Amos Njoro found his passion for farming by accident as a lack of funds stopped him from following his dream of becoming a teacher. Today, Amos is qualified in agriculture and runs a successful grain operation on several farms. He also runs an AgriSeta accredited company, Ya-rona Temo, which offers training and mentorship to many aspiring farmers across the country. Amos spoke to African Farming’s Peter Mashala.
Amos Njoro dreamt of becoming a teacher but did not have the money to pay for college. This setback turned into a blessing as it put Amos on a path to a successful career in agriculture. His first job was as an extension officer for the former Bophuthatswana government-owned agribusiness, Agrico. He later became a government extension officer in the North West province where he worked until 2001 before joining the giant agribusiness, Senwes, in Klerksdorp.
“I worked for Senwes for four years before Grain SA recruited me to become the provincial project coordinator for their Emerging Grain Farmer Development Programme for North West, Free State and Gauteng provinces,” Amos recalls.
The good work and the success rate of farmers in the Grain SA programme prompted the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD) to ask Amos to help train farmers. In 2010, he applied for a farm to start his own farming business and was allocated Vlakplaas, a 280ha farm just outside Vanderbijlpark under the government’s Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS).
Amos now grows maize and soya beans and runs Ya-Rona Temo, a consultancy and training business, along with his three children and his wife, Anna Njoro.
Born in the small village of Mokgalwaneng outside Rustenburg in the North West, Amos says he dreamt of becoming a teacher, inspired by the way teachers dressed in those days, neatly attired with a jacket and tie. He passed matric with a university exemption but his parents could not afford to put him through college.
“My father supported his family through subsistence farming,” says Amos. “So, after completing matric in 1989, I worked as a security guard for a month at Bleskop Mine, Rustenburg, then did casual work at Sun City. Later I worked at a leather factory in Mogwase,” he adds.
A CAREER DETOUR
On a weekend off at home, Amos saw a magazine advertisement offering a bursary from Agrico to study agriculture.
“I had never considered farming as a career, but I wanted an opportunity to study, so I applied,” he says. He was invited to an interview in Lehurutshe, about 400km from his home village.
Amos says the advert stated that all candidates would be interviewed in their own districts. “My district was Mogwase, but the invitation sent me to Lehurutshe. Because of the distance, I travelled by taxi a day before to get there on time,” explains Amos. “I didn’t know anyone there. I just got off the taxi and walked to the closest house to ask for accommodation. All I had on me was my ID and the letter from Agrico.”
At the interview, the panel’s chairperson picked up from his invitation that Amos was from another district. When he learnt the story of how Amos had made it to the interview, the chairperson was convinced that he was the best candidate for the bursary. He was awarded the bursary and went to the Taung College of Agriculture to study a three-year diploma in agriculture.
“When I finished studying, I worked as an extension officer for Agrico in the Brits area focusing on Bapong, Bethanie and the Mothotlung areas,” remembers Amos.
When Agrico was dissolved after 1994, Amos went to the North West Department of Agriculture as an extension officer. In 2001 he was recruited by Senwes, mainly to advise farmers on soil management and crop production. Later he became the provincial coordinator at Grain SA. “There, I coordinated all the emerging farmer training and workshops,” explains Amos.
TAKING A LEAP
His work with Grain SA earned Amos recognition from GDARD who roped him in to help with training and mentoring Gauteng’s developing grain farmers. Exposure to these farmers gave Amos the idea of farming for himself. He took the leap in 2010 and applied for a farm which was granted to him under a 30-year lease.
“I started farming fulltime, offering farming, consultancy and training services from 2011,” says Amos. Today, he plants over 310ha to maize and 100ha to soya beans on his farm and two other farms he rents nearby.
“I plant 200ha to sunflower in Rustenburg on a farm I lease from the Bakgatla Tribal Authority. This is also where I keep my herd of about 60 cattle,” explains Amos.
He employs six permanent workers and between 50 and 100 casual workers in the season. Amos markets his grain through Senwes, AFGRI and SAB. Amos is financed by FarmSol, the AB Inbev/SAB subsidiary, which provides farmers with interest-free loans.
“I was fortunate to receive a grant from the government’s Recapitalisation Programme whichIusedtobuyequipmentandimprove some infrastructure. Afgri also funded my production, acquisition of additional machinery, and training and mentorship.”
Amos farms dryland crops. His production window starts in October and ends in July when the harvest should be in. “We start land prep from 15 October and planting must be done by 12 December,” explains Amos.
He says they don’t plant sunflower on the Vaal farm because there are no other farmers growing sunflower in his area. This increases the risk of losses caused by birds. “There are lots of birds in this area and only a few farmers growing sunflower compared to the Rustenburg area,” says Amos. The more lands planted to sunflower, says Amos, the less the damage caused by birds. “We control birds by shooting, but the risk is higher when there is less sunflower planted.”
Amos practices minimum till because of the type of soil and the equipment he has.
“I believe one must adopt a system to suit one’s soil and machinery. I could only start with no-till when I had the correct equipment and other resources,” explains Amos. “I use BR seed for soya beans and maize for easy weed and pest control and higher yields.”
THE BENEFITS OF TWO CROPS
Amos rotates soya beans and maize. The market price influences his decision on which crop will take the greater share of the planted area. “We predict prices based on what may affect the market locally and globally,” he says. Amos feels that the situation in Russia and Ukraine will affect many things, including fuel and grain prices.
“Because these two countries are among the primary grain producers, the situation there may lead to a shortage which will obviously drive the prices up. So, as a farmer, one must be clued up on how the world operates to make informed decisions,” explains Amos.
He says if the soya bean prices look better than the maize price, they’ll plant more soya.
Crop rotation, according to Amos, helps with sustainability. “Soya beans help us keep our soil in good condition as the crop puts nitrogen back into the soil. We reduce production costs because we don’t use fertiliser when growing soya beans,” he explains. The added nitrogen means less fertiliser is needed when maize is replanted.
SURVIVING INPUT COSTS
It is vital to keep costs as low as possible because the prices for fertiliser, diesel and other chemicals have soared in the past few years, Amos explains. He says the per/ha cost of planting maize has jumped from R7 000/ha a few years ago to R14 000/ha. In the current season, he paid R700 for a bag of LAN for which he paid R380 last season.
He says this may have been due to high demand influenced partly by the higher than normal rainfall. “When it rains a lot, you must apply more nitrogen (LAN) in the ground because it washes away easily. Chemicals such as RoundUp have increased from R1 200/ 20 litres to R3 500/20 litres.” The only way to survive this is to increase yields and produce optimally. “But it’s not that simple. To increase your yields, you must also increase your appli cation of fertilisers and some other things.”
To try and boost his yields, Amos has installed two 15ha centre pivots so that he can double crop his maize. He plans to sell one maize crop as green mealies and one as grain. His average dryland yield is 5t/ha, a yield he hopes to double under irrigation. “The green mealies will boost our cash flow,” he says.
Most of Amos’ maize crop is sold to AB Inbev/SAB through a FarmSol contract while the soya beans are sold through Senwes and Afgri. “The contract I have with FarmSol is not fixed but allows me to hedge my price,” explains Amos. Hedging, he says, helps offset the risk of price movements in the market by locking in a price in the futures market.
“This means I can opt to sell when the price looks good within a certain bracket. For example, if I see that the price could reach up to R4 500/ton, I can lock it within the R3 900 to R4 500 range,” explains Amos. “This means if the price drops below the minimum price, I still get paid the R3 900. However, if it goes beyond R4 500, I’ll only get the R4 500 maximum, even if it reaches R8 000.”
Amos says financing and machinery have been a challenge, but the biggest obstacle is land. He is currently looking for more land as he needs a minimum of 500ha to unleash his capacity and potential. “Once I have more land the rest will follow. I want to be big in farming, to be fully commercial and add value to the economy by creating more jobs and improving food security,” he says.