Growing up on a farm in rural KwaZulu-Natal, created a lifelong dream for Mdu Mlangeni to become a farmer. But as he could not own land, he became a teacher instead. “I never lost my passion for farming, so I applied to government for land under the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) programme,” he explains. “The process was quite easy and I received a R6,6 million grant to buy implements and R350 000 to buy inputs.”
Farming cattle and cash crops on the 262ha farm, Sunnyside, near Estcourt in KZN leased from the government, Mdu has gone from strength to strength. He is part of Grain SA’s (GSA) mentorship programme that helps emerging farmers get off the ground. This year, Mdu won the small commercial farmer category, for farmers who produce more than 250t of maize annually.
“I’ve been blessed to have people help me along the way. This includes GSA and all my neighbouring farmers who are always ready to give me advice.” As part of the mentorship programme, participating farmers attend monthly classes in their local areas where they learn about all aspects of farming, including weed and pest control, planting methods, and fertilisation.
GSA also conducts field trials in the farmers’ areas to demonstrate the differences between the cultivars, as well as the effect of fertiliser and weed control on yields. “Farming today is very different from what I was used to as a child,” says Mdu. “I have now embraced modern technology and I’m grateful for the cultivar trials that Monsanto will run on my farm. This will give me first-hand insight into new cultivars.”
Mdu has a large vegetable patch for his farm workers.
Building a dream
About 24ha irrigated land on Sunnyside is planted to maize for cattle feed, 185ha to dryland maize, while 35ha is under
Eragrostis curvula and Eragrostis teff pasture, and 18ha is planted to sugar beans – all on dryland. Any maize not used for
the cattle is sold to a nearby feedlot, while the sugar beans are also sold. Sunnyside receives on average 950mm of rain annually. This gives Mdu an average maize yield of 7,18t/ ha and a sugar bean yield of 3,5t/ ha. The beans and maize are rotated.
GSA encourages regular soil sampling and Mdu sends his samples to Cedara where they make recommendations on fertiliser applications. He plans to switch to no-till production in the future. At this stage he discs but does not plough his lands. “No-till retains moisture and reduces erosion, which is very good for the soil.”
Mdu runs a commercial herd of 180 Simbra and Drakensberger cattle. “I received advice from neighbouring farmers that these were the best breeds for the area as they are hardy and strong. I’m very happy with them.” Mdu has plans to expand the farming operation, and would like to put up a feedlot to intensify his farming and increase profit. “My dream is to own a 1 000ha farm in five years’ time where I can farm crops and cattle.”
Good worker relations
Mdu has a vegetable patch for his farm labourers. The labourers tend the garden and Mdu supplies the inputs. He also allows his workers to milk some of the cows so that they have milk for their families. “Food security is a big issue in this area, and this way I know my workers and their families have food.”
Asked about the impact of the increase in the minimum wage, Mdu stresses that he has no problem paying it. “The workers deserved it and it didn’t have such a bad effect on the farm either. These are my people and they must be happy at work. If they are happy and realise that their livelihoods depend on the farm, they will look after it because they have a vested interest in its success. If I look after my workers they will look after me,” he says.
Mdu has four young sons who are all interested in farming. But, he notes that proper succession planning starts with portraying a positive image of farming.“I make a point of proving to them that there is money and a future in farming.”
Farming is challenging at the best of times, but for an emerging farmer starting out, the obstacles are even greater.
“Finance is a big challenge,” says Mdu. Government should involve GSA to a greater extent in its farming programmes because the organisation delivers, according to Mdu. Greater involvement from GSA would have resulted in more emerging farmers turning commercial by now, he says.
Mdu currently leases land from government, but is hoping to buy some land soon. “I’m not comfortable with the way the department of agriculture handles land affairs and the leasing of farms, because extension officers don’t understand agriculture.” He says these officers think you start making a lot of money right away and want you to pay back loans immediately.
Mdu has only been part of the GSA mentorship programme for two years, but has come a long way in his farming practice. “I started late and it has taken me a long time to get here, but now things can only get better.”
Phone Mdu Mlangeni on 0823231916.