Picture this. A former hairdresser is now making waves in the agricultural space, and she’s just been recognised as one of Africa’s most influential women. Sounds too good to be true? You obviously haven’t met the dynamic Preline Swart yet.
This emerging grain producer is proof that you can’t keep a powerful woman on a tight leash. Swart’s life mission, after all, is “to make a difference” and that is exactly what she’s been doing over the last decade.
The 37-year-old farms in Elim, a mission village on the Agulhas Plain in the Western Cape – the same village where she was born and raised on the well-watered bank of the Nuwejaars River. Growing up, however, she could never imagine herself becoming a farmer, until she met and later married her husband, Ralph, who has been working in agriculture for the last 38 years.
Ralph established Swart Boerdery in 1978 and started farming with a mere 10 sheep and an ox. Today the couple own a farm in the Overberg and lease a further 1 150 ha from the Moravian Church in Elim. They farm with sheep, cattle, ostriches and various grain crops, including oats, barley, wheat and triticale (a breeder’s cross between wheat and rye).
Swart, a mother of two, says: “I married Ralph ten years ago. At first, I observed what he was doing – then I decided to join him.”
Since then the former home-base carer and hairstylist dedicated herself to learning more about the agricultural industry.
“I settled to work in my hair salon at the back of our house, but the farming thing won at the end of the day.”
She was eager to learn and applied for a few agricultural short courses in which she excelled. The rest is history as they say, and she recently finished a stint as the vice-chairperson of Grain SA, the first ever female to serve on the organisation’s executive committee. Also, she is a member of Agri SA’s Commodity Chamber.
Together Preline and Ralph has achieved many joint career highlights, including the Grain SA and Absa New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year as well as the New Entrant to Commercial Farming Award, both received in 2014. Preline is the co-owner and office manager of Swart Boerdery.
She has recently also been honoured by the CEO of Global Award as one of Africa’s most influential women working in agriculture. “It is tough (working in the agricultural industry) as a female. You have to work twice as hard to show men that you deserve to be there and that you know what you are talking about. However, I enjoy it.”
Despite her booming career, Swart has had to overcome several personal difficulties. Not too long ago she was diagnosed with cancer. “My health is reasonable at the moment. Although cancer has decided to force its way into my young life I remain positive every day.”
She continues to do her best, also for her children, Charmile (16) and Hope (10). Her children understand that she often has to travel extensively for work. “Everything I do is for my kids. When I’m home we play board games, braai and take road trips.”
Besides farming, Swart loves getting busy with community outreach projects – and both her children are equally active.
Swart is also passionate about the upliftment of other women in agriculture. She adds that if there are women who aspire to be farmers, she and other established women in this space are able to make connections and help where they can. “Women have always played an important role in agriculture. We are needed for the success of this industry.”