The power of mentor relationships in farming

Meet farmer Petrus Tsotetsi tonight on 'Vir die liefde van die land', a popular DStv farmers’ show. He never imagined that he would lose his father, leave his family and move almost four hours away to save his heritage

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Petrus Tsotetsi with his mentor and friend, Bertus Cordier. Photo: Food For Mzansi
Petrus Tsotetsi with his mentor and friend, Bertus Cordier. They are featured Photo: Food For Mzansi

It was exactly 11 years ago when Petrus Ranko Tsotetsi made the sacrifice to quit his job, leave his family and move about 349 kilometres away from Pretoria to honour his late fathers’ legacy.

His father, Joseph Tsotetsi, used to farm on 316 hectares of land between Harrismith and Kestell in the Free State. Tsotetsi, now 54, remembers that his father died from burn wounds he suffered while trying to rescue a neighbour’s farm from the flames.

He had to drop everything to attend to his father’s funeral.

“I had just started a new job at Metrorail, and I had a lot of responsibilities there since there was a crisis (at the commuter rail service) at the time. But I had to leave to prepare for my father’s funeral and to take care of a few things on the farm.”

READ MORE: Farmer walked in his dad’s footsteps, pushing further

Tsotetsi wasn’t initially destined for agriculture. He studied motor mechanics in Bethlehem in 1992 before opening his own car repair workshop in 1993.

Unfortunately, this closed down after a few big contracts ended in 1996 and 1997. So, at the time of his father’s death, he was supervising the subcontractors at Metrorail in Pretoria.

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After the funeral he would visit the farm occasionally just to see if everything was okay. He also worked the land on a part-time basis.

“Then I had to leave the farm and then some of the equipment like the tractors got stolen. In 2009 I had to resign from my job and start farming on my father’s land full-time,” he says.

Tsotetsi shares that breaking the news to his wife and children was difficult. “My wife couldn’t go with me because she had a job in Pretoria and my children were in school.”

The father of three tell Food For Mzansi that he had to sit his wife down and break the news to her, but she understood because she knew he had a responsibility to fulfil.

“She also knew how much I loved farming, so she gave me her blessings.”

Tsotetsi moved to the farm in 2009 and maintained the livestock that belonged to his father while he enrolled in farming courses that would teach him about crop farming.

It was only in 2013 that he started planting 55 hectares of dry beans.

A second blow…

Two years later, while attending a national farmers’ general meeting in Johannesburg, he suffered another blow. He was involved in a vehicle accident that took him away from his farm for almost a year.

“My younger brother, who was working in Joburg, came and collected me after the meeting and then later we had an accident.

“It was serious because most of the things I used to do for myself, I can’t do them like I used to. For instance, I can’t drive a tractor and I can’t do some activities on the farm that I used to be able to.”

This forced him to make drastic changes to his life, but with the support of his three workers, his family and his mentor, Bertus Cordier, it was all possible.

“I had to study more since I couldn’t do a lot physically and that’s when Cordier came in and encouraged me more,” he says.

Petrus Tsotetsi busy with soil preparation on his Free State farm. Photo: Supplied
Petrus Tsotetsi busy with soil preparation on his Free State farm. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Tsotetsi met Cordier after applying for a VKB Group mentorship programme.

“Cordier taught me many things. Firstly, he is a farmer with livestock and grain. So, he has got more farming experience, especially on how to calibrate spraying programmes, how to plant, how to prepare the land even before you start planting and when we must start harvesting.”

Through the programme he was mentored and taught how to farm on a larger scale. “I started making a lot of money on my farm after my accident in 2015,” he says. His focus shifted to livestock and grains.

In 2018 his farm was doing so well that he won a ”Production of 250 tonnes of grain” Award.

He says, “I was very happy. Actually it was more than that. The award had two categories 250 and 500 tonnes and I had done 480 tonnes, but because I didn’t manage to make 500 tonnes I had to fall into the 250 category.”

In 2019 he was nominated with three others in the National Sugar Beans Award and he took second place out of 100 participants.

Tsotetsi currently employs five people on his farm. He shares that although his farming journey has been fruitful, he has experienced some difficulties on the farm.

Asparagus farmer Petrus Tsotetsi meets Food For Mzansi editor: audience and engagement Dawn Noemdoe. Photo: Ivor Price
Asparagus farmer Petrus Tsotetsi meets Food For Mzansi editor: audience and engagement Dawn Noemdoe. Photo: Food For Mzansi

“The biggest challenges that I have come across were finances, drought, marketing, not having enough equipment and a lack of knowledge,” he says. However, support from his family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

“Working together with my neighbours and getting support from my family keeps me going. My family has supported me from the beginning,” he says.

Tough lessons learnt

The Makabelane High School matriculant says that the toughest lesson he learnt is to plant on time. He also learnt that drought is an inevitable event and that he should be more prepared for veld fires in future so he can be able to protect his livestock.

His advice to young people who want to pursue careers as farmers is to be passionate about what they are doing, do research and be dedicated.

“The most important thing is to love what you are doing, learn more about the industry that you are in and collect as much information as you can,” he says.

Tsotetsi also adds that passion and planning is key in this industry. “You need to focus and have passion, commit yourself and have a clear vision on what you want to do,” he says.

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