Although Siyabonga Nomlala (42) from Franklin in KwaZulu-Natal dreams of being a commercial farmer, he is focusing on being a successful smallholder farmer who is able to support himself. ‘For now, I am happy just learning more about agriculture as I develop. One day I would love to be a commercial farmer, but the bigger your operation is, the higher your costs are and the more money you have to spend. I would rather have a 100% success rate on my 50 ha, than have 50% success on 1 000 ha.’
With no background of agriculture, this young man who was running the Franklin filling station, started investigating a farming career in 2008. The more he learned, the more enthusiastic he became. After receiving funding from the local municipality, he quit his job and began erecting tunnels on land he leased from the municipality. With the mentorship of a neighbouring farmer, Richard Mingay, he planted his first seed in 2020 and realised that he was a crop farmer at heart.
In 2020 his path crossed with two members of Grain SA’s Farmer Development team after Richard arranged the meeting. They were impressed by Siyabonga’s dedication and hunger for knowledge. Although it has not been possible to accommodate him in one of the programmes yet, they were able to arrange funding for him. ‘He has been part of the Maize Trust funding and gets soil corrections, crop insurance and mentorship through the trust,’ Luke Collier, regional development manager in the Kokstad region, explains. Siyabonga owns a small tractor and basic implements.
Last year the Grain SA team managed to find extra land so that Siyabonga could expand his planted area by 10 ha. They also received some funding through the Eden Foundation with which soybean seed and chemicals were purchased. Unfortunately, it arrived too late for the planting window, so they held onto the seed for the new season. Siyabonga has planted a 10-ha soybean trial this season.
After a successful maize season where he realised a yield of 9 t/ha on 30 ha, Siyabonga is eager to improve even more. ‘He is really trying hard,’ says Luke. ‘Because he has diversified, he has multiple streams of income and can pay for a lot himself, so he is not just waiting for handouts. He doesn’t mind spending on his farming operation because he sees its value. When it was too difficult to get into the wet lands, he even paid to have a drone spray his fields.’
How did your path cross with Grain SA?
Uncle Richard, who was my mentor, introduced me to Grain SA. He told Luke and Eric Wiggle (one of Grain SA’s mentors) that I had potential and asked them to meet with me.
What role have they played in your farming success?
They made a huge difference in my life. When the department assisted me, they came late and gave no advice about the chemicals I had to use for spraying – it was just a rushed job. Through Grain SA I learned about soil analysis. Although my soil was fertile, I had no knowledge of soil health which can help produce a healthier crop. I also learned about the importance of crop insurance. You can’t plant without insurance. I was hit by hail and was very glad to have insurance. Grain SA has also helped me to get the necessary funding and found a contractor to harvest my maize as well as for transportation. Luke has even helped me find a better market for my peppers!
Farm: Municipal land
Nearest town: Franklin (in the greater Kokstad local municipality)
Size: 100 ha
Type: Crops – plants maize and soybeans; potatoes and cabbage which he sells to the local market, and other vegetables in tunnels
GRAIN SA’S CONTRIBUTION
• Joined Grain SA in the 2021/2022 season
• Member of the Ongeluksnek study group
Three top tips for beginner farmers:
• Begin small – focus on what you have, not what you want.
• Do the right thing at the right time.
• Ask for advice and put in 100% effort – do it right or not all.
A mentor’s view:
Luke Collier, regional development manager at the Kokstad office, says Siyabonga is committed to his farming operation. Even though it is a small operation, he is still determined to make a success of it. Because he is meticulous in what he does, he achieved a good yield. He is eager to learn and a hard worker who doesn’t focus on challenges.
A special word of thanks to the Winter Cereal Trust who is another partner of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme.