In celebration of Youth Month, we feature some of the rising farm stars participating in the FarmSol Youth Ambassador programme. Every Friday, we will introduce you to a different young farmer who has grown their enterprises with the help of the prestigious farmer development programme. This week, we travel to the Free State to meet Benjamin Mbele.
When Benjamin Mbele’s father retired from a career as a civil servant in 2002, he bought a 155ha farm in the Free State’s Kaallaagte area. At the time, Mbeli was still at school and he helped his father over weekends, tending to the cattle and yellow maize.
“Since 2014, I became more and more involved in farming operations [on the Brakfontein farm] as my dad was getting on in years. He sadly passed away in 2018, and since then I have been farming on my own,” he says.
Mbele planted 100ha of yellow maize under his own steam in 2018, and a year later he was introduced to FarmSol, a leading farmer development programme.
“With the help of FarmSol I planted 100ha of yellow maize in 2019. This put me in a position to plant another 100ha with FarmSol the next year, along with an additional 80ha on my own,” he recalls.
His farming journey moved to the next level once FarmSol partnered with him, Mbele says. “My maize yield in 2018 was 3.5 tonnes per hectare, but it improved to 4.5 tonnes per hectare in 2019.”
Mbele ascribes this improvement to several aspects.
“FarmSol provided me with an interest-free production loan, allowing me to plant more hectares than I could manage on my own finances. They also provided me with the services of Barry Nel, who assists me as a farming mentor.”
With the guidance and support of Nel, Mbele had a professional soil analysis done. This, in turn, helped him in developing a science-based fertiliser programme. He also purchased the best seed for his farming environment. “All these changes resulted in a higher yield in 2019,” he says.
Looking forward to the future
Mbele is now in his second year of FarmSol partnership. In 2020, he planted 180ha in total of which 100ha is with a FarmSol production loan.
“This year we did a chemical burn down, which is a first for me, and I am excited to see the difference this practice makes to weed management,” Mbele says.
As a farmer, he is positive about his future. However, he admits that there is still great room for improvement and expansion of his farming enterprise.
He mentions the fact that his equipment is old, and that newer technology would bring further improvements. An example is the application of fertiliser, which he currently applies in pelleted form.
“Liquid fertiliser would be more effective, but the equipment is currently too expensive for me. I would prioritise a modern planter, as this is the most crucial aspect in the production cycle,” he says.
Looking to the future
Mbele recently secured a 30-year lease on a nearby government farm.
According to him, the 355ha farm has good soil and is ideal to expand his maize production on. He also plans to grow his cattle herd to reach 90 heifers. “For me, maize and cattle go hand in hand. I need both to make the business profitable.”
His advice to young people who are considering a life in agriculture?
“Farming can be an excellent career choice, but you need to do it because you have a passion for animals and crops.
“If you want to make a quick buck, this is not the sector for you. In agriculture, you invest your capital in seeds and fertiliser or breeding stock, and then you have to manage it for many months, during which time many things can happen. And once the harvest comes in, you have to be ready to invest again for the next season.”