Positivity among hard pressed farmers impresses Irish agri journalist as he tours South Africa

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We’ve all seen and heard the news. Farm attacks in South Africa are reported almost on a daily basis to the rest of the world and must be condemned.

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 now over the past 12 years and come away each time with a sense of dismissal but also hope. South Africa is a beautiful country, physically, and produces some of the best food and wine demanded by consumers around 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 some form of corruption. But where does that leave agriculture and the 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 really I never experienced before.

Yes, nothing politically has changed, except for the worst, but farmers are more defiant, more ambitious and are investing to make their farms more efficient in order to give them a 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 really comforting to visit a number of farmers on this trip who are putting new technology to play in order to improve their businesses.

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Visiting Greenway Farms Ltd with headquarters at Tarlton to see how business partners Vito Rugani and Vincent Sequeira handle over 60,000 tonnes of carrots per year grown on 2,500 hectares was really inspiring.

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

They have invested heavily in new state of the art equipment to extract juice from vegetables. The science is baffling, the set-up is extremely professional and as for the juice, well…..

I have to admit this was the first time I ever tried carrot juice and it was absolutely delicious. The knowledge I gained from Vito and his team will stay with me for a long time. I just hope he finds a way to export the range to the UK!

Next visit was to Corne Nel’s Doornfontein Melkery in Randfontein where they milk 700 cows. Dairy unit manager Pieter Barnard gave me a very informative tour of the farm. Having been brought up on a dairy farm myself in Northern Ireland, this visit was particularly interesting and I was also impressed to see more investment in equipment to make life easier.

A new rotary parlour installed two years ago certainly speeds milking time up and perhaps investment into robotic milkers will also help with the different milking groups in the future. The sun can be a challenge where livestock are concerned and it was good to hear plans to build new housing in the corals to keep the cows cooler.

Chris McCullough is a freelance multimedia journalist who has worked in the media industry for the past 15 years.
Chris McCullough is a freelance multimedia journalist who has worked in the media industry for the past 15 years.

With excellent production figures and a sound understanding of the cows, this farm is certainly gearing up for an exciting future. Before travelling across the border to visit farms in Botswana I went to see Sarel Haasbroek’s grain farm in the Carletonville area of Gauteng. Again this is another progressive farmer positive about the future and was excelling in importing the Horsch machinery brand into South Africa.

Up in Francistown, eastern Botswana, I was warmly hosted by the Munger family at Wayside Brahman Stud Ltd for four nights. During my stay there 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 certainly well respected both in the area and for the cattle they produce. Wayside was started by Rowland’s father Keith, who was also present during my visit.

And then it was off to see another beef farmer, this time with Bonsmara cattle, Calla Visser, for a very early start checking his cattle.

Every night Calla has to go and round up over 400 cattle on his farm and herd them into outdoor corals for the night to protect them against theft and predators such as hyenas or leopards!

Every morning, Calla and his staff start very early going around the five different corals on his 6,000 hectare farm counting all the cows, calves and bulls, hoping they all made it through the night alive.

This, of course, is a new line of management for me but was nonetheless interesting to learn. A visit to Bobbsie’s Chickens Ltd based in the east at Tshesebe guided by general manager Gerhard van der Merwe was another super visit.

Botswana, too, impressed me, as did the farmers there. 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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