Mark Muncer, Boschendal Estate – 2nd of February 2016

This afternoon we went to see Mark Muncer who is a friend of Farmer Angus

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He works for the Boschendal Estate which is the oldest farm in South Africa and is known mainly for its wine. Mark was bought in as a consultant but has never left. We meet him at the beautiful restaurant, coffee shop and butchery which has just been done up

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The idea is that everything produced on the farm will go through the retail outlets they have here

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In front of you when you are in the restaurant is their 2ha kitchen garden which supplies the restaurant

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There are ten gardeners that work this garden

Mark’s speciality is cattle and also adding value to produce. His is very keen on producing biological, low input, high quality produce. On the farm they have about 700 head of cattle

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The cows are mainly Angus and he is covering them with a Limousin and a Brahman bull. These cows are fed on similar pastures to Angus but these were only planted a year ago

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Mark has a pivot irrigator and so has good growth on his pastures. When finishing the animals they get fed a mixture of bokashi and EM microbes

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The EM helps digestion and improves their appetite. The cattle certainly have a beautiful backdrop to fatten to

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Luckily they have plenty of water in reservoirs

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They also make their own compost which they apply to their farm

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They are currently planting organic lemons and almonds (I think!)

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They plant Lucerne between the rows which they bale for fodder for the animals. They like Angus have their own butchery and also have my favourite biltong

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They seem to have lots of new projects on the go like building an abattoir and putting game back onto the hill. All of these projects are designed to make the estate financially and environmentally sustainable. Our afternoon with Mark was thought provoking. He is very keen on adding value and being a price maker not a a price taker. He really got me thinking. Thanks Mark for spending some of your time with us.

Farmer Angus, Stellenbosch, South Africa – 1st of February

After flying down to Cape Town on Sunday and staying with fellow Nuffield Scholar Holly Beckett, we then went to meet our next host Angus McIntosh (Farmer Angus)

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Angus was working for Goldman Sachs in London as a stockbroker then was inspired by ‘the omnivores dilemma ‘ book by Michael Pollan and was also inspired by Joel Salatin to go home to South Africa to farm. He now farms biodynamic grass fed beef and outdoor raised poultry for eggs and meat on the Spier Estate near Stellenbosch. He markets the produce under his Farmer Angus brand http://www.farmerangus.co.za

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Farmer Angus established his pastures six years ago and now runs his herd of about 300 head of mainly Limousin cattle on these pastures using the mob grazing techniques

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This herd get moved twice a day at 11.30am and 4pm. At 4pm the sugars in the pastures are at their highest. Angus does not use bagged fertilser on the soil but uses a free choice mineral lick

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There are various minerals in each compartment and Angus believes the cow knows which one she needs and then they will manure the pasture with the same mineral in a an organic form so slowly improve the mineral content of the pasture.

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In one of the salt licks he adds legume seeds to try to help thicken out the pasture. Angus has to irrigate his pastures and would like to install a pivot because his current irrigation system is not working too well

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The current sprinkler system does not spread the water far enough so the pasture is patchy and with the constant wind you get in this area it get blown in one direction. This means you get small clumps of good pasture around a sprinkler.

After the cows have been through the pasture they are followed by the chickens

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These are moved daily in chicken tractors

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Angus has 4000 laying hens in his system.

Angus uses compost, compost tea and BD preps on his land

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He makes his tea using the above equipment of a flow form and a tea Brewer.

Angus has his own butchery and kills 4 cows a week which goes through his own cutting room and is all sold under his brand

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Spencer is 72 and is in charge in the butchery. They make many products but Biltong is my favourite

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Before we left on Wednesday morning Angus showed us another one of his ideas. He has a plant which you put salt in one end

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Put in the treatment vessel and pass an electrical current across the liquid

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This then gives you two environmentally friendly products

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You get a degreaser and a steriliser product from this process which they use to clean their equipment and help heal animals. They also put the steriliser in the animals water and have seen the animal health increase.

Angus has a real enthusiasm for farming and is willing to try anything to see if it works. It was a real inspiration to see how he is developing his farm and I will be interested to see how it looks here in ten years time. Thank you Angus for hosting us for two days and showing us around.

 

 

Sean Hensman, Adventures with Elephants – 30th of January 2016

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Today we visited Sean Hensman. This visit is an example of how a Nuffield Scholarship can take you places you would never had thought. About a year ago I said to Philippa my better half that I would like to travel to Africa and she mentioned a friend of hers from University. So I emailed this guy out of the blue and asked for ideas of visits in RSA and he came back with a great list of people to see. Sean is that guy and has an amazing story himself. Sean’s father was a farmer in Zimbabwe and they were forced off their farm but Sean’s father managed to save 12 elephants that were on his farm. These elephants were going to be slaughtered by the army in Zimbabwe. Rory Hensman managed to negotiate their safety and trucked them to South Africa. Where he landed in South Africa with nothing but 12 elephants. Eventually after a spell in Hazyview they ended up in Bela Bela where they now run Adventures with Elephants (www.adventureswithelephants.com ). They now have 5 elephants that would have been euthanised due to poor behaviour. They have trained these elephants to now interact with the public. Sean works with his brother Mike who was our host for today

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They also now have a new addition Zambezi

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The fence is for our benefit. Zambezi is very boisterous and will knock you over if he thinks you would like attention. It is very difficult but you have to ignore him so as not to encourage that behaviour. During the experience the elephants demonstrate their extraordinary memory and also give willing people a kiss

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After saying hello you have a ride on the elephants around part of their range

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Below is the elephants on their was to see us

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Normally you would help wash the elephants after the ride in the dam but due to drought this was cancelled.

The evening before when we arrived we went with Mike to watch him train a couple of dogs to be tracker dogs for anti poaching

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These two young German Shepherds were chosen from 200 dogs

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Above Nathan is setting a track and then places a ball at the end which the dogs have to find. We followed quietly behind so not to distract the dogs

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Once these dogs are partly trained they and Mike are going to Zambia. There Mike will spend three months with the dogs and the handlers finishing off the training. These dogs will them help fight against poaching. They have also trained elephants for anti poaching and also below is Trouble

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Trouble is a Meerkat who would have been killed by his mother so Sean took him in and he has been trained detect explosives.

We were lucky to spend a couple of days with Sean and Mike and were so impressed with their enthusiasm and innovation to take their lives which were devastated by their farm being taken away to building a successful business. They are a perfect example of the tough adaptive African farmers we have met on our travels. Sean and Mike thank you both so much for a great experience and weekend. Anyone who visits Africa should visit here.

Piet Prinsloo, ZZ2 Tomatoes, South Africa – 29th of January 2016

ZZ2 tomatoes was a company I had heard about and really wanted to visit because they are vast in size but they have managed to reduce their pesticide usage by 50% using biological farming methods. My contact in ZZ2 was Piet Prinsloo:

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Piet is an interesting guy. He has no background in agriculture but had property companies. After meeting was of the owners of ZZ2 he was offered a job and is now a project manager for them. He was asked by the owners to look into organic farming methods and try to improve the way the company farms. ZZ2 is a massive business (www.zz2.biz) below is a few figures:

  • produces 240,000t per year of tomatoes outdoors and has a 50% share of the South African Market
  • it has 10% of the onion market
  • produces deciduous dates in the desert in Namibia
  • also produces chillies, avocados, apples, pears and cherries
  • due to sites of farms it can produce tomatoes all year around
  • it employs 9000 people

For the first part of our meeting Piet talked about the business and its philosophy.Out of the project to improve farming methods came their NatuurBoerdery (Natural Farming) brand. The improvement in farming methods has lead to improvement in taste and shelf life. Even though they don’t sell NatuurBoerdery as a premium brand they get a 10-12% premium over competitors due better quality from their customers.

Below is a bad picture of their dates in the desert

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Also of their farming on top of mountains (again poor quality photo!)

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After chatting we went to see how they had managed to reduce their pesticide inputs so much. They use Effective Microbes, compost teas and compost.

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Above was one of their big mistakes. It is one of four tea Brewers they imported into RSA at a cost of about £10,000 each but they don’t work. So they made their own

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They just use IBC’s with the tops cut off and bubble air through it using the device below

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They make 3-5 million litres of tea per year. The teas reduce foliar and soil diseases. They also brew their own EM

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EM is a mix of molasses, brown sugar and EM bugs which is then brewed for 14 days. Then with some of the EM brews they add different extracts for different purposes including chipped weeds. One brew they use for nematode control in the soil. The EM costs them £30 per ha but if they used the chemical method with methyl bromide it would cost £120 and kill everything else in your soil. They also have their own lab where they check the quality of their brews, compost and soils

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They also have a large composting site

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The compost is made from wood chip, chicken manure and cow manure and is bought into the farm. They then make their compost themselves and have a bespoke machine that waters and turns the compost

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Once it is composted it is graded and then sent to different uses

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The finest grade goes to the tomatoes, the medium coarse grade goes to the tree crops lie Avocados and the coarse stuff goes back through the composting site.

It was great to visit a large company that has managed to employ biological methods on a large scale and meet a man like Piet who is very determined to make it work. Thanks everyone for you time.