May 2016

BANKIES MALAN, operations manager: Harvest Time Investment, Afgri

Expertise essential to unlock potential

An Afgri training and mentorship initiative, Harvest Time, has been founded to assist new era farmers with training, mentorship, financial assistance and technology. This initiative will help farming enterprises faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges to thrive.

It usually is a challenge to keep a farming business going, but to start one from scratch can be even more daunting, particularly for South Africa’s new era farmers, who are not only faced with the unpredictability of the climate, but also with limited access to finance, and a lack of skills to produce and market their crops – not to mention those needed to manage a thriving business.

Often the land and resources available to these farmers are not necessarily of the best quality, although they are still expected to make a profit. Like any commercial producer, new era farmers need to earn sustainable profits to improve their financial position. Often these farmers are perceived as high risk too and are therefore not able to get finance from financial institutions. And without funding, it is impossible to run a viable business.

Afgri understands these challenges. With nine decades of experience in agriculture, we have supported many of today’s large commercial producers, who themselves started out as small farmers decades ago. Afgri is therefore committed to helping new era farmers to become the commercial producers of tomorrow.

With this in mind the company established a specialised training and mentorship unit, Harvest Time Investment, the aim of which is not only to provide formal as well as on-farm practical training with the help of mentors, but also to provide the finance for new era farmers to implement agricultural best practices.

As part of this initiative, study groups and trial sites are used to demonstrate new technology and to expose new era farmers to the latest advances in farming. Mentors and agronomists are on hand to share practical information and knowledge and offer insight that comes from many years of experience. The mentors encourage the success of the new era farmers, but more importantly, help them to make a profit – the ultimate aim of any successful enterprise.

Whilst it is impossible for Harvest Time to assist all the new era farmers within its traditional business area boundaries, through experience the initiative only targets those farmers with a real passion for farming. These farmers must be goal-oriented and have access to more than 100 ha of arable land. If the farmer has access to or has his or her own equipment, this is considered an advantage.

If an individual meets all these criteria, a mentor is then appointed. It is expected of the farmer to attend a number of training courses and applies for funding from Afgri. The company believes that the potential of the land itself, combined with precision farming and price hedging with good marketing are the most critical aspects to ensure success.

In order to determine the production potential of the land, Afgri’s subsidiary GeoAgro sends out a team of experts to locate and quantify the zones and, who are, with a long-term rainfall calculation, able to assess the production potential for different crops. This information is stored in a GIS system database where the information is used to calculate and generate a number of reports.

This information is then used by a management team, which includes an agronomist, input suppliers and economists, to compile a production plan that will help ensure that the profit from the farm is optimised. The land potential will also determine which crops will be planted. Soil samples are also taken to determine the chemical status of the fields focusing on the pH balance of the soil and other elements, and a plan is compiled on how to correct the chemical status of the fields.

Expertise essential to unlock potentialData and analysis are compiled into a report, providing useful information and maps, that are used in applying fertiliser and lime to make sure that the soil’s nutrient content and pH problems are corrected. By following this process, Harvest Time is able to ensure that the new era farmer will have the best possible opportunity to increase yields and to make a profit.

The land potential and crop rotation system also determine the inputs that will be used and the crops that will be planted. All recommendations and information systems are focused on improving the production of the different crops. An optimal plant population is also recommended according to the potential of the fields, and the herbicides used take crop rotation into consideration.

Mentors make sure that the new era farmer understands the technology and that he or she knows how to apply the information in order to improve yields and production. Other applications also make it possible for Harvest Time and the new era farmer to monitor the production of crops. By combining the dedication of the Harvest Time team with the farmer’s newly-acquired knowledge, mistakes can be minimised.

Understanding that grain marketing and price hedging are an integral part of the sustainability of a farm and of the profit earned from different crops, Afgri also assists new era farmers with grain management services. They are also taught to understand the futures market, and are able to use this information to hedge prices.

To enable and empower new era farmers to run their farms efficiently and effectively, it is also important for them to understand the business and financial management of the operation including planning, budgeting and recordkeeping. For this reason, Harvest Time trains new era farmers in the financial aspects of the business.

Mr Solomon Masango (Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year 2015) is the best example of how, through the use the latest techniques, a farmer is able to maximize profit. One of Harvest Time’s new era farmers, Solomon is now poised to become a top commercial producer.

Through organised farmers days Afgri continues to expand the horizons of new era farmers and will always, as it has done for over 90 years, be there with the farmers, for the farmers. Our slogan at Harvest Time Investments is to unlock the potential of the farm and the farmer: ‘Ukufeza Ikhono.’

For more information call Bankies Malan at 011 063 2769 or 084 075 6807. Or Sylvester Lubambo (regional manager) at 076 840 9463.

Publication: May 2016

Section: Focus on