To many, Breyton Milford is known as the fellow promoting the image of agriculture to the general public as promotion and marketing organisation Agri-Expo’s operations manager. However, there is so much more to this young, part-time farmer and agricultural leader than meets the eye.
The 34-year-old Milford is chairman of the National Agricultural Youth Association and in June 2019 he was elected as a trustee of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth. Not only is Milford the youngest trustee, but he is the first black person from Africa to sit on this esteemed panel.
Even with all his accomplishments, Milford is far from boastful or arrogant.
“I am a guy who always tries to live humbly and to help bring people together for the improvement of agriculture. My goal has always been to play an impactful role in agriculture.
“I do not want to serve on a board, sit there, and drink cake and tea. No, I really want to make a difference,” he says.
Milford grew up in Port Nolloth in the Namaqualand region of the Northern Cape, where his relatives were avid farmers producing on communal land. Farming has always been in his blood and from an early age and he dreamt of owning cattle and planting crops.
“Where I grew up, people believed that certain trees, like pear and peach trees, could never grow there, but they definitely grew under my hand,” he recalls.
When he reached a certain age, both his grandfather and uncle allowed him to keep animals at their respective communal farm plots.
After completing his primary school education, Milford was unshaken in his belief that he wanted to pursue agriculture as a career. He attended Augsburg Landbou Gimnasium agricultural school in Clanwilliam, Western Cape.
After matriculating from Augsburg he furthered his studies at Grootfontein College of Agriculture and graduated there.
Armed with a solid agricultural education, Milford was ready to take up space in the agricultural sector and make the impactful contribution to the sector he aspired to.
When Milford started working at Agri-Expo he began saving up money to fund his farming dream. In 2008 he started renting land in Clanwilliam and bought cattle.
‘There’s a real need for providing basic information to smallholders farmers and small farmers’
This year, Milford acquired more land and currently farms on about 7500 hectares with sheep and cattle.
“Farming is a side hustle for me,” he admits. “But it keeps me in contact with primary agriculture. The fact that I am a farmer myself allows me to better understand the challenges farmers experience on the ground.”
Farming is full of tough challenges and Milford has certainly not been spared from them.
Climatic impacts like droughts have presented South African farmers and farming communities with significant challenges, including Milford, who says delayed rainfalls in SA have been a massive setback.
“Your eyes will open quite a bit the day you lose about a third of your animals as a result of harsh droughts. Even though you put in a lot of effort, give them feed and make plans, still, your animals die.”
Equipping smallholder farmers with the basics
The farmer and agriculturalist has achieved many great things in his agri career.
While studying at the Grootfontein College of Agriculture, he was awarded the John Deere Award for Best Agricultural Student of the Year. Even Standard Bank has recognised him for impacting youth.
But a recent highlight for Milford was the launch of Agri-expo’s SIYABONGA days in which he played a crucial role.
“There’s a real need for providing basic information to smallholder farmers and small-scale farmers. The SIYABONGA days aim to provide basic agricultural information in a unique format where farmers share a platform with industry experts.
“They also get the opportunity to ask questions and return to their farming with more knowledge to eventually be more productive,” Milford says.
He believes that it is important to take basic information to farmers on ground level. “If we look at the number of informal farmers (backyard farmers) in the country, they are much more than the number of commercial farmers we have. Those guys we need to upscale so that they can produce better.”
Milford says the value of agricultural schools should not be underestimated.
“There are too few agricultural teachers in SA. It is a much bigger problem at the moment than it was in my days,” he says.
Milford says the very basic information that they share with farmers at the SIYABONGA days is knowledge he obtained and mastered when he attended Augsburg agricultural school.
He further adds that he believes those attending agricultural school have an advantage compared to other prospective farmers and agriculturalists.
“Agricultural schools can open so many opportunities for you. The industry role-players now want to get involved with agricultural schools because they see the outcomes of students who attend these schools,” Milford states.
A farmer with a big heart
Milford has a heart for small farmers because he understands the challenges and constraints they face.
“I know what it’s like farming on communal land and the challenges farmers there face.
“Because I have traveled all over the world and acquired so much knowledge and information, I can’t sit with it and not share it. That’s why I believe that we need to share it with the smaller guys,” he says.
According to Milford, the gap between government officials, industry role players, and farmers needs to be closed.
“I think officials need to move closer to the producers on ground level. This is a huge gap that I see across South Africa,” he says.
“There is a great need for agricultural trainers, and they should not be office bound. They must be among the people. You must know what is going on in your district and what the farmers’ circumstances are. That is how you build the community,” Milford believes.