Milk producers aid Cedara

Fifteen years ago, Cedara was recognised as one of the best research stations in the world. But as its research capacity has declined over the years, so too have the extension services offered to commercial farmers.

Now, in a bid to improve the standard of research and extension services, various industry bodies are linking hands with the KZN Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development.  The KZN branch of the Milk Producers’ Organisation (MPO) is at an advanced stage of discussions with the department and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two could be signed within the next few weeks.

Mike Black, former MPO KZN president and a director of the national MPO, said, "we’d like Cedara to get their dairy research back on track. We’d like to see more dairy research and the results communicated with commercial and emerging farmers." Included in the MOU would be an undertaking by the MPO KZN to encourage its members to mentor emerging farmers where possible.

According to Kuben Moodley, the department’s general manager of strategic support services, who’s overseeing the Extension Recovery Programme, the department needs to double the number of extension officers, research scientists and vets in the next three to five years. "We need more scientists and more research," he said.

A source within KZN extension services agreed that greater emphasis on research is needed. "Most research in agriculture is done by private companies that direct research towards the development of products and services that are in their own interests. But if you look at a country like Brazil, they have about 120 research scientists doing crop production research at just one government research institute. As a result, they’re generating farming practice recommendations that are leading their farmers to being the lowest cost maize and soya producers in the world.

"In South Africa, there’s a shortage of independent research. The farmers who feed us, desperately need advice on production systems that are financially and economically sustainable. Cedara’s capacity to deliver on these needs is very constrained at the moment."

Agriculture’s currently in a vacuum created by the absence of sufficient technically proficient staff," said the source.The department’s senior general manager of operations, Carlos Boldogh, said he was also in talks with the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO). "We’ve set up 42 livestock associations in communal areas and we want the RPO to support our emerging farmers with mentorship," he said.

KZN RPO chairperson Hendrik Botha confirmed that the department had extended an olive branch. "We want to work together," he added. "They asked us to give them advice on their extension work because they want to find out how commercial farmers operate. We’ll advise them on the most viable methods of farming."Botha said Boldogh had promised to set up an Animal Health Forum early next year.

The forum would include the red meat, dairy, wool, poultry and pig organisations, as well as the Diptank Association and research and veterinary services from Cedara. "There’s a dire need for this in KZN," explained Botha. "No one is taking the lead in coordinating responses to disease outbreaks. We have to drive this thing together."