What makes a farmer? It is not their gender, and it is not even their farm that makes a person worthy of this title. It comes down to love, hard work and character, believes Grietha van Rensburg, who has been devoted to producing food from the land for the past more than 16 years.
Van Rensburg is a sheep farmer from North West who also farms with cattle with her husband, Louis. She is a city girl, originally from Johannesburg, the city of gold. But about 30 years ago, she married a farmer, intensifying her passion and love for animals.
“I love the animals. The cattle are partly my husband’s, but the sheep are solely mine. I enjoy sheep farming and I am very passionate about it,” says Van Rensburg.
Because of the passion and drive she puts into her work, this mother of two has won a provincial award from Agriculture Writers SA in 2021.
When receiving her award, Grietha was described as a woman who dared to dream and who has reaped her rewards.
“Despite not having any formal farming education, she has worked her way to becoming a successful farmer and judge at livestock shows. She is also the only woman to have served on the SA Mutton Merino Society’s board and is also chairperson of the SAMM club in North West,” reads the awards website.
Since 2005 she has been running the successful Amulet Mutton Merino stud on the farm Taaibospan near Sannieshof in North West. Here she farms with more than 700 sheep, while the cattle operation has more than 120 cows.
There is a glimmer in her eyes when she speaks about the work she does. There is a clear sense of pride when she tells Food For Mzansi that she employs only women on her farm.
The power of women
This decision has borne results for her business, with the mortality of lambs and calves dropping noticeably as her staff became more female, she says.
What makes women great farmers is that they have a kind of motherly love, and they are able to take very good care of baby lambs and showing them that type of love. “This is what separates them from men,” she believes.
“It is not about being a gender activist, or anything like that, but I think women have been denied many opportunities in the past, especially in agriculture.”
“Employing women only on my farm is my way of helping to end gender imbalances and equip them with the necessary skills needed to put bread on the table.”
Despite her awards and what she has achieved as a farmer, Van Rensburg faces challenges like any farmer, such as the drought in the province.
“We take every challenge as it comes. Some challenges come unexpected, as we can’t really do anything about natural disasters. We don’t only do sheep and cattle farming; we also do crops and when the drought comes, things became a bit difficult,” she says.
Giving advice to those who want to start farming, Van Rensburg says that it’s important to start small and to learn the ropes as a business grows. From here, one can better understand the needs of a farm.
“Don’t give up. The farm must go on. If you lose 1 350 lambs, that mustn’t discourage you. You must go on. You must just face the challenge and then go on and don’t let anything – people or nature – discourage you,” she advises.