By Dr Eugene Brink
Farming in South Africa has to deal with a lot of things: crime, labour problems, hostile politics, harmful and unsteady weather conditions and many more.
And yet, there are tens of thousands of successful farmers in the country and agriculture is one of the biggest employers and economic sectors in the country. Not only do many farmers and their farms survive, but they thrive and produce some of the best products in the world.
While analysts, economists and other outsiders are negatively disposed toward this sector and the average age or farmers is over 60, there are young farmers who see and use the opportunities and make the necessary adaptations in spite of difficult circumstances.
Hennie Bekker (29), a cattle farmer near Bethal in Mpumalanga, says higher production costs are a big challenge and the market does not adapt proportionately. “Farmers are forced to make drastic adjustments. Mechanisation and new farming practices are imperative for survival – although the new practices have not yet been tried out.
“There are various other challenges as well: politics, crime and also climate, but farmers are people who live on hope. Farmers have a future here. We must just stand together and support each other. We will go to new heights.”
According to Bekker the sweetest moment for an emerging cattle farmer is when a new calf is born. “It is always good if the newborns show improvements on the previous year’s calves.”
Herman Janse van Rensburg, who was designated Free State Agriculture’s 24th Young Farmer in Bloemfontein on 17 April 2019, says young farmers must stop Googling for new opportunities in other countries. “Rather Google for opportunities in South Africa. Think positively and be hopeful. Hope is very important because if you don’t hope, there is no life.”
Janse van Rensburg farms mostly with maize and sunflowers and, like Bekker, he is of the opinion that adaptability is necessary in all sectors.
Experts also give some hints on what the present-day world of a farmer is like.
Bennie van Zyl, general manager of the agricultural society TAU SA says farming expertise is the art, science, economy, culture and way of life that forms part of the make-up of the commercial farmer. “Farming expertise is also intellectual property, experience capital, incentive medium, initiatives, etc.”
He mentions a few characteristic that farmers must have to be successful. “The assumption of responsibility is a core characteristic that a farmer must have in order to exercise his entrepreneurship. Farming requires 24-hour-a-day and seven-days-a-week dedication.”
Secondly, there must be a sense of urgency. “The environment in which a farmer functions, taking into consideration the high capital outlay and how fast a wrong-going scenario can turn into a catastrophe that jeopardises the continued existence of the undertaking, needs a sense of urgency. Normally the execution of tasks cannot be postponed without unnecessary exposure to big risks.”
Decision-making and general management capability are also of crucial importance. “”Independent decision-making is of critical importance within the framework of a fixed programme and ad hoc decisions that have to be made, for example the weather conditions and market environment. Success will in a large way depend on the extent to which the right decision can be made at the right time. Experience plays a consequential role in this.
“The management of an undertaking must be dynamic and without uncertainty. Every person in the undertaking must know who does things and where, how and when they should be done. The farmer must be able to let all these gears mesh simultaneously and to do the necessary prioritisation.”
Dr Faffa Malan, consultant at Landbou.com, also has a variety of hints for present and prospective farmers:
- Find out what the local successful farmers do. Visit leading farmers and learn from their experience.
- Join the local farmers’ association and study group and attend their meetings. They regularly invite experts to discuss topical subjects.
- If you are a meat producer, join the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) and attend their meetings.
- If you are a milk farmer, join the Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) and attend their meetings.
- If you are a wool farmer, join the National Wool Growers Association (NWGA) and attend their meetings.
- The agricultural departments at the universities and other training colleges can also help you to make sensible decisions.
- There are also consultants who specialise in certain agricultural aspects to advise farmers and future farmers.
- Read agricultural magazines regularly and collect relevant information.
- Attend courses. Check the yellow pages of the Farmers Weekly to see where courses are advertised.
Landbou.com, 2017, “Wil begin boer”, http://hulp.landbou.com/kundiges/finansies/wil-begin-boer-2/.
Pieter Delport, 25 April 2019, “Bly positief, vra Jongboer”, https://www.bloemfonteincourant.co.za/bly-positief-vra-jongboer/.