Emerging Farmers and Vertical Integration

Day 2 of our South African adventure started off with a tour of a 640 hectare farm that managed 107 head of cattle – primarily Bonsmara which is a breed specifically suited to South Africa.

When Nelson Mandella’s government took over in 1994, one of the policies enacted was to transition more farm land ownership to the black population. Most farmers in South Africa are white and so the goal was to transition 30% of land to black owners by the year 2015. There were insurmountable challenges to overcome and as of 2016 only 8% of land has transitioned. One of the first reasons that the land transfer hasn’t happened is because black farmers (emerging farmers) don’t have the capital to purchase large commercial operations. White farmers (commercial farmers) who were willing to sell sold to the government and the government leases the land to the black farmers. The farmer we met – Solomon -is operating his farm on a 30 year lease from the government.

The second reason the land transfer hasn’t been successful is that the emerging farmers didn’t have the educational resources and support they needed to be successful. We heard horror stories of emerging farmers who were granted dairy operations or mango farms and were bankrupt and ruined after only a year. Solomon, happily, was doing well in part because he is receiving help and educational support from a nonprofit started by one of the commercial farming operations.

Solomon received a starter herd of Bonsmara and has been raising them and growing his herd for the past 4 years. Bonsmara are a breed that has a mild temperament and are ideal for the South African climate. They are have low birth rates but have quick growth rates and produce a lot of high quality meat. The breed was originally a cross of the Afrikaana and either Hereford or Shorthorn.

Solomon is in part helped by a large commercial farm – Sernick. Sernick is a large vertically integrated farm that also has a feed mill, feed lot, bull testing facility, slaughterhouse, deboning plant, and full butcher shop. This allows them to provide a quality product that they can trace from the retail store back to the farm. They primarily raise Bonsmara on their farm and work to develop quality genetics. The feed lot and slaughterhouse process multiple breeds from area producers.

 We toured the bull testing facility were with data recorded from transponders they precisely track the food that the animals eat and their rate of gain. This allows them to make management decisions about the animal’s diet that will maximize feed efficiency. We then toured the feedlot and eventually the slaughterhouse or abattoir. At the abattoir we learned about how they grade the carcasses and meat quality. Similar to the American grades of prime, select, and choice, their A, B, and C rating measures the amount of marbling and quality of the muscling on the carcass.

Throughout the day we drove past drought stricken fields that will most likely not produce a usable crop. Despite that, the day ended with a rainstorm that was much needed in the region.


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