‘To become remarkable, you must hold yourself accountable’

Published: 9 December 2021

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Clifford Mthimkulu (32) believes that if you want to farm, you have to be passionate, determined and willing to work hard – otherwise you won’t succeed. “To become remarkable, you must hold yourself accountable,’ says this humble young farmer from the Senekal district in the Free State.

Continuing the legacy
Clifford is in the fortunate position of being a second-generation farmer. Watching his father work on the farm, he developed a keen interest in agriculture over the years. His father, Koos, was a shepherd who then became a farm worker. After receiving various implements in 2004 from his employer at the time, Frikkie du Preez, Koos’s life changed. He started farming on land leased from Frikkie and developed into a successful grain producer who became the Grain SA 2011 Developing Farmer of the Year.

Although Clifford qualified as a paramedic and worked in the security industry, he returned to the farm in 2008 to join his father in growing their farming enterprise. Together father and son managed to secure their own farm through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy. Astoria is a 493-ha farm with the potential for a sustainable dryland cropping business. As they did not receive ownership of the land, they struggled to access finance (like so many other developing farmers). They realised that they would have to start small and cautiously grow their operation over the years.

Now Clifford has taken the lead on the farm. Trading as MC Enterprise, Clifford manages nearly 1 000 ha of land, which include land leased from neighbours. His main farm (Astoria) extends to 517 ha with the land he leases from neighbour Althea Triegaardt. Another 300 ha located 35 km further are leased from Dawie van der Merwe. Here he plants maize, soybeans and sunflowers and oats for his livestock. The livestock are kept as an income buffer in case the crops cannot bring in the necessary income to pay the bills.

Like his father, Clifford has already proven himself as a producer to be reckoned with. In the 2019/2020 season he realised 6,5 t/ha on maize and 2,1 t/ha on sunflower. The past season (2020/2021) his maize yield was 5,8 t/ha with sunflower at 1,8 t/ha.

Clifford’s hard work has not gone unnoticed and he was a finalist in the 2020 Grain SA/Absa/John Deere Financial New Era Farmer of the Year competition. He also came third in the Toyota New Harvest of the Year competition – aimed at young developing farmers who have owned or managed a farm for five years or longer and who have overcome a previously disadvantaged background to become a successful farmer.

Support makes anything possible
Clifford has been a member of Grain SA for about ten years. He has attended almost all the courses presented by the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme and says the organisation plays a huge role in his enterprise. ‘Grain SA is a good organisation that wants to see developing farmers succeed,’ he said.

With farming having become a lot more focussed on science and the environment in the past few years, he has also learned the value of minimum and no-till agricultural practices thanks to Grain SA. ‘I had to convince my father about the advantages of no-till, but after a trial planting, he was convinced that this was the way to go,’ said Clifford about his decision to take responsibility for the environment too.

Johan Kriel, Grain SA development coordinator in the Free State, has been mentoring Clifford for a number of years. ‘Ntate Johan has been holding my hand through all the years.’ He sees him as his other father as they communicate daily. ‘He always gives me the best advice and informs me about new products. I don’t know what I’d be without him. He made me.’

Clifford attributes his success to the support he has received from various organisations and individuals over the years. His father remains the inspiration behind his success. ‘And perhaps the fact that I am always willing to learn and try new things, makes me successful.’

Agricultural practices that contribute to his success include careful soil management and moving to precision farming practices.

Other good practices include the following:

  • Taking soil samples yearly to determine which crops to plant.
  • Applying agricultural lime every year to lower the soil’s acidity.
  • Rotation crops every two years. He first grows maize, then sunflowers, followed by soybeans and oats.
  • Practising good management skills.

Seeing the bigger picture
Being focussed on farming even during world events like the COVID-19 pandemic, helped Clifford’s bank account. Once he realised the pandemic was leading to a national lockdown in 2020 and potential trading issues, he looked at the impact it could have on his farming enterprise. He then ensured that his harvest price was protected and forward sold most of his tonnage. This plan resulted in good returns, which he then ploughed back into his enterprise by buying John Deere 7200 four-row and six-row planters.

‘Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions,’ said author John Di Lemme. Clifford is an accountable action-taker whose dreams of owning about 2 000 ha will probably not take that long to realise. His other plans for the future include having an irrigation system installed as there is enough water on the farm, erecting broiler and layer houses, planting pecan trees and owning a feedlot.