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Third-generation farmer builds his father’s legacy

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Love for the land runs through the veins of third-generation farmer and agri-leader Jaco Minnaar (42). He has spent his entire life dedicated to his first love – farming.

Minnaar is a former Free State farmer of the year and is currently serving as chairperson of grain producers’ body Grain SA. Besides being a successful farmer, he is also a loving father and husband.

It seems like Minnaar was destined to work the land. Growing up in Hennenman in the Free State, his father and both his grandfathers were life-long farmers.

“I was raised on the farm and did a lot of stuff with my dad. Always travelled with him between farms, drove tractors, combines and worked with cattle. I loved the farm and always knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Minnaar speaks with pride about his parents, Fiet and Elize. He says, “my parents are very dedicated people, committed to their kids, their job and their community.”

They have definitely passed some of these characteristics down to Minnaar and his brother and younger sister. He says the greatest lesson he learned from his parents is: “Determination to finish what you started and carry on no matter what.”

Jaco Minnaar
Jaco Minnaar

His love for farming struck so deep that, as a child, Minnaar would find a way to escape other responsibilities just to spend time outdoors on the farm.

“Both my grandfathers were farmers, so I loved to spend the holidays with them farming. Also not studying during exam times, [I would] close my bedroom door so mom thought I was studying. And then I slipped out the window to farm.”

In 1994 he matriculated from Hennenman Secondary School. According to Minnaar he realised that he could not begin to the farm right away. He first had to learn more. So he went on to study agricultural engineering at the University of Pretoria and obtained his degree in 1998. The following year he travelled abroad to gather experience on a farm in North Dakota and learn how American farmers think and operate.

“While working there, my dad died in a quad bike accident. So, I immediately resigned and started farming full time [here] in September 1999. I’ve carried the responsibility of the farm for 20 years,” says Minnaar.

The sudden death of Minnaar’s father weighed heavily on both him and his brother, as they had to resume all farming operations on their own. He emphasized that mentorship during this painful time was important to them.

“The biggest challenge to date for me was coping with my farming business after my dad died. All the practical stuff me and my brother knew, but deciding from whom to buy your inputs, who to trust that could give honest opinions, where and how much credit to apply for, who to sell your cattle to. Mentorship in this was very important.”

It might have been the hardest thing for him to face, but his father’s death taught Minnaar to stand on his own and pursue his dreams. He has since ventured into various types of farming, which include grain, cattle and game. Minnaar runs two farming operations.

“I have two main farming operations. One in the Hennenman district where I have the mixed farming unit, and the other is in the Bothaville area with mainly grains. The soil types and geography are such that in the wetter rainfall years the Hennenman unit performs better, and in the drier years the Bothaville unit performs better. This, together with the cattle, brings more stability and risk mitigation to my business. This coming season I will be planting about 3500 hectares of grains and have about 450 head of cattle.”

Although Minnaar does not consider himself to be a very driven person, he has been awarded for his hard work. Giving his best and never giving up is what motivates him. In 2011 he was named Free State farmer of the year.

“Being able to do all that I can to the best of my ability, that’s probably my motivation, because success is not always in my own hands. Farming shows that very clearly.”

Minnaar’s first-hand experience as a farmer has helped him immensely, in his task, to represent other grain farmers as the chairperson of Grain SA. He also sits on the board of Senwes.

Away from the farm, Minnaar is a dedicated family man. He met his wife Nicolene in grade 9, only to marry her 12 years later.

“We are married 15 years now, with two kids. A daughter Henke (12) and a son Daniël (7). Both already know they want to farm – Henke with cattle and Daniël with game,” says Minnaar.

Minnaar loves flying and owns an aircraft. Sometimes he uses it to attend meetings or inspect fields and cattle from the air. It is also a great way to relax.

I am an eager pilot. In my second life I would become a fighter pilot,” says Minnaar. He adds that he loves spending time alone and is also a tech junkie.

Looking to the future, Minnaar is committed to the ideal of unity in Mzansi.He says South Africans have a lot to learn from each other and should continue to do so to ensure a better future for all.

Chantélle Hartebeest
Chantélle Hartebeest
CHANTÉLLE HARTEBEEST is a young journalist who has a fiery passion for storytelling. She is eager to be the voice of the voiceless and has worked in both radio and print media before joining Food For Mzansi.
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