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12 Jun 2021
Rooibos
Rooibos

Rooibos

Rooibos has just taken on a grander significance, joining the ranks of high-end products like Champagne.

The European Commission has included it in its Register of Protected Designations of Origin and Protected Geographical Indications.

This means it can only be labelled Rooibos if produced in specific parts of the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces.

It is also the only African food to receive the status of protected designation of origin in the European Commission's register.

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9 Jun 2021
Erin of Cape Town
Erin of Cape Town

People who Grow Food

Meet Erin from Cape Town, South Africa 

“I am 29 years old and I am fiercely passionate about many things ranging from teaching History for empathy to regenerating land. My husband and I live in Cape Town, South Africa.

My ultimate dream is to combine all of my passions and start up my own Non-Profit Organization which works with schools, especially those in lower-income communities, to create and sustain school food gardens.

When I was little, myself and my three brothers were each given a 1m x 1m patch in the garden to grow our favourite foods. This must have been when the spark was lit, but it wasn’t until I was 22 and living in my first flat that I became interested again and experimented with growing a few culinary herbs. A typical millennial, I watched YouTube videos while learning to grow food and stumbled across a video about Limestone Permaculture Farm, in Australia. Their abundance and natural systems had me intrigued and I eventually went on to complete my Permaculture Design Certificate 3 years later.

After experimenting with a few culinary herbs, I got hooked on the feeling of having GROWN something. Since, then however it has come to mean more to me. When I was 20 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression. A few years later, when I started growing food, I noticed the positive affect that it had on my mental health. Now, after a particularly tough day I can be found in the garden with a head-torch, planting up a storm.

We don’t own our own property and therefore our growing space is limited to the home that we are renting. My garden is almost solely a container garden (containers that can be carried up three flights of stairs). In the past year, the owners of the house we rented gave us permission to use a 3m x 3m unused patch in the garden. The excitement was real!

I grow as many culinary herbs as possible, as well as cut-and-come-again veg (a great use of space when container gardening). That being said, I also grow veg that is time / space intensive but that I want to have experience in growing (the dream is to have our own space one day). This season’s example was cabbage which took up one of my biggest container for 7 months!

Something that I learnt on my Permaculture Design Course was to not feed the plant, but the soil. My advice for good soil is to MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! With mulch and organic matter, the soil becomes alive with earthworms and all the goodness you could hope for in soil. In terms of pest management, I find that regular walks through the garden mean that you can pick up pests and diseases quickly and remove the infected leaves, before they get out of hand.

I get most of my seeds from an heirloom seed company called Living Seeds. However, I save whatever I can and have recently met with a kind local gardener on Instagram (@lifecanbeadreamsweetheart) who has shared many of her seeds with me.

The biggest obstacle we have in growing food is access to water. 

One of the biggest rewards of my gardening journey has been the new appreciation it has given me for food. I could buy cabbage for R10 ($0,68) in the store, but it took me 7 months to grow. I think, without this knowledge of the time and resources put into our food, we can be wasteful and unappreciative of it.

I have been lucky enough to be able to use my platform as a teacher to raise awareness regarding various issues. In a weekly “enrichment lesson” I was able to introduce my students to permaculture, teach them to grow from seed and take them on tours of a permaculture food garden that I helped a colleague and her enviro-club set up. I have found, though, that just talking about your passion raises awareness. One of my favourite memories was when I walked up to my classroom and was met by the most wonderful scents of culinary herbs, left by one of my History students outside my classroom door.

Growing your own food is not reserved for people who own land. Grow whatever you can, wherever you can. Even if the only place you can in on your windowsill. The feeling of eating something you have grown doesn’t change, no matter the scale of the harvest. Also, remember that EVERYONE has green fingers and toes. The notion that only some people have a sense for it is utter nonsense. You just have to be willing to fail, learn from it and try again.”

Article Credit : Humans who grow food

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7 Jun 2021
The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture
The Importance of Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture

There are different definitions of Sustainable Agriculture but the common point that all definitions highlight is the importance of agricultural activity for getting food resources.

For an agricultural activity to be counted as Sustainable Agriculture, it should satisfy at least four pre-conditions :
* It should not upset the natural environment ...
* While at the same time it should be something that a farmer can afford to do ...
* It should meet society's needs ... 
* It should be economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound ...

Though we began farming 10,000 years ago, and we produce enough to feed the world, yet there are people who cannot afford to buy food and go hungry. The rate of population is growing at an alarming rate and most of this growth is in the third world or developing countries where traditional methods of agriculture are used. In these countries, many people go hungry.

Among different human activities that contribute to environmental damage, agriculture contributes 13%. 
Large Scale Commercial Agricultural practices such as burning of biomass and deforestation and removal of native vegetation, widespread clearing of land and losses of organic carbon in vegetation and soils result in atmospheric increases of CO2.

This article is part of a series to provide a better understanding of the Importance of Sustainable Organic Growing and Farming ...

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7 Jun 2021
Why do people poison themselves ? ...
5 Jun 2021
Earthworms
Earthworms

Getting to know Earthworms

More than 2 000 species of earthworm have been identified worldwide and there are 300 known species in South Africa.

Red wrigglers at work in a compost heap. They come into their own when the heap has cooled off, and make a considerable difference to the quality of the compost. 

The presence of earthworms is a good indication of soil health. South Africa is home to the African giant earthworm (Microchaetus rappi), the largest species in the world. Found in the Eastern Cape, it averages about 1,4m in length, although a gigantic specimen of 6,7m was discovered in 1967.

The castings formed by this species are so large that they look like old grave mounds; I have seen them myself when travelling in the region. A researcher compared samples of M. rappi castings with soil samples from the surrounding area and unsurprisingly found much higher levels of carbon and nitrogen in the mounds.

Types of earthworm ...
There are three groups of earthworms, namely epigeic, endogeic and anecic.

Epigeic ...
Epigeic earthworms do not live in the soil but in surface organic matter. They are useful for converting waste organic matter into vermicompost.

In South Africa, the prominent species is the red wriggler (Eisenia andrei). This species is very valuable and many farmers, both in South Africa and abroad, use the worms to convert cattle manure and other organic waste into vermicasts, a type of compost. This is sold to farms and garden centres, and is ideal for growers producing organic produce.

It is also excellent for fertilising golf greens. Chemical fertilisers result in much leaching of nutrients due to the sandy upper layer and the practice of close-cropped mowing, which creates a shallow root system.

Vermicasts provide nutrients that keep the grass well fertilised for a long time with minimal leaching.

Red wrigglers are often also used by households to ‘digest’ kitchen waste into nutritious vermicompost for the vegetable patch and house plants.

Many kits in various forms are available for this purpose.

Endogeic ...
These earthworms inhabit the top 30cm of soil. They make lateral tunnels and consume soil with organic content, which is enriched after passing through the worms.

Anecic ...
Anecic earthworms make vertical tunnels deep into the soil and come out at night to feed on decaying organic matter. When I lift up my cover crop mulch, I often see them zipping into their tunnels. They perform a wonderful service by taking surface organic content down to deeper layers, operating, in effect, as nature’s ploughs.

Their tunnels also enable water to penetrate easily into the soil and provide the right amount of aeration.

All three groups of worms are found in the soil of my lands, as it is rich and organic.
The red wrigglers are in the minority and are not usually found in the lands, but thanks to my mulch, I’m able to support some. In contrast, they always multiply in my compost heaps after the temperature drops.

Earthworms do not thrive in cultivated soil and their numbers are far higher under no-till conditions. They are one of the reasons that no-till farming produces healthier crops and ensures greater drought resistance.

Keeping soil moist also helps maintain earthworm populations.

Article Credits : Bill Kerr & Farmers Weekly 

Bill Kerr is a vegetable specialist and a grower of a range of vegetables.

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3 Jun 2021
GreenAgric Consultancy
GreenAgric Consultancy

Farm Succession Planning

Family Farm Succession Planning ... 

The Time to Talk is Now ...

In this first article in a new series on how to run a family farm successfully, Trevor Dickinson, CEO of specialist consultancy Family Legacies, writes that the key to a profitable, long-lasting business is to start a family conversation about succession planning. And this needs to happen sooner rather than later.

An important aspect of succession planning in family businesses is the setting of goals, and this includes setting a target date for retirement, when the next generation will take over the enterprise. Once this date is in place, a timeline can be established.

Succession planning is crucial to the long-term success of a farming business, and should therefore be a major component of the operation’s strategic plans. Yet all too often it is not.

One reason for this is that it can be overwhelming to get started, so many farmers end up failing to clearly identify a successor or create a properly thought-out handover to the next generation.

Logical steps ...
Think of succession planning like producing a crop: it does not happen overnight and requires many small steps from seed to sale. Here’s a plan of action to get you going.

Schedule a family meeting ...
Succession planning requires input from the entire family, including current farm partners, as well as your children and their spouses. The process should get under way with a series of conversations, and during these you should talk about your target retirement date (even if it is a decade or more down the road), as well as your goals for the future of the farm. Understanding how each stakeholder feels about passing the farm on to the next generation is an essential first step in succession planning.

Assemble your team ...
It is always best to use experts to facilitate the process. They will also offer advice on the legal and tax implications of various decisions. One of the many advantages of having such a team is that you will gain access to the different options available and the best ideas. Make sure to choose advisers you like and respect, and who work well together, and prepare to have them involved throughout the process.

Establish goals for succession ...
Set a target date for retirement and the steps that need to take place between now and then. These might include the phased transfer of labour, management and assets; training/mentoring the next generation; a financial plan (to fund retirement); and plans for contingencies that might arise between the establishment and execution of the succession plan.

If you want your farm to continue operating after you retire, it is important to consider your ultimate goals for the operation. To begin with, though, you will need to make sure that such a transition is possible and has a good chance of success.

Ask the stakeholders (current partners, farming and non-farming heirs) about their goals for succession. If there are significant discrepancies, take time to work them out. Disagreements can cause considerable stress, conflict and sometimes long-lasting rancour in a farming family.

Make a list of assets ...
As part of the transfer of ownership from one generation to the next, it is important to know which assets need to be accounted for as part of the purchase/sale, or included in the trust or gift.

In addition to listing assets, include a note on whether you own 100% of these assets, or whether any partners or shareholders own a portion of them. This information should be shared with the advisory team, who will use it to create a plan for transferring assets to the next generation.

Your list should also include non-farm assets, including retirement accounts, rental/vacation properties, and insurance and investment vehicles not tied to the farm. Most farms are asset-rich and cash-poor, and you therefore need to know what you own, both on and off the farm, in order to plan for the future.

Make a list of debts ...
Debt is an important element of succession planning. If assets are still being financed, you will need to put a plan in place to pay them off or establish financing agreements for the next generation to take over the debt.
There is another good reason for assessing the overall financial health of the farm. In a debt position or depressed market, the farm may be a liability to the next generation, rather than an opportunity. If the debts are worth more than the assets, you will have to ask whether the farm is worth passing on.

Gather existing documents ...
To obtain a complete picture of the farming operation, your advisers will want to know which documents exist as a starting point for succession planning. Assemble the documents of any shareholder agreements, life insurance policies, wills or trusts, powers of attorney and healthcare directives for the team to review and update if needed.

If you have a previous and/or outdated succession plan, include it as well; this may need to be reviewed. Your updated plan will also need to be reviewed regularly to reflect your current goals or regulations.

Agree on a timeline ...
Transfer of ownership and assets from one generation to the next doesn’t happen overnight. As part of the planning process, agree on a tentative timeline for succession. It can take as long as a year to get a succession plan in place and up to a decade to fully execute the plan! So it makes sense to start early.

Establish a realistic timeline, and plan to do a little at a time in conjunction with your advisers, who will help make recommendations for the optimal transfer of assets and operations. Rushing to complete a succession plan can lead to financial loss, or worse, family conflict and crisis.

Take action ...
Once all the pieces are in place, work with the team of experts to begin implementing your succession plan. This can be one of the most difficult steps to take; people get stuck at the implementation phase. To prevent the succession plan from continually being placed on the back burner, allow the most passionate member of the family to take the lead and drive the process.

Article Credits : Trevor Dickinson & Farmers Weekly

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1 Jun 2021
Pete Moore - Sustainable Farming & Growing Consultant
Pete Moore - Sustainable Farming & Growing Consultant

Treat The Earth as a Family Member

I can’t tell you the exact moment I was inspired to grow food but I can tell you that because I’m such a curious person and I love nature, I’ve had this undying desire to learn how to grow food since I was young.

Why I Grow Food ...
Honestly, my favourite part is planting the seeds & watching them grow. It rewards me with a feeling of harmonious connection to this earth, it provides me with healthy food, and it cuts down on my carbon footprint and the garden clearly serves as a therapist as well. I often refer to the garden as my healer both mentally and physically.

Growing Space and Gardening Best Practices ...
My growing space is 500 square meters. I recycle all organic kitchen and yard scraps into a composting system, thereby giving me premium amendment soil for the grow beds in the spring.
I believe that in order to be in harmony with nature we need to use Organic gardening practices. I do not use anything in the garden that would risk loss of biodiversity, soil erosion or water pollution. 
I like to save seeds from the previous years harvest.

Challenges ...
My biggest garden pests are snails and I make sure to go out every morning in the spring and summer while the dew is out and hand pick them, I then feed them to the lucky birds. My other big pest is aphids and neem oil seems to do the trick as long as I get to them early enough.
The biggest hurdle I face when it comes to gardening is the lack of space and I’m always looking for creative ways to expand my growing space.

GreenAgric ...
GreenAgric allows me to work directly with Growers and Farmers from crop planning to figuring out ways to drive their sales and make Organic produce available to local communities.

Get Your Hands in the Dirt ...
I want people to think of the earth as a dear family member. It is a part of us, we have history together, earth gives us life. I want it to be treated with the utmost care and love and I want people to feel that care and love back from the earth. There are many ways to access this feeling of connection to Mother Earth and one of the greatest ways is to get your hands in the dirt and ...
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1 Jun 2021
Tebogo Ditsebe owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.
Tebogo Ditsebe owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.

Free State Wine

Picture the Free State, and you are likely to recall lands of maize and golden sunflowers stretching to the horizon. Near Jacobsdal, however, Tebogo Ditsebe is bucking the trend: she grows wine grapes and produces wine under her own label.

The farm covers 48ha, and 16ha of these are under an assortment of grape cultivars, such as white Muscadel, Villard Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tebogo Ditsebe’s introduction to farming was a remarkable combination of accident, luck and passion. As a consultant in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, agriculture was the last thing on her mind.

In 2001, however, she needed a place of quiet and calm to clear her mind after experiencing some personal hardship.

A friend, the late Herman Galaman, invited her and her children to stay on his plot in the Bloemfontein district. This was home to a few animals and Ditsebe undertook a few light duties on the farm.
“This is where my interest in agriculture was ignited,” she recalls.

The chance of a lifetime ...
In 2011, seeing her growing interest, Galaman offered to sell her his 48ha wine farm in Jacobsdal in the Free State.
“At that stage, my consultancy business wasn’t doing well,” explains Ditsebe.

Tebogo Ditsebe now owns and manages a 48ha wine grape and raisin farm in the Free State.
“Herman made it possible for me to become a farmer. He noticed my passion for farming and encouraged me to pursue the opportunity he presented. I realised this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and grabbed it.”

Ditsebe approached the then Department of Land Reform and Rural Development for financial assistance to acquire the farm, and in January 2013 finally received a 30-year lease with the option of buying the land through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy.

The property, especially the vineyards, needed a great deal of attention and Ditsebe therefore applied for and received Recapitalisation and Development Programme funding of R2,4 million in 2014.
“The first thing I did was to employ workers and fence off the farm. I also built a shed and house,” she says.

Restoring the vineyards and learning the craft Ditsebe focused on cultivating the vines and bringing weeds under control, and with much nurturing, she and her team managed to revive the vineyards. The initial tonnage was 106t.

“However, due to climatic changes and old vines, the current production in terms of carrying capacity is 96t. I’m therefore systematically replacing older vines with new vines,” she explains.

During this time, Ditsebe also set about learning as much as she could about wine and wine production.
“I visited the Cape Winelands regularly to learn from various industry stakeholders. I also attended a winemaking course at Stellenbosch University.”

Approximately 16ha of the farm is under an assortment of grapes: white Muscadel, Villard Blanc, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Colombar, Touriga Naçional, Souzão and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ditsebe produced her first harvest in 2014. The harvesting starts with white cultivars from the middle of January until the end of February. The red cultivars are ready for harvesting by mid-March.

She presently has three permanent farmworkers, and employs an additional 30 people during harvesting, and between 10 and 15 during pruning from June to August.

From the depth of Africa’s soils ...
Ditsebe launched her wine range in 2015 after paying great attention to the design of her wine label.
“A good wine label does more than just provide customers with information,” she stresses.
“It should tell a story. I looked at my life experiences and environment, and wanted the label to represent these.”

‘Botébo’ is a Sotho word meaning depth.
“It refers to the depth that starts with the richness of our soil to the brilliance in colour of our grapes, which ultimately is captured in the richness of our variety of wines,” explains Ditsebe.
On her farm, the soil is characterised by stony red and lime soil, which is good for wine grape cultivars.

Ditsebe adds that the name of her wine is also testimony to her own depth to overcame adversity and challenges.

The Botébo range curently comprises Rosé, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, sparkling wine and Cabernet Sauvignon (her flagship wine), and are sold online.
“I want to keep my product exclusive and produce limited editions for specific markets,” says Ditsebe.

She also attends many wine exhibitions.
“My first was in Hyde Park in Johannesburg in 2016. During this festival, well-known brands were on show. When I sold all of my wine at the festival, I knew I was going in the right direction.”

Ditsebe will also be planting 10ha of grapes for the raisin market this year.
“I met a farmer in Upington to buy nets to protect my grapes, because bird damage is a huge problem, especially just before harvesting, and can really destroy a good harvest,” she says.
The farmer suggested that she forget about wine and focus instead on raisins.
“I was quite annoyed, as I’d visited him to talk about nets, not raisins. However, I went home and did some research on raisins. I always do my research; I don’t just jump into anything without acquiring some knowledge. From the research, it was evident the raisin market is very lucrative.”

Ditsebe received Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme funding from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to plant 5ha of grapevines to produce raisins. She sourced her own funds to plant the additional 5ha. She will be selling her raisins to Carpe Diem Raisins in Upington, which exports raisins worldwide.

In addition to diversifying to raisin production, Ditsebe dreams of turning her farm into an agritourism destination.
“I want Botébo to become the ultimate place to come and relax and have a good time,” she says.

Challenges ...
Ditsebe admits that her farming journey has come with many challenges and that she has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Botébo Wines.
She cites theft as a particular problem, especially from December until her grapes are harvested. To address the issue, she beefed up her security.
“We saw positive results, especially on the white Muscadel vineyards. These grapes are very sweet so they’re popular with thieves,” she explains.
Birds are another problem, as they cause great damage to the vines at this time of the year.

Her farm uses water sourced from the Oranje-Riet water scheme, which ensures a constant supply; this is channelled through the canal system to the farm.
“Water plays an important role in any farming activity; it’s a scarce resource that must be protected,” says Ditsebe.
“It’s a challenge for me to source additional water from the scheme.
This is due to claims that the scheme can’t supply more water because the [canal height must be increased] to supply additional water to emerging farmers. As someone who wants to operate as a commercial farmer, I’m hampered by this.”

According to Ditsebe, she needs huge financial capital to expand her operations and ensure that all bills get paid, and obtaining funding is difficult. She emphasises, however, that she does not expect handouts.
“I used every cent I had to make a success of Botébo Wines. It has been hard work, but worth every cent.”

 Email Tebogo Ditsebe at info@botebowines.co.za.

Article Credits : Jeandré van der Walt & Farmers Weekly
Article unashamedly amended by GreenAgric to delete discriminatory references !!! ... as there is absolutely no need to refer to people by race, sex, creed or colour !!! ...

Grow Your Own ...
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29 May 2021
GreenAgric Tunnels from ONLY R4,990.00
GreenAgric Tunnels from ONLY R4,990.00

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GreenAgric's Low Cost Eco Range of Tunnels from ONLY R 4,990.00
Ideal for a Seedling or Starter Greenhouse
and best installed in a partially shady area
5m x 5m x 2m and covered with 20% white or light grey Shade Cloth
Support Poles are Internally Reinforced Polyethylene
Ask us for a quote now ...

29 May 2021
More Smaller Farms are the way forward
More Smaller Farms are the way forward

EU vows to stem drastic loss of small farms

The EU is to introduce sweeping reforms of farming subsidies this week to try to halt the decline of small farms and protect them from the intensification of agriculture fostered by decades of previous policies.

Janusz Wojciechowski, the EU agriculture commissioner, said: “My intention is that this process of disappearing small farms should be stopped. The European food sector in the past was based on small farms, and it should be in the future as well.”

Analysis by the Guardian shows that the number of poultry and livestock farms alone in the EU, excluding Croatia, fell by 3.4m between 2005 and 2016, to 5.6m, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available. While poultry and livestock numbers increased over the period, the number of livestock farms declined sharply, showing that there has been a huge intensification of farming and that small farms have been lost. The total number of all types of farm in the EU fell during the same period from 14.5m to 10.3m.

This intensification, with more livestock gathered into a smaller number of farms, many of them large-scale factory-type facilities, accelerated with the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), which has dominated Europe’s farming since its introduction in 1962. The biggest farmers benefit most from the subsidy system: about 80% of the €40bn (£34bn) direct payment subsidies go to just 20% of farmers.

Wojciechowski admitted that previous versions of the CAP had produced vast upheaval. “The reason we lost 4m farms in the EU was a mistake in the CAP. The support was too much [geared] to industrial farming and not enough to small and medium farms,” he said.

Reforms to the CAP to be brought forward this week by the EU will include measures to encourage farmers to leave more space for wildlife, to adopt organic standards for livestock, to use less chemical fertiliser and pesticide, and to nurture healthy soils.

Wojciechowski told the Guardian: “Protecting small and medium farms is a priority. It is not true that we need bigger and bigger farms for food security. Small farms can ensure food security for EU citizens.”

He said small and medium farms could provide more than food, as well as environmental and health benefits: “There is an understanding among legislators, parliament and the EU council that we need to protect better our small and medium farms – it’s very important for food security, and better for the environment, climate change and biodiversity.”

European consumers would also feel the benefits, he said. “Exports are important, but we need to pay more attention to our own markets – high-quality goods from European farms to European markets. This is a big chance for European agriculture,” he said.

Animal welfare would also improve, he said, from a greater emphasis on short supply chains, which would reduce the long journeys across Europe for some live animals.

He added: “Our intention is to increase organic food from 8% to 25% in the next decade, for instance. This will be especially good for small farms.”


These reforms may stop some of the haemorrhaging of small farms in the EU, but a return to small farms across the bloc looks increasingly unlikely. The Guardian’s data analysis gives a glimpse of what has been far more than an economic transformation among small farms. In France, Germany and the Netherlands, more than a third of livestock and poultry holdings have disappeared since 2005. Nearly 120,000 poultry farms were lost in France between 2005 and 2016, and nearly 36,000 in Germany.

The impact of the CAP can be clearly seen in the acceleration of the decline of small farms among newer EU states. Among longstanding EU member states, the decline in the number of small farms has been going on for decades. But eastern European farmers have had even more upheaval since 2004, when many joined: since 2005, Bulgaria has lost 72% of its livestock and poultry farms, Hungary 48%, Poland 54% and Slovakia 72%.

In the UK, the decline over the 12-year period from 2005 to 2016 was 25%, with 45,500 livestock and poultry farms lost between 2005 and 2016. The loss was more than 110,000 from the 319,000 total of all farms in 1990.

The CAP, forged in the aftermath of the second world war with the intention of promoting food self-sufficiency in Europe, has rewarded increasingly intensive and industrialised farming methods. Farmers were encouraged to produce more food at any cost, using more chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and bringing livestock from small flocks and herds in fields into large-scale factory farms.

Food production increased, but the environment suffered. The number of farmland birds in the EU has halved in three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Insect populations have also plummeted: numbers in Germany declined by three-quarters in the past 25 years, according to a study of protected areas, and butterfly numbers on farmed land in England fell by 58% between 2000 and 2009. Only a quarter of species in the EU have good conservation status, and 80% of key habitats are in poor or bad condition, according to Europe’s environmental watchdog.

Attempts in the past two decades to encourage nature-friendly farming methods, such as leaving hedgerows intact and keeping field margins for wildflowers and wildlife, have had little impact, according to campaigners.

Rural culture has also been transformed, with people flocking to cities, leaving rural areas to wealthy second-homers, with farms abandoned in less productive areas and swallowed up by huge agri-food businesses in others.

“Niche producers offering sustainable farming practices survive haphazardly with the sale of their products to restaurants or small shops, or they sell their live animals outright. They’re cut off from the dominant market,” said Fabio Ciconte, director of the environmental organisation Terra.

Campaigners have warned that the CAP deal to be announced this week is likely to be “greenwash” rather than a real transformation of EU farm policy into one that is good for small farmers and the environment.

Célia Nyssens, policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau NGO, said: “EU farm policy is a juggernaut of public spending that could be transforming agriculture towards a sustainable future and turning the tide on catastrophic nature loss. Sadly, it looks like the deal this week will continue driving the tractor in the wrong direction. A majority of funds will continue flowing to the biggest, most polluting farms, with barely any green strings attached. In this crucial decade for climate and biodiversity, the lack of ambition of the new farm policy is downright disastrous.”

Research on data for this piece by Kunal Solanky 

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29 May 2021
Solve Crop Problems Yourself
Solve Crop Problems Yourself

Solve Crop Problems Yourself

Solve those crop problems yourself, and save thousands

Find something wrong with your crop? Go through the planting and fertilising processes step by step on your own to see whether you can determine the cause. There’s a good chance you can, says Bill Kerr.

When this farmer asked me to investigate why his cabbage crop was not growing, I found this patch where the herbicide spray had missed. These plants are larger than the rest, showing that the herbicide rate was too high. As a farmer, you can identify this sort of problem yourself.

On discovering a problem with their crop, many farmers panic and call in a consultant. This can produce good results, but sometimes even a professional cannot identify the problem and ends up offering a calculated guess.

A client of mine once transplanted a land of cabbages, but they failed to grow. We examined the roots and found them to be stumpy.

I was puzzled as there was no distinct pattern to enable me to draw conclusions about the cause of the problem. Other consultants were also unable to provide answers (although some tried, offering clearly incorrect explanations).

The solution ...
Eventually, the farmer identified the problem himself. He had been dipping his polystyrene seed trays in a solution that prevented the roots from penetrating the tray, making it easier for the plants to be pulled out.

To prepare this mixture, he and his employee would place a measure of undiluted solution in a drum and add water, refilling the drum as required. But he then discovered that, instead of waiting for the drum to empty before mixing a fresh solution, his employee was putting a full measure of concentrate into the drum and topping it up with water while there was still some mixture left. As this process was repeated, the mixture in the drum grew more and more concentrated!

None of us knew that the farmer was treating the trays, so this possibility never occurred to us. This is a typical case of ‘panic and call in the experts’.

The moral of the story is that if you have problems with a crop, first analyse every step of the process, eliminating potential causes one by one. The farmer could have saved himself a good deal of stress in this way.

When a farmer asks me to identify a problem, we examine every step taken to get to that point, and we’ll invariably arrive at the cause of the problem together.

If the farmer had retraced these steps before phoning me, the problem could have been solved without me!

First-hand knowledge ...
Farmers are always in the best position to diagnose their crop problems, because they know all the steps taken. But they sometimes fail to realise that a particular step or action was the cause of the problem as it seems unimportant.

A nursery owner who supplied a large cabbage farmer with plants once arranged for us to visit the farmer together. At the time, the farmer was paying another consultant for advice.
When we arrived at the farm, I could see that the leaves showed symptoms of phytotoxicity (damage caused by chemicals, salt, or some other compound).

The crops were being targeted by aphids and the consultant had advised the farmer to apply phorate. Because the land comprised sandy soil, which leaches, he told the farmer to apply phorate to each plant rather than down the row, as per the label instructions. But the consultant made his mixing calculations using the regulation per-hectare amount, so each plant received far too high a concentration in the root zone.

Unfortunately, the consultant refused to accept my reasoning. So I ended up carrying out a trial at home to recreate the symptoms and sent the photographs to him.

I’m not saying, of course, that a farmer should never call in a consultant; I’m simply saying that the farmer should investigate the problem first, before asking for help.

It is also important to provide the consultant with as much information as possible, no matter how irrelevant some actions may seem.

Article Credits : Bill Kerr & Farmers Weekly ...
Bill Kerr is a vegetable specialist and producer of a range of vegetables. 

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28 May 2021
How satellite data can boost agriculture
How satellite data can boost agriculture

How satellite data can boost agriculture

The use of Earth observation has brought about dramatic improvements in agricultural practices and access to water. A new report published by the World Economic Forum details how Earth observations are fundamental to harnessing the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support agricultural productivity growth across Africa.

Africa is a large continent with a rich and diverse environment, resulting in many challenges, such as access to drinking water, rapid urban development, active deforestation, and food insecurity.

At a time when these challenges are taking their toll on communities, the COVID-19 crisis threatens the African economy and hinders efforts to achieve global development priorities.

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa reports that economic growth will slow from 3,2% to 1,8%, pushing 27 million people into extreme poverty.

Africa’s ability to respond and recover is linked directly to how well the human population’s impact on natural resources is understood. Earth observation data is the cornerstone to this information, and a key transition of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is the change in how this data is accessed and used to support a quick response to these critical challenges.

Democratising data ...
Earth observation provides vast quantities of satellite data for monitoring and managing Earth’s natural resources and the human and climatic impact on them. Digital Earth Africa (DE Africa), funded in part by the Australian government, is building the world’s largest operational platform for accessing and analysing decades of satellite imagery specific to Africa.

The project will translate data from the world’s free Earth observation satellites into ready-to-use insights about the continent’s environmental conditions.

This is an example of how Fourth Industrial Revolution technology can enable widespread socio-economic development. The insights it offers can be used to tackle a wide range of issues, including water scarcity, land use and food security.

Even under conservative assumptions, the impact of DE Africa could be higher than US$2 billion (nearly R30 billion) a year. However, shifting such economic estimations to action at scale will require the uptake and integration of data analytics practices and analysis-ready Earth observation data into business models and political systems.

Drawing on existing frameworks and identifying gaps to make improvements will enable this data to be used to address Africa’s critical challenges.

Boosting agricultural productivity ...
Agriculture is the lifeblood of many African economies, employing over 40% of the continent’s total working population and accounting for almost one-tenth of GDP.

Yet productivity rates are often far from global best practices and local farmers are frequently missing accurate information such as water availability and crop development.

Through the provision of Earth observation data products for African agriculture, DE Africa has the potential to generate an impact of up to US$1 billion (about R15 billion) a year.

These economic benefits would be generated by exploiting Earth observation technologies in four areas already demonstrated in other parts of the world and applicable to Africa, the first of which is in water savings.

Africa’s share of global freshwater resources is only 2% less than its share of world population (10% vs 12%), yet rainfall is unevenly distributed, since 86% of water withdrawals in Africa are used for agricultural purposes, with the share even higher in arid and semi-arid regions. The main consequence is a significant reduction in crop yield.

The primary cause of water waste in the African agricultural business is evaporation, caused by high temperatures, inefficient storage of water reserves, and non-optimal irrigation plans. Satellite imagery can help smooth this problem.

In combination with meteorological and spatially explicit training data and hydrological modelling, it can be used to derive information about the past and current state of main crops to make future predictions. It could thus improve water procurement and water allocation before and during irrigation, reducing water shortages.

Even assuming a conservative 20% impact on African cultivations and extending such benefits to all cultivations, the results may be very significant. By improving irrigation plans and adjusting timing and resource allocation, DE Africa could save 176 billion cubic metres of water a year, equivalent to a US$880 million (R13,1 billion) reduction in water abstraction costs.

The water savings that DE Africa could realise in only one year would be enough to meet eight years’ water requirement from African households.

Increased Crop Yields ...
Due to insufficient production, sub-Saharan African economies spend between $30 billion and $50 billion (R445 billion to R740 billion) a year to import food.

If domestic production does not catch up with domestic food requirements, Africa could spend more than US$150 billion (R2,2 trillion) on food imports by 2030.

Several studies demonstrate that increasing agricultural productivity helps boost rural incomes and increases food availability. However, the productivity levels of many cultivations and food staples produced in Africa are below international averages, due to lack of knowledge of up-to-date technology and practices, low use of chemically improved and hybrid seeds, and inadequate irrigation plans.

Earth observation can be used to improve crop monitoring at field and farm level, and could be the basis of accurate models set up to identify and remove factors causing lower yields (for example, sowing too late for current weather conditions), and making informed decisions on when to irrigate.

Earth observation data can also provide a rapid, standardised and objective assessment of the biophysical impact of agricultural practices in terms of vegetation cover, calling for restoration interventions when most needed. Through optimising sowing dates, DE Africa could raise its annual wheat production (10% effect) by 136 000t, bringing a benefit of at least US$35 million (R519 million) to the continent’s economy.

Reduced Insurance Cost ...
A key hindrance to the insurance industry is information asymmetry, which causes moral hazard and shrinks the growth margins of the sector. Usually, insurers have little information on their insured farmers, no insights into how they run their business, and no control over their actions.

This results in huge risk borne by providers, which is reflected in the high premiums they set for farmers.

The problem is even more relevant in Africa, where insurance penetration (2% on average) is far below the threshold of developed economies (6%). Satellite data can improve transparency of agricultural activity and output, as it helps assess crop conditions and environmental risks.

This enables companies to develop index-based insurance products. Earth observation data may also be used to develop algorithms to assess farmers’ creditworthiness, enabling access to resources to improve production.

It is estimated that developing sustainable financial products based on increased transparency in Africa will reduce costs and help create new tailor-made solutions, allowing farmers to save US$20 million (R297 million) in premiums and expanding the insurance market by at least US$25 million (R371 million).

Furthermore, if farmers are properly insured, they can rebuild more effectively if hit by disasters, instead of risking the loss of their main source of income.

Reduced pesticide usage ...
Despite several benefits in agricultural practices, such as productivity improvements, pesticides can have severe consequences for public health and the environment. Through implementing best practices and preventing the spread of diseases, pesticide use could be reduced.

Earth observation data could play a focal role in setting up development models aimed at monitoring the evolution of diseases and the massive movements of insects. Such models would be crucial in forecasting how much and where these phenomena spread, to focus and limit pesticide intervention instead of resorting to broad-based, spray-all campaigns.

This article is an edited excerpt from the World Economic Forum’s report titled ‘Unlocking the potential of Earth observation to address Africa’s critical challenges’ published in January 2021. 

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24 May 2021
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...
Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Small Scale Family Farms

Small-scale family farms must be at heart of sustainable future ...

'Rapid transition to regenerative farming’ needed ...

Prince Charles, the future King of England, has called for small family farmers in the UK and across the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and for their plight to be at the centre of environmental action.

Small farmers, in the UK and EU, are facing their biggest upheavals in more than a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and sweeping reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy to be announced this week in Brussels.

Small farms have a huge role to play in our sustainable future

Writing for the Guardian, Prince Charles has urged small farmers to band together to cope with the coming shocks and shift to a low-carbon economy: “There are small farms the world over which could come together in a global cooperative committed to producing food based on high environmental standards … With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and a determination from the farmers to make it work, I would like to think it could provide a very real and hopeful future.”

Farming is undergoing a “massive transition”, and the needs of family farmers must be taken into account, the prince said.

“To me, it is essential the contribution of the small-scale family farmer is properly recognised – they must be a key part in any fair, inclusive, equitable and just transition to a sustainable future. To do this, we must ensure that Britain’s family farmers have the tools and the confidence to meet the rapid transition to regenerative farming systems that our planet demands,” he said.

Analysis of farming data for the Guardian has shown that small farmers were already facing an increasingly difficult future, before the shocks of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. The EU has lost vast numbers of livestock farms in particular, with 3.4m gone between 2005 and 2016, the latest year for which full data was available.

At the same time, the number of livestock on farms has increased on average, a clear sign of intensification in the sector.

Many farmers have warned that Brexit could hasten the loss of smaller farms.

The Prince of Wales has long been a supporter of sustainable farming, and earlier this year launched Terra Carta, a roadmap to 2030 for businesses to move towards a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable future. He said this could provide a template for farmers coming together in cooperatives to reach consumers who are increasingly interested in buying locally and from small-scale producers.

“These small farmers are some of the most hard-working and innovative small businesses and, in so many ways, we depend on them far more than most of us will ever know,” the prince wrote.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, echoed his views: “We would not want to see a loss of the traditional family farm. We would lose the culture and heritage of this country, where 70% of the land is farmed and the expectation is that at the end of every farm track is a family. Our national identity is built on this.”

Small farmers in the UK are increasingly worried about what Brexit will mean for them.

Consumers would also lose out from the decline of small farms.

Article Credits : The Guardian

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23 May 2021
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'
'Grow Your Own' Organic Food'

Food Price Increases

More food price increases not benefitting all farmers ...

Economists are describing the continuing upward pressure on food inflation as worrying, given the current tough times consumers are finding themselves in. 

With COVID-19 related lockdowns around the world resulting in increased demand for basic food items due to more home-cooking, food manufacturers saw it as an opportunity to slightly increase the prices of these items.

This was according to Ettienne le Roux, chief economist at RMB, who added that it would, however, be difficult for manufacturers to continue hiking prices.

“Although food manufacturers’ input costs are also increasing, which puts their margins under pressure, they remain aware of consumers’ financial constraints as well.”

Against the backdrop of rising international food costs, the domestic food market was also experiencing upward pressure in terms of food inflation, as well as rising agricultural producer price inflation.

Speaking to Farmer’s Weekly, Paul Makube, senior agriculture economist at FNB, said this upward pressure on food inflation was worrying, given the current tough times consumers found themselves in.

According to Makube, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO) global food price index rose for the 11th consecutive month in April to its highest level since 2014, at 120,9 points, which was up 1,7% month-on-month, and 30,8% higher than the same month in 2020.

In the local market, all food sub-indexes of the Consumer Price Index accelerated during the same period, except that of fruit, with the biggest increases recorded for oil and fat prices, which rose 13,4% year-on-year (y/y).

In addition, milk, egg and cheese prices each increased about 7,2% y/y, while local meat inflation rose more than its international counterpart at 6,7% y/y.

“Grain farmers have definitely benefited immensely, but livestock producer margins have increasingly come under pressure as maize and soya beans are the biggest raw inputs [for] feed,” he said.

John van Tubbergh, sector head for consumer, food and agriculture at RMB, said in a statement that agricultural producer price inflation accelerated to 12,3% y/y in November 2020, before settling at a still high 7,2% in March.

However, not all farmers were deriving a price benefit from the current situation as this was largely dependent on the type of commodity they produced and the prices achieved for a particular commodity, Le Roux said.

The latest Household Affordability Index of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) indicated that the cost of the average household food basket increased R159,37 or 3,9% from R4 039,56 in March to R4 198,93 in April.

However, over the past eight months the cost of the average household food basket increased R342,59 or 8,9% from R3 856,34 in September 2020 to R4 198,93 in April this year.

Article Credits : Pieter Dempsey & Farmers Weekly

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