Your Farming Q&A’s

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Your general farming and agricultural questions to the Intsika AgriMedia team:

How can I improve my livestock farming practices?

Peter Thulare, Limpopo: I need (more) advise on cattle farming. My brother and I have started on a very small scale buying cattle, sheep and goats hoping to grow bigger as time goes on. We are both still employed and for us it’s a good thing because that enables me to increase our livestock with my salary by buying a sheep, goat or cattle every month. Our challenge now is a growth plan, since some cattle, sheep and goats are still in the village and others on a farm that we are co-renting with other small-scale farmers. We want to grow as farmers but we do not have a farm or land. How can we go about leasing a medium-size farm for a reasonable (rental) amount so that five years from now we could be able to buy our own farm? I believe, it is much better for me start small by using my own money for now, because that demonstrates commitment and willingness to learn.

Answer: Thank you, Mr Thulare, for the questions. The best way for the two of you will be to negotiate with some of the land reform beneficiaries in your area or region that has some unused grazing land or approach your local municipality for land/leasing options. However, the latter will mean sharing grazing camps with other smallholder farmers and that might scupper your growth plans. For a successful livestock enterprise, you need enough grazing, partitioned into camps so that you can have good grazing all year round rotating amongst the camps, this also helps in times of drought and it gives your grass enough time to recover after being grazed.

Cattle and sheep have similar grazing habits of preferring grass whilst goats always prefer shrubs to grass. This has to be taken into account when partitioning camps. Goats, sheep or cattle can complement each other in a camp, depending on numbers. It is also advisable to always buy supplements, during winter, a protein lick will ensure that animals maintain good health and in summer when grass is green, phosphorus lick is required as South African soils generally lack phosphorus.

A plan to grow your livestock numbers will also depend on the number of hectares you are going to have; otherwise you might overstock your farm and then compromise the growth and health of the animals and their reproduction. Animals that are not healthy are not going to reproduce. Commercial farmers can also be approached for leasing grazing camps, but land reform beneficiaries remain the best bet as they also need the income from their farms. To make your livestock farming a success, you also need to follow a strict vaccination and dipping program; this is available from your local extension office.

M van Rensburg, Gauteng: I have an investor from France willing to financially assist with the growing of Jatropha plants in South Africa. They plan to buy the seeds from the local farmers and manufacture bio-fuel in France. To produce 100 000 tons of seeds, one would require about 200 000 to 600 000 hectares of land. I think this is a great opportunity for developing farmers, because the farming of the plant is not labour intensive and not prone to insects. Where can I acquire land for this project?

Answer: Firstly, the hectares of land required to kick-off this projects are quite massive.  There might be some challenges around this, especially because the Jantropha plant would also not be seen as a “food security” crop (like maize) by the South African government. No private land owners would have so much land available either, therefore the focus would be government buy-in or assistance, like you alludes to.

Perhaps, try the Department Rural Development and Land Reform and ascertain what programmes they have for the year for developing farmers which they provide land to. We must indicate that notwithstanding the large area required for this project, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity. An opportunity for the development of new farmers, but a major  challenge in the availability and acquisition of such land which will in essence ‘compete’ with existing or more feasible crops.

You may want to look into bio-fuels policy of South Africa for the project – but we must also indicate that this being a new crop to farmers, a great deal of work will have to go into assisting farmers and preparing the market. And like with any new venture, the value in it must be established and be sold to the producer (in this case perhaps it would perhaps be the rural farmers).

Kindly take note of this extract from research done by the University of Cape Town (2006) – By Eugene Visage & Gisela Prasad on “Renewable Energy technologies for poverty alleviation in South Africa”

“A feasibility study by Mitsui & Co of Japan in 2005 stated that a biodiesel plant producing annually 100 000 tons of biodiesel from Jatropha curcas would cost R262 million (US$40 million), including the acquisition of farmland for cultivating the oil crop. The study indicated that the internal rate of return of 4.4% is much lower than the long-term interest of 11.5% in South Africa. The project was found not to be attractive to investors unless it would benefit from carbon credits.”

Soweto, Gauteng: How can I access funding from the Land Bank to do livestock farming?

Answer: Funding is always a big challenge for most new farmers. You are not explaining whether you have the land already or where you intend to farm. The Land Bank has various credit or loan options, but like with any loan there are qualifying criteria. Visit the Land Bank website on www.landbank.co.za or contact them at (0) 12 686 0500 for more information. You can contact with the National Emergent Red Meat Producers Organisation (Nerpo) to hear more about their livestock credit scheme. Visit their website at: www.nerpo.org.za

Libode, Eastern Cape: I want to start a piggery business – where can I get more information?

Answer: In an effort to acquire more information and knowledge in this regard perhaps consider visiting piggery farms in your vicinity to observe and get practical exposure to the business. One of the expensive components of a piggery business is feed provision. Kindly contact the South African Pork Producers’ Association, which serves the interest of pork farmers at (0) 12 361 3920 or visit their website at www.sapork.biz/.

Kimberley, Northern Cape: I have a flock of 30 goats and some of them have visible wounds. I am not sure if its predator bites or infections.

Answer: Kindly take a picture for us so that we can ascertain with an animal health technician for you. Alternatively consult your nearest a state veterinarian of a private veterinarian. Generally wounds need to be cleaned and kept clean, to stop them getting infected.

Queenstown, Eastern Cape: I would like to do poultry farming, but don’t know where to start?

Answer: Perhaps the first thing you need to be sure about is whether you have a market. Equally important is to decide whether you would like to keep broilers (chicken for meat) or layers (chickens for eggs). This is very important as it will determine your business approach and market options. Raising chickens for instance needs a lot of skill and planning. Unfortunately, you did not elaborate much on why you want to start poultry and what other specific information you would like to know. Please follow-up this email to us with more information for further assistance.

Pienaarsrivier, Limpopo: We are a community in Pienaarsrivier, and we have registered an entity to run a farm we have successfully reclaimed. Where can we get some help?

Answer: Please try to get advice from a broad range of sources in the agricultural sector (.e.g. Department of Land Reform and Rural Development or established commercial farmers). It is not easy to run a farm and equally not easy to find the right mentors or strategic partners. However for community projects, you can contact the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) or the National Development Agency (NDA) at (0) 11 305 8000 or (0) 11 018 5500).

Mahikeng, North West: I have 10 ha of land with irrigation rights. I would like to farm with maize. Can you please advise if this would be the best crop for me considering the size of my land?

Answer: It is not advisable to farm grain crops on such a small portion land, because you are not going to break even. You need at least about 50 ha and more. Instead, consider high value crops like potatoes or tomatoes, even green mealies. For potatoes you can contact Potatoes SA at (0) 12 349 1906).

Please send all your farming questions to mgwatyu@gmail.com

Disclaimer: All questions are answered from the collective agricultural experience and academic background of the Intsika AgriMedia team. In the event of us providing information from books, we will acknowledge the sources accordingly or if needs be refer questions to the relevant experts, institutions or commodity association for further assistance.