Being a young farmer in Mzansi is not easy at all. Those starting out often rely heavily on state funding in order to grow their farming operations into a successful agribusiness. But what do you do when your applications for funding are continuously rejected?
Well, you follow 30-year-old Gary Patience’s example – dust yourself off and simply try again. “But whatever you do, never give up on your farming aspirations. Even if no one believes in your potential,” Patience says.
The farmer co-owns GT Agri Group (a 50-year-old family agribusiness) with his mother Therecia. Gary owns 49% of the business and his mother 51%.
Therecia took over the farm from her late father-in-law, Japie Patience, who started farming with 20 sheep in 1969 on the very same land. “I was a housewife, while my husband worked as a teacher. I was the only one who had time to attend to the farm,” Therecia explains.
Today, the mother and son duo farm with 250 Dohne Marino sheep and about 100 red and black Angus cattle. They do this on a 95-hectare piece of rented commonage land (the size of about 95 rugby fields) in Saron, Western Cape.
They also provide agricultural support to commercial farmers by repairing and doing maintenance work on their agricultural equipment. This year, GT Agri Group sold 30% of their cattle and invested in 14 pure bred Angus cows, calves, and a stud bull.
“One day they will see our potential”
Although this might sound quite impressive, funding such a successful operation has been no simple task. They have applied for government assistance several times, but keep on being rejected.
“It’s disheartening,” Gary says “but we cannot wait for government. This is our family legacy and it has to continue growing. Hopefully one day they will see our potential and support our business.”
Until then, the farmer says their longevity comes with not spending money on unnecessary things.
He says, “on point” financial record keeping is how they’ve outlived most start-ups. Without proper record keeping, farmers will never know when something is wrong.
“We manage our finances strictly and think twice before we spend, unless it is for the wellbeing of our livestock. Proper record keeping is key because it enables you to make informed financial decisions,” he says.
Farming on commonage land has also challenged the two farmers. The farm is located in the town of Saron and there are many threats like dogs, foxes and stock thieves. Because they farm on commonage land, they are also not allowed to put up any infrastructure. “This makes it difficult to store feed and implements. We’ve put up a shed, but there’ve been so many break-ins and vandalism that we can’t keep up with the repairs. Then there’s the drought as well,” Therecia explains.
Despite many struggles and obstacles, the mother and son duo are committed to having their own land and are saving up for it. “Owning land would mean the world to us. We are facing so many challenges on the communal land and having our own land would eliminate some of those challenges.”
Raised to be a farmer
Being raised in a family of farmers and passionate agriculturalists meant that it was probably only a matter of time before Gary started shearing sheep and grooming cattle. At the age of 10 he got a calf to raise as a gift from his uncle, which he sold the following year. “I bought two heifers with the money, who birthed two calves. I then sold them and bought five sheep ewes,” Gary says.
The smell of freshly ploughed soil and the sound of a tractor engine brought Gary joy as a child. His absolute favourite thing, he recalls, was cutting the tails of the lambs to braai. “Also, during the planting season, I would rush home after school to drive the tractor. I was about 8 years old,” he says.
In 2013 Gary qualified as an agricultural technician after his dad advised him to study a course at Northlink college. “He thought that I should have something to fall back on should farming not work out. The degree puts me in a very fortunate position, because I understand machinery and instead of outsourcing, I am able to fix my own equipment,” he says.
The talented farmer also worked in Canada as a heavy-duty technician at Kramer Caterpillar Dealership (now known as Finning Caterpillar Dealership) in their agricultural division. He worked there from 2014, repairing and maintain agricultural equipment for Canadian farmers until his return to Mzansi in 2017.
Gary believes that he has gotten this far because of work ethic and goal setting. “Once I set a goal for myself, I don’t stop working until I have achieved that goal. I have a wonderful team of three agricultural workers (Julie de Bruin, Ryno de Bruin and Jason Pedro) who share in our goals for GT Agri Group.”
It is these exact goals that keep this family run business going. Their common goals are to leave a legacy behind and show other young black farmers that it is possible. “If you continue to work hard and believe in yourself you will reach the top,” Gary says.