Strong work ethic and passion for farming pays off

Maize and sunflower producer from Senekal, John Dipale, ascribes his success to hard work and passion for agriculture. At 64, John works even harder than the young men on his farm, he tells Annelie Coleman.

In 1998, John Dipale started farming on the 302ha farm, Rooikoppie, in the Senekal district in partnership with five other
developing farmers. The partnership did not last and consequently, John bought a 112ha portion of the neighbouring farm,
Concordia, two years ago. He then created the Dipale Family Trust for himself, his wife Jeanette and their five children.

“I see my farming as an investment in the future of our children and grandchildren,” he says. “It means they’ll never go hungry, even if I’m no longer on this earth. I’m very proud to be a farmer because, through farming, I can also make sure that we have enough food for our country and people.” John grew his business significantly through leasing and buying additional land, including the rest of Concordia, where he now has 160ha arable and 200ha grazing land.

Mixed farming operation
He planted 80ha to maize and 58ha to sunflower in the 2014/2015 production season. On the grazing land, he runs a small flock of 25 sheep and 122 commercial Bonsmara/ Brahman breeding cows and 60 weaners. He supplies weaners to Sparta
feedlot in Marquard. His pride and joy is a recently purchased topquality Brahman bull for upgrading his cattle herd. Of the arable land, 42ha is under weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), cut and baled as an additional animal feed reserve. He
also leases 87ha arable land on the nearby farm Merinofontein, 150ha on Makawaansbank and 228ha on Gilboa.

In partnership with his neighbour, Jafta Taso, he planted maize on Makawaansbank this season, while on Gilboa he planted 78ha to maize and 150ha to sunflower. “My farming enterprise reached a new level after I was chosen as an Omnia New Business Development Project beneficiary,” John says. He praises the support of his mentor, Stirling Coetzer, the project’s Free State manager, Donald Brink, and Omnia, which provided full financing for the 2014/2015 production season.

“I’m looking forward to a great season, weather permitting,” he says. In the past, John obtained financing through agri
business VKB and was a beneficiary of the state’s recapitalisation programme administered by Grain SA in 2012. As part of the programme he received a tractor, sprayer, baler, mechanical rake, brush cutter and other implements. His fleet
currently includes seven tractors, two planters and two John Deere and one Slattery harvesters.

“Omnia decided to include John in our New Business Development Project because of his proven record as a successful grain producer, his dedication and strong work ethic,” Donald says.

Maize and sunflower 
The average maize yield on John’s land is between 3,5t/ ha and 4,5t/ha. The sunflower yield is between 1,5t/ ha and 1,8t/ha. The breakeven point for maize is about 3,1t/ ha and for sunflower 0,92t/ha, depending on the price. John considers sunflower the best crop option in his area due to the relatively low rainfall and marginal Wesley-type soils. However, he also plants maize as the stover is a valuable additional animal feed source.

The grain lands are rotated annually between sunflower and maize but he plans to phase in soya production as well,
initially on a small scale. He leaves no land fallow during planting season because of the limited size of his arable land and an average rainfall of 450mm. “I must generate income from every hectare every year,” he says. “Omnia has recommended I
start using precision farming practices. We plan to start with GPS maps and mapping on a 1ha grid to rectify the condition of the soil.”

Maize and sunflower are planted on 91cm row spacing. The maize population density is 16 000 plants/ha and the sunflower density 35 000 plants/ha. John plants Pannar’s PAN 6R-680R white maize seed and PAN BG-5685R yellow maize seed. For sunflower he uses PAN 7057 and PAN 7033. Omnia provided a fertilisation programme developed specifically
for his land and the current season. He admits that the fluctuating PH of the soil in the Senekal district is a real problem,
requiring large-scale and expensive lime application.

Weeds and pests
Weeds such as thornapple (Datura stramonium), tall khaki weed (Tagetes minuta), cosmos (Bidens formosa) and sand quick grass (Schmidtia pappophoroides) are common on John’s lands. He controls them with a combination of spraying and planting a Roundup-Ready grain cultivar. For maize, he uses the herbicides Cantron at a rate of 260ml/ha, Metolachlor 915 at a rate of 1,2l/ha, Terbuzine at a rate of 1,3l/ha, Roundup Turbo at a rate of 2l/ha, and Bludbuff at a rate of 70ml/ha.

For sunflowers, he uses Treflan at a rate of 1,5l/ha, as well as Racer at a rate of 1l/ha and Metolachlor 960 at a rate of 1,3l/ha. Liquebor leaf nutrition is added at a rate of 5l/ ha. For both crops, he uses Judo insecticide at a rate of 70ml/ha.

Lessons and challenges
John stresses that strict financial management adds value at all levels. “I must identify my expenses and income precisely and plan accordingly,” he says. “The one thing I’ve learned in farming is to avoid debt as much as possible, and add value
to my business wherever I can. I have a huge Eucalyptus stand on my farm and I recently started cutting up the trees and selling the wood to help my cash flow. “I’ve also got quite a big peach orchard on Concordia, and sell the fruit, which also
helps. As a farmer, I must use all the business opportunities presented to me.”

Predictably, it has not all been plain sailing. Stock theft, especially of sheep, is one of the most pressing problems that John has had to deal with. Green mealie theft is also a problem, as some of his maize lands are situated near a township. He kraals the sheep at night to counteract the stock thieves but little can be done to avoid maize theft.

Knowledge gained

John says that he was able to avoid major mistakes in his business because he was not shy to ask questions or learn from his colleagues and agricultural experts. He is also dedicated to ploughing back his knowledge and experience into the developing farmer sector, and is an active member of Afasa and the Senekal Kopanang Farmers’ Association.

“This means a lot to me. Kopanang is where we share knowledge and learn from each other. We also invite experts in
agriculture to address us on a wide variety of topics,” he explains.

Advice to young farmers
John stresses that farming is in his blood and he will continue as long as he can. His children and grandchildren will
probably take over the farm one day, but until then, he will work hard to expand and improve his enterprise. “This is a worthy
business to be in,” he says. “I love working the soil and growing crops that contribute to food security in our country. My advice to new entrants is to work hard and diligently, and to gain as much knowledge as possible. Only then will they be successful.”

Phone John Dipale on 083 207 6703.