Auctions for emerging farmers

Emerging farmers in the Vryburg and Kuruman districts recently had the opportunity to sell cattle at an auction organised to familiarise new farmers with the inner workings of auctions and the requirements of feedlot buyers. It was the first of a series to be held all over the country as part of an initiative organised by the SA Feedlot Association, reports Annelie Coleman.
Issue date : 15 August 2008

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About 40% of South Africa’s beef cattle are owned by the so-called emerging farmer sector, says Lou Campher, chairperson of the SA Feedlot Association. For a host of reasons, very few of these cattle are marketed through structured channels. T he association and other structures in this sector have now set themselves the task of educating emerging farmers to equip them for the competitive commercial environment. It was decided that the best way to begin would be through the auction system and so, to test the viability of the idea, an auction was organised and held on 16 July in Vryburg, North West, and the Nama e Monte project was launched. t’s hoped this project will result in many more auctions around the country. “We have had to deal with scepticism and wariness about commercial auctions,” explains Campher.

 “These feelings are usually the result of a lack of understanding about the way auctions work and the quality demands of buyers. A weaner competition was organised to give the farmers an indication of what commercial feedlot buyers want. The animals were evaluated on appearance, uniformity, mass and growth potential. We hope the colour of money will in the long run emphasise the importance of good quality animals and the benefits of structured marketing.” Campher says the strategy is to involve livestock companies in recruiting participation at these auctions. “We have been assisted and supported by the Northern Cape Livestock Co-op for the Vryburg auction,” he explains.

“Over the years it’s developed a network of clients and marketing agents. We chose Vryburg because it’s in an excellent cattle farming region and as many as 37% of all cattle in feedlots are based there. Working together on the strategy Dave Ford, executive director of the SA Feedlot Association, says auctions are the way forward for emerging farmers. “There are people advocating that black farmers get into feedlotting,” says Ford. “However, feedlotting is a high-risk industry with barriers to entry and it’s capital intensive and highly specialised. You have to wait up to four months for your money. Population growth, increased consumption and a higher percentage of disposable income are causing a demand for high grades of meat, increasing demand for better quality weaners.

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At this sale, farmers got their money directly after the sale to help their cash flow. “In appreciation, a number of farmers approached us about when we plan to hold the next sale. We’re positive this project will grow, but are realistic and know the concept may not work in all regions. To attract feedlot buyers is important. We will hand-pick our areas and auctioneers as we move into the next planning phase.”

Overcoming obstacles
Dries Linde, CEO of Northern Cape Livestock Co-op, says emerging farmers face many obstacles in commercial cattle marketing. “The guys are unfamiliar with the way prices are determined at auctions and find it difficult to compete with commercial producers,” he explains. “Commercial farmers offer, on average, lots of 40 to 60 animals compared to emerging farmers’ lots of two or three animals. We decided to get involved with Nama e Monate because it makes good business sense. Not only will the feedlot industry gain from the project, we will expand our client base. We recruited about 60 sellers from as far afield as Dikeng, 164km away in the Kuruman district in the Northern Cape, as well as Taung, Ganyesa and Morokweng near the Botswana border. More than 300 head of cattle were put up for auction, which shows farmers’ interest. We plan to organise at least three Nama e Monate auctions a year until emerging farmers are integrated into the structured marketing sector. A number of the cattle producers in the region are members of our co-op and it’s our responsibility to support them.”

Working towards success
Buks Bruwer, a marketing agent for Northern Cape Livestock, says the initiative has been well received. “These farmers know the value of commercial cattle production,” he explains. “We tried to hold auctions in the traditional communal areas some years ago, but it failed because of the lack of infrastructure. The roads are bad and transport companies are unwilling to transport cattle to and from the venues. The buyers have the same difficulties and we couldn’t muster enough animals to warrant a proper auction.

This has changed and the enthusiasm for the Vryburg auction is a clear indication of my clients’ commitment to commercialisation. Some cattle now raised by the emerging farmers are just as good as any raised by commercial farmers.” David Ratel, a Kuruman farmer and chairperson of Agri North West’s BEE Farmers’ Committee, says a lack of management and planning is still causing the downfall of some emerging farmers. “We have cattlemen who own as many as 400 head of cattle, but who haven’t broken into commercial farming,” he explains. “They haven’t yet grasped the idea that one cannot farm like your grandfather did. Initiatives such as Nama e Monate will go a long way in changing perceptions and help farmers run their farms like a business.

They have to be taught the principles of animal husbandry and profitability. Urging new farmers to get involved with organised agriculture is the most effective way to gain the necessary knowledge and experience. “A hurdle is that many new farmers still farm on communal land where chiefs have the final say. It’s extremely difficult to practice good animal husbandry without fences and where different farmers’ animals graze together. You simply do not have control over your animals, disease control is nearly impossible and stock theft is an ever-present danger. “Something that really concerns me is that some emerging farmers have the perception that structured marketing channels are kept in place to enrich white people. That is absolutely devoid of truth – these channels will help all of us grow financially.” Contact the SA Feedlot Association on (012) 667 1189 or Northern Cape Livestock on (053) 927 3871. |fw