Father-and-son no-till farming team builds for the future

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Every Friday, we feature one of the rising farm stars participating in the FarmSol Youth Ambassador programme. This week, we travel to the Free State to meet Clifford Mtimkulu, who is continuing the legacy of his father.

Clifford Mthimkulu’s journey into farming started with his father. As a younger man, Koos Mthimkulu (66) worked as a shepherd in the Paul Roux district, Free State. He realised that he had a natural affinity for machinery when he started working with tractors on Mieliebult, the same farm on which Clifford was born.

In 2004, Koos’s life changed. His employer at the time, Frikkie Du Preez, decided to go into stock farming. He no longer needed grain-farming implements and offered them to Koos on a repayment schedule. A year later, Koos started farming on land leased from Du Preez, as well as through contract work on neighbouring farms.

maize, FarmSol, no-till

Another year passed and the Mthimkulus were able to secure their own farm. They applied through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy and successfully obtained Astoria, a 493ha farm with the potential for a sustainable dryland cropping business.

“Due to the fact that we did not receive ownership of the land, we struggled to access finance, and had to start small and grow little by little over the years,” Koos says.

Clifford’s return to farming

Growing up, Clifford Mthimkulu (31) often accompanied his father to work. It was from his father that he learned about farming.

“My dad taught me all the basics of farming even when I was still a young boy. I grew up with him working on the farm and fixing machines,” Clifford remembers.  A qualified paramedic, he worked in the security industry before returning to farming in 2008, joining his father in growing the business.

“We plant maize, soy and sunflowers, and then also oats for our cattle,” Clifford says. He says they achieve a 5.6t/ha yield with their maize plantings and ascribes it to careful soil management and a move to more precision farming practices.

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“We take soil samples each year to determine which crops to plant where. We also recently installed computerised monitors on our no-till planter, which means the tractor driver can now focus on his driving, as there are systems which monitor if the planter is working correctly,” Clifford explains.

Growing through FarmSol

Barry Nel, extension officer at FarmSol, met the Mthimkulus at a BKB meeting in 2019, where he introduced them to the FarmSol and South African Breweries programme. The Mthimkulus had struggled to secure funding before, making the offer a perfect option for them.

“We were very excited to learn about an initiative that provides 0% interest production loans, especially since we have had the experience of struggling to acquire funding for our farming business in the past,” says Clifford.

The Mtimkulus first planted 50ha of sunflowers with FarmSol in 2019, then followed it up in 2020 with 100ha of non-GMO yellow maize on contract with SAB.

“We had too much rain in 2020 and could not do all the required spraying when it was due, but nonetheless, we are still expecting a good harvest of 4.3t/ha,” Clifford says.

Clifford, in partnership with FarmSol, is now planning to plant 300ha non-GMO yellow maize. This expansion will require them to have more land.

“I am negotiating with the Department of Public works on a long-term lease for a 380ha farm in the Bethlehem area to be able to expand our grain plantings,” he says.

Farming has become a lot more focused on science and the environment in the last few years, which has brought changes that an older farmer like Koos may not be too comfortable with. Clifford says he had to convince his father about the benefits of no-till. “My dad said I can try to convince him with a test planting, which I did. Now we do no-till planting!”

With the expansion and growth of their business, Clifford has started taking the lead role on the farm. “My dad is now my mentor, and I am in charge of the farming operations.”

He advises that any young person considering farming as career “should know that farming has to be your passion if you want to succeed.”

ALSO READ: Covid-19: Agri working towards the ‘new normal’

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