At age 31, Whernit Dirks’ life is proof that your circumstances do not have to define your life path. Not too long ago this prize-winning farmer was a fourth generation labourer on a farm in Piketberg in the Western Cape.
“I grew up on the farm Windheuwel where my family has lived for four generations,” says Dirks. “My dad says I was on the tractor with him from age two. If they worked sheep and cattle, I was always there. So, if I have to sit back and think, I enjoyed everything because we had access to the farm.”
Today his family still lives on that very farm, and this is where he decided to do better – even though circumstances forced him to leave Steynville Secondary in his grade 10 year.
He put his shoulder to the wheel and slowly but surely grabbed every opportunity that came his way.
The life of this grain and cattle farmer changed dramatically when a local farmer, Stephanus Richter, and leading agricultural business Kaap Agri saw his potential. “Kaap Agri approached me. They offered to pay for a course which taught me how to manage people, money and livestock, and then administration. It made a huge contribution to the success of my farming business.”
The farmer development programme, which he completed at the Kaap Agri Academy, helped him with the transition from farm worker to full-fledged farmer. Kaap Agri also helped him to buy sheep, through the MAFISA loan programme. Nowadays he also farms with cereal crops such as wheat and barley as well as rooibos.
Dirks was named emerging farmer of the year in the New Harvest of the Year competition in 2018 – a rare achievement for a man whose own business, Genadeshoop Farming, only started in 2009. He is in partnership with his father, Galant Toontjies, and grandfather, Daantjie Romburg. Genadeshoop rents land on the farm Windheuwel, and also owns land in the Sandveld.
“I had nothing else in my head except farming. Look, at some stage of my schooling career there was half a period where we just farmed. At some point we also did little newspapers about what happened on the farm.”
The early practical agricultural exposure and inspiration of Windheuwel owner Stephanus Richter was definitely a decisive factor. “In 2006 he noticed that my father, grandfather and I had farming ambitions. At one stage said he said ‘All of you can each choose three little ewes’. That’s when he realised that we really could farm.”
In the same year, Richter rented out 100 ewes to him and his uncle, Leonard Davis, as well as 100 hectares of land. “We rented the land for a mere R1 per hectare a year, which cost us only R100 for the year.”
The upcoming farmer of the year prize he won last year still feels like a dream. Kaap Agri nominated Dirks and mentored him for this competition that included a farm visit and maintenance. “For a moment there I couldn’t believe it, because I’ve never won anything in my life. I didn’t just win a little thing, but a very big gift. Honestly, the Toyota bakkie (which I won as a prize) is not something I could have bought for myself within the next five years.”
Through agriculture Dirks is actively trying to build a better life for his wife, Eva, and their sons, Whernit (12) and Ewald (9). He likes to braai with his family, and also loves to make music on his keyboard. Not many people know that this budding muso sometimes even performs at functions.
Farming isn’t always easy, and the ongoing drought is also testing Dirks tremendously. “The drought has taught me to live sparingly and not to buy what you want, but to buy what you really need. It also taught me to be very conservative, but not stingy. I still help my fellow man.”