In a significant departure from the past, South African agriculture is transforming at a pace not witnessed before. Age-old farming traditions are being replaced by more sustainable practices, paving the way for a brighter future.
This is according to Andrew Ardington, founder of the Regenerative Agriculture Association of Southern Africa, who was in conversation with Dr Johann Strauss, a renowned researcher at the Western Cape department of agriculture.
Strauss offered a unique perspective into the ongoing shift witnessed in the Overberg region, among others. As a stalwart of conservation agriculture in the Western Cape, his initiation into this transformative way of farming was prompted by an intensive conservation trial spearheaded by his predecessor.
This experience, combined with enlightening travels to South America, painted a vivid picture of the immense potential conservation agriculture held for the future of farming. “It’s not just about adopting isolated elements of conservation agriculture,” said Strauss. “It is about comprehending and executing a cohesive package of principles.”
Implementing the principles
The principles he so passionately speaks of are minimal soil disturbance, promoting biodiversity through crop rotation, and constant cover of the soil with living roots or mulch. These three cornerstones, he emphasised, must be implemented together to experience the full scope of benefits that conservation agriculture can offer.
A turn for the better
The narrative took a deeper turn with the insights from Henk de Beer, former COO of Sentraal-Suid Co-operative (SSK). He elaborated on the catalysts that triggered the adoption of conservation farming in the Western Cape. Escalating environmental pressures, notably severe erosion problems brought about by conventional ploughing methods, necessitated the search for sustainable alternatives.
The adoption of minimum tillage practices in the Overberg region has sparked a remarkable shift, leading to improved water retention, enhanced soil structure and texture, and ultimately increased yields for farmers. These practices not only reduce input costs but also mitigate the risk of crop failure, presenting a promising future for sustainable agriculture in the region.
The role of increased carbon content
Then came a significant revelation that had far-reaching effects on South African agriculture – a connection was discovered between increased carbon content and improved water retention and yields. Farmers, who had been long struggling with water scarcity in dryland farming, began to see the advantages of conservation agriculture practices, particularly in crop rotation and its role in controlling diseases and managing herbicide resistance. This marked the onset of a gradual shift away from the repetitive cycle of cereal cultivation.
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