Top young farmers face the future enthusiastically

James Raw – chasing opportunity

James Raw – chasing opportunity
There is no substitute for youthful enthusiasm. Combine it with level-headed determination, and progress is inevitable. Mike Burgess interviewed James Raw (30) from KwaZulu-Natal and Andrew Cock (34) from the Eastern Cape, both 2008 Toyota Young Farmer of the Year finalists. Both are young dairy farmers, both planned to become farmers from an early age and both returned to their family farms to boost production and turnover.

“Put yourself in the way of opportunity; make it knock into you,” is James Raw’s advice to young farmers. And this is the philosophy he lives by. After completing a National Diploma in Forestry at the Saasveld Forestry College in George, followed by a two-year stint as a timber contractor, James returned to the family farm, Sailors Gift, near Kokstad in 2001. Here he worked for his father, Allan, and a neighbour until another farm, Mount May, was bought to increase the family business to 2 000ha. Using the R30 000 he’d saved before returning home, James planted cabbages and hauled in a bumper crop.

Determined to start a dairy, he used the profits to buy 30 Jersey cows. His father helped him convert an existing building on Mount May into a dairy and also helped to plant 10ha of pasture. To improve irrigation on the farm, James repaired a weir and bought and assembled an old centre pivot.

Handing over the reins
By 2005 it was decided that James would take over the entire farming enterprise and today he leases the farm from his father. He’s transformed it into a diversified enterprise, with the dairy contributing 64% to the turnover. The milk is bought by Nestlé. While building his Jersey herd, James quickly learned the value of buying, and at times leasing, Jersey cows with proven genetics. “We’ve bought registered genetic animals that were thin and I thought we were taking a chance,” he says. “We’ve also bought some well-maintained animals that didn’t have any breeding or records to speak of. When I looked at them a year or two later, it was clear that genetics always pay.”

Today his dairy herd is supported by 60ha perennial rye grass/clover pasture under irrigation, 25ha under dragline and 35ha under centre pivot. He recently added another 26ha after buying a second centre pivot. Some 60ha of maize is also produced for silage. James recently bought a new portion of ground adjoining Mount May and plans to increase pasturage for his dairy herd to at least 110ha, though at the expense of part of the grazing. He says he plans to be milking 500 cows within the next five years.

Diversified farming
James’ farming enterprise is not just about his dairy. His 420 Black Angus cows generate a further 19% of the farm’s turnover, along with 15ha of dryland potatoes (12% of turnover), and 380 Dohne Merino sheep (4% of turnover). The remainder of the turnover comes from about 37ha of eucalyptus plantations, 60ha of maize and smaller contributions from cabbage, pigs, broiler chickens and ecotourism.
Such diversification helps to spread risk and stabilise cash flow. In summer, cash is generated from a peak in milk production, while selling weaners in autumn and harvesting potatoes in winter ensures income all year round.

The diversity also offers important scope for the growth of James’s core enterprises. “We live off our minor enterprises, which allows our main enterprises to grow because we’re not tapping into them at all. It makes sense to us.”

Future plans
James is planning to adapt the structure of his business. He wants to phase out dryland potato production in favour of irrigated production and increase his dairy herd and the associated maize production. Because of stock theft, however, he may have to remove all his sheep from the farm.James stresses the importance of managing your own financial affairs, as it is only then that you can truly understand the potential and weaknesses of your businesses and make the correct decisions.
Contact James Raw on 039 727 3777 or 082 940 1010.     |fw

Andrew Cock – when farming is a calling
Dairy farmer Andrew
Cock farms the 261ha Lower Waterford farm in the Southwell region of the Bathurst district in the Eastern Cape.
The Cock family originally farmed in the Peddie region, but in the late 1970s government bought their property for the consolidation of the former Ciskei. The family arrived at the rugged and underdeveloped Lower Waterford farm in 1977 and Andrew’s father, Edward, set about transforming it into a productive dairy farm.

Destined to be a farmer
After school in 1995, Andrew attended Cedara Agricultural College and completed a diploma in agriculture, before returning home to work on Lower Waterford for two years. Then he went to the UK for two years to work at a dairy there.
By late 2000, he had returned home for good and from the money he earned overseas, he and 12 labourers built a weir on the Kariega River to irrigate about 20ha of already established pasture. A decision was also made to transform the existing Holstein herd into a Jersey herd to improve the milk’s butterfat and protein content.
Today Andrew is milking 260 cows. Most are Jerseys, accompanied by Holstein/Jersey crossbreeds that produce about 1,3 million litres of milk a year for Parmalat. Peak production is in October.
To improve the efficiency of the dairy, Andrew is building a new milking parlour that can accommodate 32 cows at a time – almost three times as many as the previous one.

Staying informed and solvent
Andrew is a member of the Milk Producers’ Organisation and participates in the Agricultural Research Council’s milk recording scheme and the Alexandria dairy study group – members compare feed rations, invite guest speakers and organise tours to Nampo or the Tsitsikamma dairy farms. He’s the first to admit that being a dairy farmer can be tough and explains that the major challenge is to survive the serious price cycles in the industry.

“A flood of milk into the market followed by shortages dictates the price,” he explains. “You have to be careful how you spend money to get through a bad cycle because there will be a good phase ahead. “It’s all about the international market being so close to us now compared to before. The importing of milk by big companies is also much easier now than it was even 10 years ago.”

It’s vital to economise to ensure continual cash flow in the face of increased input costs, Andrew says. Before buying concentrate and fertiliser he compares the prices of different products.Andrew also buys in bulk to protect himself against future price increases. Lucerne for the fodder bank is bought in bulk early in the season, before the big price increases in winter.

Andrew is currently considering  moving to an area with higher rainfall and more potential for irrigation, and using Lower Waterford to raise heifers.
Contact Andrew Cock on 084 952 0571.     |fw