Grain SA winner says: no short cuts!

Grain SA Developing Grain Producer of the Year, Lepati Macaphasa, has made the jump to commercial farming. He told Annelie Coleman a successful farmer must love his work and stay clear of debt.
Issue Date: 30 November 2007

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Lepati Macaphasa, Grain SA’s Developing Grain Producer for 2007,
says hard work, dedication and a love of the land is the recipe for success in agriculture.

Grain SA Developing Grain Producer of the Year, Lepati Macaphasa, has made the jump to commercial farming. He told Annelie Coleman a successful farmer must love his work and stay clear of debt.

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A Passion for farming, avoiding debt and sheer hard work are the keys to succeeding as a farmer, says Ntate Lepati Macaphasa from Kestell in the eastern who was recently appointed Grain SA’s Developing Producer of the Year. “I want to succeed as a commercial farmer, ensure a future in farming for my sons and stay debt-free and financially independent,” he says.

Starting at the bottom Lepati farms on 506ha, of which 80ha is under wheat and 100ha under maize, and hires another 200ha. He also runs 84 Bonsmara-cross cows and 100 Mutton Merinos. As a member of the Phuthaditjhaba Grain SA study group, he’s full of praise for the support he received from SA’s farmer development programme.

“But the main inspiration in my life came from the late Scheepers from Fouriesburg,” he says. “get very emotional when remember the trouble he took with me ever since was a very young man. He was well known in the eastern Free State, particularly for his Brahman and Merino studs. Malem taught me about ploughing, planting and animal husbandry. “started as a young farmworker on his farm Oranje and ended up as supervisor. He actively supported and encouraged me when decided to branch out on my own in 1986.” Lepati now has a fleet of four tractors, but he still uses his first, a Ford 5000, that he bought from Malem in 1986. That tractor and one plough was all he had when he started farming commercially in 1993, after acquiring his current farm from the agriculture department.

He took part in communal farming in Qwa Qwa while he waited for the allocation of his farm and still remembers the difficulty of getting his business off the ground. “had to work very, very hard to make ends meet and decided then and there to avoid debt like the plague,” he recalls. “If there’s one thing that can sink a hard-working farmer, it’s borrowed money. But was a happy man.” Lepati’s sons, Thabo and Motlalepula, who joined their father on the farm, both agree he’s a hard but fair taskmaster, who’s drilled them to look after the farm’s equipment diligently. “Your equipment is the means by which you secure your livelihood,” says Lepati. “It’s an integral part of farming and must be regarded, in a manner of speaking, as part of the family. It should be treated as well as your wife and children.”

Lepati is particularly proud of his herd of Bonsmara-cross cows and the Bonsmara bull he bought from Malem’s son, Fourie. “decided on Bonsmaras for their rapid growth, hardiness and adaptability. recently sold 30 weaners, averaging 200kg, for up to R4 000 each. All my marketing is done through Vleissentraal, which has always treated me fairly. prefer dealing with a reputable company to marketing the cattle myself.” Stock theft is, however, a problem in the area. Lepati had 28 cows stolen last year and 30 of his neighbour’s cattle were stolen this August. Lepati complains bitterly about the lack of support from the police. “It’s no use alerting them. They only arrived three days after theft. Criminals go around freely cutting fences and stealing our livestock. We’re virtually helpless because of a lack of proper policing.” Lepati says he’s disappointed with SA politics. He has strong feelings about allegations that farmworkers are poorly treated. “Politicians don’t know what they’re talking about,” he contends. “The average farmer is a fair employer, but we sometimes have to deal with people who don’t want to work. We deserve much more credit from the government for what we do as far as job creation is concerned, and less criticism and mud-slinging.”

He’s also concerned about rising agricultural imports. “Imports are understandable in times of need and shortages, but why import products that are supplied locally? It causes economic problems and shouldn’t be allowed.” More to farming than money Lepati is adamant about debt. “I’ve planted on a cash basis up to now.
We achieved a maize yield of 4,5t/ha this year, but only planted 64ha because we ran out of money. I won’t plant maize with borrowed money. The prize money from Grain SA will go towards planting crops in the current season.” He’s particularly proud of last year’s sugar bean harvest when 56ha yielded 1 000 bags, in a year when prices were exceptionally high.

Grain SA’s provincial development coordinator in the Free State, Johan Kriel, says Lepati was one of the most determined participants in the farmer development programme, and has successfully transformed from a developing farmer to a fully-fledged commercial farmer. “He’s a shrewd businessperson, an accomplished farmer and a role model to all other aspiring farmers,” says Kriel. “He literally started at the bottom and achieved success by hard work.” At the awards ceremony, Grain SA chairperson Neels Ferreira said new commercial farmers such as Lepati are broadening the economic base of SA agriculture. The last word is Lepati’s. “Don’t take short cuts. Take the long, honest, sometimes difficult road. You’ll gain people’s respect by being fair, honest and trustworthy.” Contact Lepati Macaphasa on 082 399 2923. |fw