THERE IS A REVOLUTION ON THE FARM by Jenny Slabber Talborne Organics
The 3 things we can be sure of are Death, Increased Taxes and Change! As we can do very little to secure ourselves against the first two inevitables, we will consider the ever changing farming environment and how this impacts the future of farming.
The new “buzzwords” that indicate how radically the landscape of farming has changed in South Africa, were relatively unknown or new concepts at the start of this century only 13 years ago! Although it is always difficult to change habits and practise, some of these changes that we have had to cope with are positive and some are negative. How we respond and apply these to our daily farming practise will determine whether the outcome is a success or doomed to failure.
SUSTAINABLE FARMING – Conservation farming methods have been adapted to long term care and maintenance of the productivity of the farming enterprise, with principles such as building up soil quality, diversification of crops, farming activities and beneficiation to ensure sustainable income. These new methods are variously described as Biological, Organic, Bio Dynamic, Good Agricultural Practise (GAP), Farming for the Future or Nature Farming. The WWF “Green Choice” is a well researched protocol and guide for sustainable farming in South Africa.
NO RESIDUE – Has replaced the previous standard described as “Low Residue” as consumer awareness and protective legislation on food safety issues have increased. The retailer, both local and international, now has standards and tests to ensure that safe food, free of heavy metal contaminants, disease causing pathogens and toxic residues are offered to the consumer. The retailer that offers a good quality of fresh produce is assured of a loyal and repeat customer as can be seen in heavy competition in this sector of the local retail chains.
GLOBAL WARMING (OR COOLING) – Whatever theory we wish to follow in this controversial debate, climate change is a fact that is felt on the farm in unstable and unpredictable seasons and weather patterns. Temperature increases have made many crops marginal or unviable in certain areas, such as experienced by the apple and barley farmers. Severe and frequent hailstorms have over recent years caused destruction of crops and infrastructure like greenhouse tunnels in areas that previously had no record of hailstorms like areas in Limpopo and Gauteng. This has required investment in the installation of hail nets over vast areas of deciduous orchards or vegetables for crop protection. Frequent and devastating floods or droughts in various regions are now a regular occurrence
CARBON FOOTPRINT – Whether you think it is just a marketing tool or a financial scam, there is an imperative to cut energy costs in our farming practices by reducing input and transport costs to market. Not only will it save the planet, but it could well save your business from the escalating cost of fossil fuels. Secure a reliable local market for your produce first, then only expand to national and export markets as your business output increases. Investigate alternative sources of energy such as producing Bio fuel from old cooking oils, or generating Biogas from organic farm waste. Novel tourism has seen some farmers return to draft animals such as horses being used to plough and carry loads on farms.
UNRELIABLE AND ESCALATING COST OF ELECTRICITY – For the past few years we have been energy insecure and unsure with the constant threat to provision of a reliable service, together with assurances of compounded increases in electricity prices in the years to come. Losses amounting to Billions of rands resulted when irrigation systems, dairies, packing sheds, and cold rooms on farms were rendered useless when Eskom failed it’s duty to supply electricity. Reduce your dependency and costs by creating some alternatives for when the “dark days” come again. The South African climate offers many free resources like Solar or Wind energy to tap into through innovation and new technology. A “Boer maak a Plan” is a well known reference to our abilities as a nation to think creatively!
POOR AGRICULTURAL POLICY AND SUPPORT STRUCTURES – Underfunded research institutions, poor agricultural policies, incompetent mentoring and inadequate educational services have left us relatively uncompetitive against the “farmers champion” nations of South America, India, Australia and the Far East. They value the importance of farmers for their daily provision of food, fibre and fuel. They assist farmers with good policy, financial and marketing support, and understand the importance of safety and security of tenure required for successful modern farming businesses to flourish and grow. The constant threats of land confiscation, land claims and illegal settlement creates insecurity and remains a threat to all farmers whether black or white. There is no benefit to Politics undermining food production, as our nation will reap a bitter harvest when there is not enough food to eat!
Despite these challenges, the future for farmers is very bright, with a young and rapidly growing population that is dependent on farming for food, clothing and housing.
Dick Ziggers, the late editor of AllAboutFeed wrote on his 13 September blog “Agriculture is a sexy business: today’s farmer is young and energetic, interested in eco-tourism and eating raw. They may still have clay on their boots, but modern farmers are looking beyond the dirt and into how technology and international networking can make the local industry sexier and more productive. High tech is key and social media have entered the barn. Farming has moved into the 21st century and in education the paradigms that the system has been operating on are just not appropriate for the modern technologies.”