Near Bloemfontein in the Free State lies a 700-hectare farm, mostly grazed by cattle, sheep and goats. The sizeable land is home to over 200 head of cattle as well as maize and sunflowers, all managed by Ratlale “Bush” Masiu.
He is a passionate farmer who firmly believes that “agriculture is the backbone of life itself” and he encourages others to join the sector. His invitation, however, comes with a fair warning.
“Do not enter if you’re going to be one of those bluetooth farmers,” the 35-year-old exclaims. “Some of us want land, but we don’t want to be on the land and put in the work,” he laughs.
“If you ask a bluetooth farmer how many cattle they have, they won’t know. Ask them how many hectares they farm on they won’t know that either. It’s their workers who sit with all the information.”
It’s a 24-hour job
Masiu believes that agriculture is the one sector that will never fold and that there will always be a need for new, younger “soldiers” to farm and to further grow the sector.
“But farmers must spend time with their cattle and learn how they behave. I hardly even call in a veterinarian anymore because I’m on the farm and I understand my animals,” Masiu says proudly.
“In farming there are no short cuts. Short cuts are always the wrong cuts in the farming industry. Your passion for farming will cause you to work both hard and smart,” Masiu says.
However, for those who have a genuine passion for the industry, Masiu says, “make every second in your agricultural day count. In agriculture you are a farmer 24/7. There’s no knocking off at five or going to the farm when you feel like it.”
The passionate farmer only made his entry into the world of cattle breeding and crop growing in 2017.
Despite being exposed to farming at a young age, he never planned to join the sector both his parents had passionately toiled in. He wanted to be a lawyer, so he went to study political sciences at the University of the Free State.
In his final year, Masiu was kicked out of varsity because of student activism and he never obtained his LLB degree. He then joined a courier company where he worked for seven years.
When his parents, Oujan Joseph (better known as “OJ”) and Agnes, acquired land in September 2017, Masiu decided to join them. They had about 80 cattle grazing on a farm that was in a bad state.
‘Land is everything, whether it is property or agricultural land, it’s everything.’
Things quickly improved when Masiu joined and today they farm on 700 hectares, with cattle, maize (70 hectares) and sunflower (61 hectares). The farm is leased from government with an option to buy.
“I believe that land gives one integrity and for me land is like having gold on the ground, not underground.
“When I walk among the cattle, I speak to them. I greet them saying hello R22 000, or hello R10 000. It keeps me motivated because then I know if I take good care of them, I’ll reap the rewards in monetary value.”
Masiu’s perception of agriculture before joining the sector was one-sided. “I thought that only white people could be successful. Now that I’m here, I understand why they don’t want to give the land away,” he laughs.
“Land is everything, whether it is property or agricultural land, it’s everything.”
Impounded livestock and unfit farming conditions
Masiu’s farming journey has been great, but not without struggles. His parents also did not have it easy.
When OJ and Agnes started laying the foundations of their own agri legacy after having worked on a dairy farm for more than 20 years, they didn’t anticipate the challenges.
They started off renting property from a nearby farmer. An agreement was put in place to eventually buy the farm with help from government, but the sale never materialized and this led to some of their livestock being impounded.
The family was then forced to find a farm a that would keep the remaining livestock. This farm, however, had poor infrastructure, water problems and no grass for the cattle to graze.
Masiu says, “I remember myself, my younger brother and father would take our cows between four and seven-thirty in the mornings to graze at a nearby road where there was grass.”
One year, they lost seven cows that drowned at a nearby stream where they were drinking water.
Predators that frequently circled the area often helped themselves to the Masiu’s legacy. One time 27 of their cattle were impounded because they trespassed on the land of a neighboring farmer.
Rough roads lead to beautiful destinations
However, the bumpy road they travelled has led to a beautiful destination. Their calving rates increased and last year they started planting maize and grain.
“We have grown from farming ordinarily to farming for profit. Yes, we are not commercial farmers yet, but we are getting there,” he says.
His proudest moments in agriculture include winning a top achiever award in animal production in 2018 with the Sernick Group and being announced the national champion in the emerging farmers category by the same major cattle farming business.
“I’m proud of my achievements, but I’m tired of being labelled ‘emerging’. Black farmers are forever emerging, and I want to be the change and be able to say that I’m black and a commercial farmer.”
Although he has helped build his family’s farming legacy, he one day hopes to work on his own, after acquiring land that is in his name. For now, Masiu says he will continue working the land of his parents and encouraging others to pursue agriculture.
“Our people must get interested in agriculture. The problem is we only have weekend plans, we don’t have future plans,” he exclaims while laughing. “I’m laughing, but it’s the truth.”