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28 Oct 2021
Drip Irrigation
Drip Irrigation

Cost-Effective Irrigation ...

Over-irrigating costs you money in terms of water and electricity, and may lower your crops’ potential. Under-irrigating is also detrimental. 
Learn to irrigate properly and at the optimal time.

Cost-Effective Irrigation ...
All too often, I come across farmers who do not irrigate practically or economically. Applying too much water ends up wasting money, while watering too little can stress the plants.

Many farmers use a weekly irrigation schedule: that is, watering once a week for a set amount of hours. But they do this without determining how much water the crops actually need.

To begin with, you need to know how much water is delivered per hour through the irrigation system. The next step is to determine how deeply the water penetrates the soil.

The rule of thumb is that 1mm of irrigation wets 1cm of soil. So, for example, 25mm of irrigation will wet the soil 25cm deep. But keep in mind that this is a very rough guide.

The soil moisture content at the time of irrigation will also influence how deep the water will penetrate. Carry a garden trowel and dig into the soil frequently to determine its moisture status.

You can calculate the delivery per hour easily by using the information provided by the irrigation equipment supplier. You can also set empty food cans in various positions around the crops and then measure the depth of water in the cans after irrigation. Comparing the cans will also help you establish whether the soil is being uniformly irrigated.

To get the irrigation right, use a garden spade, preferably a narrow one, and dig into the soil to the depth you need to irrigate. The next day, dig again after irrigating and check how far the water has penetrated.

You can then calculate how long you need to irrigate in order to reach the required depth.

Wasting Water ...
Any irrigation beyond the target depth is a waste of water and electricity. Moreover, irrigation beyond the reach of the root system will carry nutrients, especially nitrogen, to a point where they will be lost to underground water.

Too little irrigation, on the other hand, will prevent the crop from sourcing nutrients beyond where the moisture reached. Obviously, if far too little water is supplied, the plants will become water-stressed as well.

The key is to get away from a rigidly scheduled cycle of irrigation, as water loss from the soil depends on air humidity, wind and temperature, which are variable. The stage of crop development also plays a role in the amount of water lost through transpiration and in the depth of the plants’ root systems.

Learn to read the crop; it will indicate when it’s thirsty. Make a mental note of leaf colour and condition at the edges of the land.

Apply a light irrigation after a bout of rainy weather, as plants become soft under these conditions and will stress earlier. Also, if you wait too long after rain to irrigate, everything will dry at the same time and some crops may become stressed before you reach them.

Article Credits : Bill Kerr & Farmers Weekly

Note from GreenAgric ...
Drip Irrigation is by far the most beneficial and cost effective, as it delivers water to each plant, so less waste of this valuable resource ...

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27 Oct 2021
Carbon Farming
Carbon Farming

The Regenerative Revolution in Food ...

Half of the World's Land is Used to Grow Our Food.

Intensive agriculture deplete soils of nutrients and carbon over time, making them less profitable.

A new generation of 'carbon farmers' are making their land absorb greenhouse gases, rather than emitting them.

Driven by ever-dwindling productivity, the land has been pushed to its limits for decades – more passes with machinery, more fertilisers, more pesticides. These intensive agricultural practices kept farms 'afloat' but beneath the surface, the soil was dying. 
"The land had been farmed very conventionally, so the ground was overworked and had lost its Organic matter"

For the health of the land and its long-term yield potential ... The solution is resting beneath our feet ... Soil Carbon.
Panting a lot of ground cover plants like phacelia and black oats that capture carbon from air and trap it in the ground.

Farmlands cover half of the Earth's habitable land, and the global food system produces 21-37% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. 
When fields are worked with heavy machinery, their soils, which store three times as much CO2 as the atmosphere, leach trapped carbon back into the air.

Carbon farming, on the other hand, seeks to capture emissions, not create them. The challenge has been to make this form of regenerative farming financially viable, paying landowners to rejuvenate degraded soils by turning their fields into vast CO2 sponges.

Achieving this requires a range of regenerative techniques ...
Cover cropping is particularly popular – fields blanketed with grasses, cereals, legumes and other plant life that pull carbon from the air during photosynthesis, then store it in the soil below. 

For its proponents, carbon farming promises a bold new agricultural business model – one that tackles climate change, creates jobs and saves farms that might otherwise be unprofitable.

Having spent decades on the fringes of the agriculture community, carbon farming is starting to catch on. 
The European Commission is promoting the practice as part of its new 'Farm to Fork Strategy' 
Similar moves are underway in the United States, with the recent passage of a carbon-focused 'Growing Climate Solutions' and in the UK, where private projects are springing up at pace.

The Sustainable Futures Carbon Bank is one such enterprise. 
"The enthusiasm around carbon capture has really increased in the last couple of years" 
Keen to kindle this growing interest in green farming, a recently established 'Carbon Bank' has been formed - a scheme that helps farmers harness, and ultimately profit from, CO2 sequestration.  

"We're on the frontline of climate change here ...
soon there will be whole transects of land that simply won't be able to be farmed like they used to.

Carbon farming helps to store carbon in the soil, removing it from the atmosphere and enriching the land.

CARBON COST ...
From carbon markets to flight levies, economic interventions have the potential to drastically reduce the world's carbon emissions. Carbon Cost analyses some of the most powerful economic measures that could reshape the way we live, and our relationship with the planet and nature.

Cattle farming can be an extremely carbon-intensive form of agriculture, responsible for 65% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. 
"Hooved animals are vital, because it's that hoof action that stirs up the grasses and seeds sitting dormant on the ground. The cows are key to activating the whole carbon capture process and speeding up photosynthesis"

There's no time to be half-hearted, and reneging on regeneration isn't an option. 
"There isn't any point trapping emissions in the soil if, a few years later, you're going to return to the same old intensive techniques, which will send a deluge of sequestered carbon right back into the atmosphere"
Certain crops, such as legumes, help to sequester greenhouse gases and store them in the soil. 

"There's a lot of momentum behind carbon capture schemes, but there's no global protocol for measuring, reporting, and verifying credits, because of this, there isn't yet a level playing field for farmers, or a set of protocols for them all to follow" 

Carbon farming can help provide an alternative source of income to farmers whose land is degraded, while improving the quality of the soil at the same time.
There's still plenty of value to be had from CO2 capture. 

In the future, beef, lamb and pork produce will be a byproduct of the carbon that is stored in the soil. 

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26 Oct 2021
Tackling Climate Change as Individuals
Tackling Climate Change as Individuals

Climate change: Five things you can do to help fight climate change ...

Tackling climate change will require world leaders to take action on a global level.
But as individuals we also contribute to damaging emissions. Here are some things you can do to reduce your personal impact.

1. Insulate your home ...
From installing a reversible cycle heat pump to turning down the heating, there is a raft of changes around the home that can help the planet.
"Switching from a gas or oil-powered heating system to an electric reverse cycle heat pump makes a considerable difference, both in winter and in summer ...

"On a day-to-day basis, switching off lights and appliances when not in use can help us to save you money while reducing our impact on climate change."

Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to save energy. This involves blocking up unwanted gaps that let cold air in and warm air out, such as around windows, doors or skirting boards.

Switching to a green energy provider or a green tariff can significantly reduce your household's carbon footprint. 

2. Cut out food waste and cut down on red meat ...
Livestock creates 14% of all greenhouse gases, with cattle being by far the largest contributor.
The simplest and most effective way to limit your impact is to reduce meat in your diet, particularly red meat such as beef.
Beef has the highest carbon footprint.

The world wastes between 25% and 30% of its food.
You can save money and reduce waste by making smaller portions and saving leftovers for later.

3. Drive less, fly less ...
Transport is responsible for almost a quarter of carbon dioxide global emissions.
Living car-free might be "the most impactful thing we can do to reduce our transport emissions"
However, ditching the car is not possible for everyone, particularly if you live in an area without good public transport, or work night shifts when it isn't running.
Small steps still have an impact, like walking and cycling to the local shops or sharing car journeys with friends or neighbours.

Electric cars are becoming more widespread, but it is only truly green travel if the electricity used to power the car comes from green energy sources, such as wind or solar. 

Unfortunately for keen travellers, flying is one of the most carbon-intensive things we can do as individuals.
Domestic flights have the largest emissions per person per kilometre.
Train journeys can have less than a fifth of the impact of a domestic flight.
"For those who fly a lot, reducing the number of flights you take will make a considerable difference to your personal footprint" 

4. Think before you buy ...
It takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans, taking into account cotton production, manufacture, transport and washing.
Buying second-hand can reduce waste and save you money too.
You can limit your impact by repairing minor faults in clothing rather than replacing, donating rather than throwing away and choosing higher-quality items that you think will last longer.
An increasing number of companies are offering clothes to rent, which helps reduce waste in the fashion industry. 

Choosing the right household appliances can also have a positive effect on your carbon footprint. Make sure you are buying the most energy-efficient products, such as washing machines, when they need replacing.

5 ...
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25 Oct 2021
Garden Weeds
Garden Weeds

Control Garden Weeds Organically ...

Use these Organic weed-control methods to control common garden weeds so that your vegetable garden can thrive.

Most of the things we do in a garden also encourage weeds. Bare soil in any form is an invitation for weeds to grow because weeds are nature’s opportunists. Most weed plants grow faster than food crops, so weeds will shade or starve out your plants unless you protect them. In addition to basic Organic weed-control methods, such as hand-weeding, shallow hoeing, and deep mulching, innovative techniques, such as creating “weed moats,” can help control common garden weeds such as Bermuda grass, puncture vine, and other troublesome plants.

Weed Control Basics ...
Weed prevention follows a predictable pattern in the vegetable garden. About 10 days after you plant a crop, the bed or row will need careful hand-weeding, followed by a second weeding session 10 days later. Slow-growing, upright crops, such as carrots and onions, may need a third or fourth weeding to subdue weeds, but they’re the exception. After a month of attentive weeding, most veggies will be large enough to shade out weedy competitors. Plus, you can use mulch to block the growth of weeds between widely spaced plants, such as tomatoes and peppers.

Weeding Tools to Topple Weed Troubles ...
* Scuffle Hoe ...
Use a scuffle hoe to go up and down the rows right after germination and then again one to two weeks later, depending on the crop’s growth.
that hand-weeding is usually needed after the second hoeing, but it’s quick — hoeing between the rows cleanes out most of the weeds.
Scuffle hoes, have blades with two opposing sharp edges that cut when pushed and pulled, and most gardeners with big plots consider them essential equipment. 
Sturdy weeding knife, often called a hori-hori.weeding knives feature long, sharp edges that shave down weeds, and have a pointed end for prying out strong taproots, such as those found under dock weeds or dandelions. Many folks also consider hand-weeding, with follow-up mulching, effective and rewarding work.

A couple of thorough weeding sessions early in the growing season, when weed seedlings are small, can greatly reduce weed issues through summer.
 
Most organic gardeners depend heavily on mulch, grass clippings, old leaves, or straw, to control even the most aggressive weeds.

Surface mulches deprive weed seeds of light and increase their natural predation by providing habitat for crickets, ground beetles, and other seed-eaters. The cool, moist conditions under mulch will also cause many weed seeds to rot, so mulches that give good surface coverage can both prevent and cure seemingly overwhelming weed issues.

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23 Oct 2021
Honeybush Tea
Honeybush Tea

Making the most of wild-grown honeybush

While many farmers have had their fingers burnt in the production of honeybush, the crop can be highly lucrative, and Quinton Nortjé of Melmont Honeybush Tea can attest to this.

The past few years have seen growing interest in honeybush (Cyclopia spp) production, but quality and taste have not always been up to standard, resulting in poor returns. The situation was exacerbated by COVID-19-associated trade disruptions, which brought exports to an almost complete standstill.

However, Quinton Nortjé of Nooitgedacht farm, who harvests wild honeybush from the Kouga Mountain range in between the Langkloof and Baviaanskloof, is one of the few farmers who has managed to more or less continue with business as usual.

“Aside from a few hiccups during Level 5 of the COVID-19-related lockdown, we haven’t really been affected, and even employed a few extra people to alleviate the impact of the lockdown on employment in our community,” says Nortjé.

Nortjé and his wife Eunice run the business together, and ascribe their success to a combination of teamwork, a sought-after product and a secure market.

Access to overseas markets ...
Nooitgedacht, located near the town of Kareedouw in the Eastern Cape, has a rich history of honeybush production, and Nortjé is the third generation to harvest the plant from the wild.

Deregulation in the 1990s opened up new market opportunities, initially to Germany and the UK, but Nooitgedacht struck it lucky when a South African tea trader living in Japan chose the farm to supply the Japanese market with honeybush tea, following visits to numerous producers.

Husband-and-wife team Quinton and Eunice Nortjé have built a solid brand for their honeybush tea over the years.

“Farmers often make use of agents when they struggle to sell their tea. Unfortunately, many of these agents don’t add value to the industry, and merely shift product from one place to another. Our trader, however, gives market feedback and actively promotes our tea. Sales might sometimes decline, but [we’re confident that we won’t] lose our market, because someone is looking after our best interests,” explains Nortjé.

Today, approximately 80% of Nooitgedacht’s annual harvest is exported, with about 50% sent to Japan. The rest is exported to the US, UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, or sold at selected local farm stores and health shops.

The exported tea, in 20kg bags, is repackaged and branded once it has reached its destination, while the rest is sold locally under the Melmont Honeybush Tea brand.

“Branding our tea helps us differentiate our product from others and build loyalty,” says Nortjé.

Samples of each batch have to be sent to overseas buyers before it can be exported. Before it is shipped, the tea is also chemically analysed to ensure it complies with export market standards.

Quality is king ...
The Nortjés have gained a reputation as producers of sustainable, premium-quality honeybush tea.
“You need to decide which game you want to play. If you produce a mass of mediocre-quality tea, you’ll always be vulnerable to price fluctuations. Top-quality products, by contrast, are always sought after and fetch premium prices,” says Nortjé.

He adds that their tea is not certified organic due to auditing costs, “but it’s as organic as you can get”.

The farm produces honeybush from the C. intermedia species of fynbos, which grows naturally on the cooler and wetter southern slopes of the Kouga range, at 1 000m to 1 200m above sea level. According to Nortjé, this species is superior to all others in terms of quality. The only problem is that it is difficult to cultivate, and most of the cultivated plantings contain the C. genistoide and C. subternata species.

Rhodes University, in collaboration with Living Lands, a not-for-profit environmental organisation, is developing a way to address this issue through the use of boiled water to artificially germinate the C. intermedia seeds. These seeds have been planted at Nooitgedacht, and Nortjé is optimistic about the results so far.

“The ability to cultivate the plants will significantly reduce risk by enabling farmers to plant the species in new areas and replenish wild plantings following outbreaks of drought and fire,” he says.

Like most other fynbos, honeybush should be burnt by the time it is about 20 years old to retain the balance between species. Burning the bushes before 12 years, however, causes severe damage, and the recovery time is lengthy.

Finely honed production techniques ...
Having the highest-quality honeybush species is important, but it’s just the start; the crop has to be expertly converted into a superior and standardised product.

“Over the years, I’ve worked with botanist and researcher Dr Hannes de Lange, researchers from the Agricultural Research Council, and scientists from various universities to find ways of unlocking the full potential of honeybush,” says Nortjé.

After many trials, he was one of the first farmers to ferment honeybush in stainless steel bins rather than in heaps outdoors.

“It doesn’t pay to sell a health product if it’s contaminated with pathogens. I found pathogen counts to be low in the centre of the heaps, but high on the peripheries.”

Initially, he struggled to cut the shoots into adequately fine pieces, but solved this problem when he acquired a tobacco carver at an auction, following the tobacco industry’s crash in the 1990s.

Once the honeybush has been cut, it is fermented for 70 hours at 70°C in a 2,4m-long stainless-steel bin. Nortjé uses alien black wattles cut down from his and a neighbouring farm as fuel to heat the bin.

“The trick is to use at least two layers of bricks between the fire and the bin, otherwise the temperature will fluctuate too much,” he explains.

After fermentation, the tea is placed on racks to dry in the sun, which can take a day or two, depending on climatic conditions.

“The racks are raised off the ground to prevent contamination. At night, they’re placed on top of one another in drying chambers inside the processing plant. The drying rooms are closed off with nets to facilitate air movement, and prevent insects and rodents from entering them,” Nortjé adds.

Sustainability ...
Nortjé follows a meticulous management programme to ensure sustainable production. “We have 700ha under honeybush, but harvests are capped at 20t per year, and less if the plants are under stress because of drought or other setbacks.”

The land is subdivided into smaller camps, and the harvesting is rotated between them. The honeybush is left in the camps for at least four years before being harvested for the first time. From then on, the camps are harvested every four to five years, depending on the condition of the bushes.

“Plants grow more slowly during dry spells, so we take that into account. On the upside, dry conditions usually result in tea of superior quality. Fortunately, we rarely experience long periods of drought, as the plants grow so high up on the mountains,” he says.

The bushes are harvested with sickles to a height of 10cm above the ground, and thorough records are kept of when each camp is harvested.

Staff ...
The Nortjés have 12 permanent employees who have years of experience working with honeybush. “They really know the ins and outs of harvesting and processing, so I’m confident that they harvest responsibly,” says Nortjé.

The plants are harvested on cool days all year round; this produces a continuous supply, creates year-round employment, and takes full advantage of the farm’s processing capacity. Cool conditions are a prerequisite, as the alternative would result in a lower-quality product and would make conditions unpleasant for the workers.

“Harvesting honeybush is highly labour-intensive; you really can’t expect people to do it when the weather’s hot,” he says.

Over the years, Nortjé has developed systems to improve labour efficiency. For example, where donkeys were once used to take the bundles of harvested honeybush from the top to the bottom of the mountain, a pulley system is now used.

While honeybush is their main source of income, the Nortjés also run sheep and cattle as a way of diversifying production risks.

“Our son, Scheltema, is the livestock farmer. He prefers to farm Bonsmara cattle, because they’re well adapted to extensive production conditions and mountainous areas. They also have good mothering instincts, which helps prevent predation losses.”

Nortjé is keen to add a honeybush tourist centre to his processing facility. “I’d like to create a place where people will be able to taste different kinds of honeybush tea, as at a wine tasting, and see first hand how the tea is produced.”

Article Credits : Glenneis Kriel & Farmers Weekly

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Health Benefits of Honeybush Tea ...

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22 Oct 2021

Chilli Producer Achieves Success with Bio-Farming

Chillies are a difficult crop to market; demand is limited and retailers’ requirements can be tough to meet. Mpumalanga Farmer Chris Roux overcomes these challenges by planting a wide and colourful range of chillies and using Biological Farming techniques.

The declining profitability of sugar farming prompted Chris Roux, owner of Paradise Creek Farms in Hectorspruit, Malelane in Mpumalanga, to diversify his operation in 2016 by including sweet peppers.

The following year, when his sons Antonie and Eugene were looking for ways to earn some pocket money, they planted a few rows of chillies.
“But we struggled to sell them,” recalls Roux.
“The market is sensitive and if the volumes are too high, there are few buyers. So I looked for a more formal market, approaching packhouses that supplied chillies to supermarkets. We ended up being asked to supply a wide range of chilli varieties on a consistent basis, so we expanded our production.”

Since the cultivation of peppers is similar to chillies, the addition of the spicier variety fitted well into the production cycles on Paradise Creek.

A wide range ...
Paradise Farms has 6ha planted to chillies. These comprise six types and a total of 17 varieties, including cayenne, Habanero, serrano, jalapeño and bird’s eye.
Roux explains that they are still in the process of evaluating which varieties work best on the farm, hence the wide range of chillies within each type.
“I also base my decisions on what the market wants, and on the sizes and colours that are available at certain times of the season. The biggest challenge is to get consistency in the product right through the year, as this is what earns a premium. But this is what we strive for.”
Yields range from 5t/ ha to 15t/ ha, depending on the variety.

Production ...
The Hectorspruit climate is well suited to chilli production, with winter temperatures seldom reaching below 10°C and summer highs of up to 45°C. The seedlings are planted around March, with the chillies harvested from May to December.
The added compost which comprises of sugar cane plant waste (bagasse) is obtained from the nearby sugar mill, and citrus peels from juicing factories.
The composting process has to be managed carefully to produce the optimal balance of temperature, moisture and air for breaking down the materials and killing any harmful pathogens. In particular, the compost must not be too dry, otherwise the beneficial organisms go into dormancy and composting slows down.
“Our soil is quite heavy, and we struggle to get enough aeration, so the compost helps improve the soil structure,” explains Roux.
“It’s important that the roots are not submerged in water for long periods as the trees will drown.”

Seeds are sent to a nursery to germinate, and the seedlings are planted 30cm apart in the row, with a 1,5m inter-row spacing.
Professionally germinated seeds are the key to success, stresses Roux.
“Germinating seedlings is a science of its own, and one needs to choose a nursery very carefully. If the roots are not developed correctly, the plants are weak, which results in lower yield.”

The chillies are drip-irrigated and require approximately one hour of irrigation in winter. This is lengthened as the temperature rises.

“We try to farm biologically as far as possible to keep our maximum residue levels (MRLs) low and so maintain market access. I believe that farming biologically is the best way to do this,” he says.
A key step in the biological farming process is to ensure that enough organic matter is applied to the soil, he adds. Compost feeds beneficial micro-organisms in the soil, increasing their populations and thus helping to protect the plant against soil pathogens. This applies particularly to newly planted seedlings, which are more vulnerable.

“Damping off can also be a problem, so the plant must not be planted too deep,” says Roux.
“If the stem is surrounded by damp soil and remains wet for too long, it develops a fungus and rots off. To counter this, we use fungi to treat the soil at planting, and take care to plant the seedlings level with the soil. Fungi works against harmful insects and organisms and feed the plant so that it is more resistant.
Roux and his team also add fungi to the irrigation water and apply it again later as a foliar spray. The fungi act like parasites on harmful insects and effectively disrupt their life cycle.
“The problem is that we struggle with diseases like powdery mildew, which is a fungus. This is by far my biggest challenge as a biological farmer: trying to manage the process of growing a good crop without chemicals.”
Roux uses products containing seaweed extract in his irrigation cycle; these act as immune boosters of sorts and strengthen the plant, while feeding beneficial micro-organisms.
Adding Bacillus subtilis bacteria also aids healthy soil and microbial life. All of these help create an ideal environment for the plant, resulting in a strong tree that is pest-and disease-resistant. 
Roux laments, however, that while there are many biological product solutions on the market, few people understand how to use them correctly in combination.
“There are products for insects and fungi, but using them in such a way that the beneficial insects and fungi remain, while the harmful elements are eliminated, is a challenge.”

Harvesting is labour-intensive; it requires about 20 people per 10ha and takes place weekly as the plants produce fruit constantly.
“The smaller the chilli, the more is needed to fill a crate, so it can take one picker an entire day to fill two crates. People are paid per kilogram picked, so those who work hard earn more. Each person has a tag that is scanned when the crate is weighed, and the money is allocated accordingly. This makes it easier to budget, as we can see over a season what the harvest has cost us per kilogram, and compare it with income actually received,” says Roux.

Paradise Farms is GlobalGAP-accredited, but as its packhouse is not accredited to pack for supermarkets, the chillies are sorted on the farm and then sent to an accredited packhouse for packing.

Securing a market ...
Roux notes that most chillies produced locally are Thai types sold on the hawker market.
“Some years work out well, others not, depending on how many farmers decided to plant chillies. It’s a small market that’s sensitive to fluctuations in volume.”

Planting for retailers has its own set of difficulties ...
“They want a certain type, size and colour at certain times of the year, or even all year round, which is even more challenging. A chilli tree doesn’t produce the same size chilli throughout the season, so we need to have a variety of cultivars and sizes.”
Roux thinks the market for chillies is expanding due to the growing number of South Africans who enjoy hot food.
“Jalapeños didn’t have much of a market before chilli poppers became popular. But overall growth is somewhat limited. We won’t see the same growth as in avocados, for example.

“My advice to new growers is to first find a market and then plant. To plant in bulk and hope you’ll get everything sold seldom works and isn’t sustainable.”

Article Credits : Lindi Botha & Farmers Weekly

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