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.

 

Ian Veldsman, Hazyview, South Africa – 27th of January 2016

Our next visit was to meet with Ian Veldsman in Hazyview in the foothills of the Drakensburg mountains

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Ian is a Zimbabwean farmer who seems very dynamic and can put his hand to anything. At the moment he is a Macadamia grower. So the first evening we got to him he organised us a tour around Golden Macadamias.

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Golden Macadamias is the biggest processing factory of Macadamias in the world. It was bought by farmers some years ago and is run as a coop and has kept growing since. At the moment the factory is in shut down as it is the off season

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The harvesting season is from April to November and during that period this plant is running 24/7. It is all about adding value to the Macadamias and getting as much revenue for their shareholders as possible. This means no stone is unturned and it seems to be run with military precision.

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The next morning we had a look around Ian’s farm. We first looked I his shed where is sorts and dries the Macadamias at harvest. They come in at 22% mc and he dries them to 10%.

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Above are his drying bins and underneath he loads up trailers. An eight tonne trailer is worth about £22,000! Ian harvests about 65t per year. Then we saw his new cropping project

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Ian is intercropping ginger with Macadamias. He has tried it before and had trouble with quality of seed. He now hopes to harvest 40-50t per hectare of ginger this year at about £3.90 per kilo. The seed was very expensive to start with. When we got their Ian was very excited to show us his infrastructure project. As power supply here is expensive and intermittent he is now installing a ram pump

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This will allow him to be water independent and was going to cost him only about £3000. A ram pump takes a head of water. For every one meter of head you have you can pump back uphill 10m. Ian has seven metres head. For every 4l of water that rush into the pump, one litre gets pushed uphill. Ian has plenty of water from a canal

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Now he will be able to pump it upto a 550,000l reservoir and it continually irrigate his crops without any power!

After that we visited Ian’s friend Adam Wood

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Adam is also a Macadamia grower. He has 72ha in Hazyview and his brother has 150ha in Tzaneen. Below is Adam’s sprayer for Macs and the view of his farm

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I do not joke but these guys are farming on seriously sloping ground. Glad I am not their sprayer operator. Below is a macadamia nut

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The biggest problem they have with Macadamias is the Stink Bug. This bug is resistant to pyrethroids and so they have to use harsher insecticides to control them. Adam is very aware of the problem and is trying biological control and they are desperately looking for a catch crop. Their best option is chlorpyrphos at 10,000l of water per hectare. Not a sustainable practice.

We had a great time with Ian. He has a diversified operation and he is always looking at new projects. His wife also owns a fast food restaurant in town. Thanks to Ian and his family for looking after us and helping us get into Kruger Park.

 

 

 

Hendrik Smith, South Africa – Day 2

Below is the reception of the farm office we visited today

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Hendrik today took us to visit Janvos Landgoed on the High Veld near Ermelo.

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Jan is a bit of a man mountain and I would not have wanted to face him on the rugby pitch! He manages his family farm with his father and it is quite an operation. They have 8000ha in total: 3500 cropping of maize and soya; 300 dairy cows; 800 beef cows, 3000 sheep and 15ha of apples.

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Above is maps of all his farms. Each section has their own manager who has their own accounts, which means if one department sells something to another it is charged at the going rate. This was a bit of an issue for the dairy manager as the maize price here has doubled! The idea is to encourage competition between the managers.

The High Veld where they are has a bit of a unique climate for South Africa.

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Due to its altitude it is cooler than most other places. It has about 600mm of annual rainfall mostly in the summer. This climate is good for growing apples and Jan thinks he will increase the area as it shows a lot of potential. It seems to be the expanding crop in this area.

Jan showed us around his enterprises.

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The cropping side has been no till since 2008. Jan went to Brazil that year and bought a local planter there and then. The first year he was 33% no till, second 66% and third he was 100% and has never looked back. About 80% of the farmers in this area are no till. The planter above is Jan’s current planter which is a local make. It has a leading time on it as he grazes all his stubbles hard with animals and this helps relieve the damage.

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He grows 50% maize and 50% soya with a couple of pivots for irrigation. He grows GMO soya and non GMO maize. He gets a premium for non GMO maize. The cropping side also makes the silage for the dairy and charges them!

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Luckily when we there they were shearing the sheep

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The wool is worth good money from these Merinos. They fatten themselves off on grass. He sometimes plants ryegrass in one of his pivots for the sheep to lamb on. He gets 3 crops of lambs in 2 yrs and they lamb at 120%. In the shearing shed we saw the Sheep Guardian

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This keeps the Jackals off 300ha of grazing ground. It works in two ways. It emits a low frequency sounds that scares off the vermin and also it sprays lion’s pee every 15 minutes. I would not want to be the guy collecting the lion pee!

We then looked at the dairy

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They are zero grazed and are housed in this open building

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The cows are yielding at 42l per cow per day. Even at this high output they are not making a profit. The dairy industry is struggling here too.

When we were driving around Jan showed us his dam where he gets his water from. Luckily he has clean water but did have an incident with the local sewage works who were leaking raw sewage into his water. This is something we have heard all around RSA. The sewage works seem to have stopped working and are pumping raw sewage into the water system. Not only does South Africa have a water shortage problem it also has a massive water quality problem with pollution from sewage and from mines. I can’t quite understand why in a developed country they can’t get sewage works working.

Thanks to Jan for showing us around. It was great to see a diversified business on a large scale and how that diversity has lead to resilience and long term profitability. Also thanks to Hendrik for being our guide for 2 days. He is doing a great job here promoting Conservation Agriculture and I think the UK would gain from a similar person.

Hendrik Smith, SA Grain, Pretoria, South Africa, day 1 – 25th of January 2016

Dr Hendrik Smith is someone who I met through Twitter @Healthy_Soils and managed to persuade him to show us around the Pretoria area for 2 days.

Hendrik works for Grain SA as a Conservation Agriculture facilitator. He is trying to increase the amount of farmers using no till and cover crops to improve soils all over South Africa. Our first meeting was in Brits at the office of Elim Groen, which is a fertiliser company. There we met with Willie Pretorius who is an expert on soil health, cover crops and bio-fertilisers. We started and finished to day at Elim Groen talking about their new bio fertilsers

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It is a carbon based fertiliser based on vermicast,Biochar and other ingredients. In independent trials they have had great results. Higher yields with 20% less nitrogen. Need to try to get some to the UK.

After Elim Groen’s Hendrik, Willie, Gordon and I went to the farm of Joseph.

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It is a beautiful place, which is in a bowl surrounded by hills. Joseph has cattle, game reserve and about 450ha of irrigated crops. Joseph is an Executive Director of Grain SA and is the vice chair of a local farmer working group.

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Joseph is sat down with Hendrik to his right and Willie to his left. In the background you can see bales. He has baled up his residue which he will send to the drought hit farmers in South Africa for free. South Africa is in a terrible drought. The maize crop is going to be half of normal. This means RSA needs to import 65 million tonnes of maize this year which is just doesn’t have the infrastructure to do. Some interesting times ahead. Joseph on his farm two weeks ago reached 53 degrees Celsius. He gets about 800 mm of annual rainfall similar to home but he has huge evaporation losses due to the heat so needs to irrigate. The irrigation is causing real problems. The water he is using is being contaminated upstream by raw sewage been pumped into the watercourses. This is happening all over because the government is not enforcing or running the sewage works. This means the water contains chlorine and E. Coli. The irrigation is also causing sodium problems

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They had dug a couple of holes to see the problems. The first one is capping of the surface due to the sodium and they are also finding an impenetrable layer of salt like material about 10″ down. This is causing problems with rooting and water penetration. Hendrik and Willie took some soil samples to try to look into the problem

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Hendrik wants to take soil health information from lots of farms and publish it. Then it gives farmers something to talk about and compare. Joseph has two different soil types, both heavy clay but both were beautiful fertile soils

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The second one is a lot darker and stays cooler. Gus the farm manager is feeding Gordon! They double crop maize and soya beans on this ground. Their biggest pest problem in the crop is baboons

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The baboons will come and take the cobs and cause a lot of damage. Other problems are Leopards. They can’t calve in the Veld so they have to bring them in otherwise the Leopards take the calves. Makes our rabbit and fox issues look wimpy!

After we looked around Joseph’s crops we had a Braai with mutton

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It was nice to get out of the heat of the sun and next to the cooler fire! Only annoying thing was all the flies. It was a great visit with Joseph and interesting to see the issues of farming in RSA. Looking forward to day 2 with Hendrik.

Real IPM, Kenya, 23rd of January 2016 – part 2

Today is our last day in Kenya and we are back with Henry and Louise. During our last visit we did not see the microbe production and packing process so this morning Henry took us around the site.

First we saw the boiler. This heats the green houses with Macadamia nut shells.

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Then we looked at the production of Phytoseiulus. This is a predatory might that is used in various applications in things like Rose production and is Real IPM’s biggest seller. To produce a predatory mite you need to first produce its prey. So the first greenhouse we saw was producing the prey which is red spider mite.

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They produce the prey on beans. Interestingly they plant beans with trichoderma another product of theirs and don’t get soil disease problems with beans after beans. The next green house we went to is where they have the predatory mites. They infect the beans with the prey and once the predators have eaten most of the prey they harvest them. They get about 5 crops a year of Phytoseiulus. They produce about 40 million per week off 8ha of greenhouses

Once harvested they go to quality control

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This where they literally remove all contaminants so it is 100% Phytoseiulus. Below Gordon is checking their work

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Once they have been checked they are cooled down for transport. Different customers want the product in different numbers and packaged. The Kenyan market wants them in the tubes below

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In each each tube is about 1-2000 predators. They reuse the tubes a number of times. They produce 7 different types of predatory mites

We next looked a fungus production. They produce metarhiziums if various types which are fungus that eat the stages of certain insects that are in the soil. This have great potential for the UK if it wasn’t for the EU registration system. They grow the fungi on rice bran

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Once the fungus have eaten all the bran they are processed

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They are sifted and dried

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Then they are formulated and sold in bottles

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ICIPE the research organisation has 300 isolets of Metarhizium which they do not yet all of their functions. Real IPM has a bioprospecting team who are actively looking for new microbes which may be useful.

Another thing they do is testing of other people’s products for the Kenyan authorities . This is why they have a green house of roses to test products efficacy.

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Henry and Louise have been amazing hosts for us. They fed us, housed us for five nights and also gave us contacts to see around Kenya. Without them our visit would have been a lot harder. They are also two really dynamic people with a fascinating business. One I would recommend everyone to come and visit.

Many thanks Henry and Louise

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Stuart Barden, Athi River, Kenya -22nd January 2016

Today Gordon and I split up. Don’t worry we haven’t fallen out but opportunities for seeing chicken for Gordon and large scale arable came up for me which were miles apart so we couldn’t visit both together. While Gordon was in the police station I was been driven down the farm track to Stuart’s farm.

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It’s not often you seen Giraffe on the way to a visit

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I also saw Wildebeest, Gazelle, Zebra, Ostrich and Wart Hog. Unfortunately the cheetahs and lions were hiding. The reason for driving down this track is because Stuart’s farm is at the other end. Stuart Barden is a 2009 Australian Nuffield Scholar who when he was travelling through Kenya on his travels was given some soil maps and was asked “if you could farm here where would it be?” Stuart pointed at the fertile Black Cotton Soil near Athi River.

image Then 3 yrs later was here and breaking new ground in Kenya. A bold decision for anyone. The first two years were particularly tough. Stuart planted grain sorghum and unfortunately it was decimated by Red Weaver Birds. The birds caused one million dollars worth or damage in the first two years. This meant he had to sell the rest of the farm in Australia to keep farming in Kenya and so he had no fall back. As he said it sharpened his mind as it now had to work.

The limiting factor here on this farm is moisture, he only gets 500mm per year. So Stuart’ is no till, CTF and is trying to build up residue cover.

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This field was mung beans last year and will go into wheat next week. This ground three years ago was reserve and now is a 650 ish hectare field. He only has two fields with a rotation of two legumes and then a cereal. As this is virgin ground Nitrogen is not limiting. When planting a cereal be uses only 70-80kgs of total product, which is a blend of MAP, Potassium Sulphate and Tiger 70 with traces. The organic matter is 3.8% and is walks beautifully. Stuart is very aware that he needs to maintain SOM and not mine this ground of it’s natural fertility. He has spent a lot of money on roads, water supply and fencing. The fencing maintenance is an almost full time job to keep the animals out. It is electric and turned on only when he has a crop planted.

Back at the yard Stuart has built the main building himself

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This is probably the biggest tractor I have seen so far in Kenya

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Stuart has 3 full time employees and one apprentice. When we were there they were building bulk hoppers

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Nothing comes in bulk in Kenya. So to speed up filling the drill he is building hoppers which can be loaded ready while the drill is working. The grills are over the top because the seed and inputs can come with contamination e.g. String. The supply of seed is a real problem. Last year he grew barley which had a lot of impurities in it and was going to cost $100,000 in claims at the malsters. So he bought a cleaner for $50,000

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He then cleaned it three times to get it to 99% purity. Now with seed he will plant a small area, then make sure it is clean at harvest and farm save from that area for the next year.

For chickpeas he was using an air reel on his combine which I had never seen before

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Stuart didn’t have any fancy new machinery which was great to see

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After the farm tour we had lunch and discussed some of Stuart’s plans and new ideas. He sees many opportunities even though there are huge challenges. He has a real pioneering “can do ” spirit but also wants to give back to the community. Since being in Kenya he has had over a thousand visitors from all over and Stuart spends the time with them trying to help them on their own farms.

Today was a great visit. Thanks Stuart and good luck!