the future
Professor Johan Willemse, well-known agricultural economist, drew a full house and kept his audience seat-bound; some even carpet-bound on the floor, who wanted to savour his sober advice. He advised farmers to map their road to the future and to avoid coming up against drama, detail and problems. “Be careful of what you discuss at the farmer’s association meetings. There’s no sense in debating hours on end about drought aid (or not) by the government. Government is not going to help. Full stop!”
He said he attended a farmer’s association meeting in Australia where the farmers discussed methods of making profit! Their focus is on producing more with less. They think creatively. “So many times the problem is really not the problem. The problem is in our heads . . . how we are dealing with it!”
“To remain competitive farmers have to think creatively. When there is a market for your product, you have a future.”
It is estimated that there already are 70 million people in South Africa and their food come from commercial farmers. The demand for food is going to increase and that is why the farmer should invest in the correct technology to produce more with less.
“It is no longer possible to run at the Olympic Games like a barefoot Zola Budd. Today there are specialist spikes; the tools to farm better with technology, are there – you just have to put your spikes on!” The three main risks emphasised by the top performers in the business world are extreme weather conditions, failure to adapt to climate change and natural disasters, Willemse said.
“And these people are not farmers – they are computer boffins. It they see it, we should be able to see it all the better. In our time water will become our major problem.”
Professor Willemse said he recently listened to farmers at a famer’s association meeting complaining about government’s R240 billion social grants and the fact that there was no money to subsidise agriculture.
“We must think out of the box – social grants ARE subsidies to farmers as half of the money poor people has, is spent on food!”
Farm with precision technology
One of the technology solutions introduced to farmers by Laeveld Agrochem on the ship, is MyFarm-WebTM, developed by Agri Technovation in collaboration with Mezzanine (Vodacom).
MyFarmWebTM at last provide an independent solution for the integration and interpretation of data from different systems to enable a farmer to make informed decisions regarding precision farming. Harvester combine maps, dam levels, leaf analysis, aerial maps, soil classifications, profitability calculations, and even accurate yield estimates in orchards form part of the information that can be unlocked through this platform.
Philip Venter of Laeveld Agrochem says access to this level of technology is one of the main reasons why farmers profit through a partnership with Laeveld Agrochem.
“Our culture is client-focused; we supply remedies and information regarding crop protection and plant nutrition; we serve farmers and don’t merely advise the same programme year after year.”
“Laeveld Agrochem is a vibrant commercial name. We have the critical mass to ensure excellent access to suppliers – we have a suppliers list with more than one hundred names,” says Philip.
Not only crop experts discussed issues. Dr Shaun Morris discussed resistance against antibiotics and the influence it has on human health. He said feedlots will need less antibiotics if farmers would rather inoculate weaners preventatively. They need not wait for Onderstepoort vaccines any longer – everything is presently also supplied by private suppliers.
What about the future?
A popular, straight talker who shoots from the hip, Nick Serfontein of Sernick Bonsmara, discussed land reformation and what farmers could do to ensure that they will remain part of the future of South Africa.
Nick came to the attention of president Ramaphosa when he recently wrote an open, outspoken letter in which he focused the attention on the problems farmers have and how emerging farmers could be assisted. He told the audience how he followed his dream when his father sent him off to study engineering, and how he then developed an extensive commercial operation afterwards, starting with 30 Bonsmara heifers. Today he has an extensive business with a Phase C bull testing station, an animal feed factory, a feed lot, abattoir and dedicated retail section. His advice to farmers is: “Get out; dare to go beyond the farm gate.”
He also encouraged farmers to become involved with the uplifting and empowerment of emerging farmers and become active to help enable these farmers to farm on their own land. He said government did not have the capacity to apply land reform but he did believe strongly that no farmer would lose productive land as part of government’s policy for “land reform without compensation”.
“The problem was created artificially as a lightning conductor to divert the attention from the inefficiency of a band of pathetic operatives responsible for land reform.”
Beyond the banks of the Limpopo
Another popular session was the panel discussion by Agri All Africa on agricultural opportunities beyond the Limpopo. The discussion was opened by Dr Theo de Jager, president of the World Farmer’s Organisation. He had to reply to the question whether the grass was greener beyond the banks of the Limpopo River.
Dr de Jager shared very interesting information on Africa, e.g., that the biggest language in Africa was Arabic, followed by Swahili and then French. English is in fourth place, followed by 3 000 indigenous languages, among them Afrikaans. 15% of the world population lives in Africa. The continent has 46% of the world’s uncultivated land and 80% of the worlds untapped water resources. It has the best average climate for agriculture compared with any other continent.
Countries in Eastern Africa perform best regarding the application of technology and the growing of markets with Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya at the top of the list. In Southern Africa Zambia is the country with the fastest growth figure.
According to statistics available to Agri All Africa, there are 3 000 South African, Zimbabwean and Namibian farmers farming in 46 countries – most of them in Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. There are 110 South African agricultural companies, banks and chain store groups active in Africa.
The main headwind limiting agricultural development in the rest of Africa is financing. Finances are tied to provision of security for land ownership. The only countries where land can still be offered as security are South Africa, Namibia and, to a lesser degree, Botswana and Zambia. Other important problems are political risks, the bilateral protection of contracts, infrastructure, contact with markets, corruption and bribery.
“Our policy at Agri All Africa is that we never pay a bribe. Sometimes it costs you, but once you start bribing it has no end.”
He warned farmers thinking of migrating to the north to keep one important thing in mind: “There is no such thing in Africa as vacant land. If you want to work the land, you marry the people. If they like you, you have good assurance. If they don’t like you, you will have no future there.
“You cannot love the land and loathe the people. In Africa you begin with the people before all other things.”
Tailwinds which may promote agricultural development are: “Africa really wants us there. The ministers of agriculture court Afrikaans-speaking farmers in no uncertain manner; they bow over backwards and are assisted by our own helpful Department of Foreign Affairs.”
Dr de Jager’s conclusion is: “The grass across the Limpopo is not greener, it is not more nutritious, it is not cheaper; there are only fewer cattle grazing it and that creates the potential – there is definitely not more grass.”