Drawn into farming by a father’s legacy

As a former motor mechanic, Petrus Tsotetsi wasn’t initially destined for agriculture. He was pulled into the industry by a family tragedy that led to him inheriting the family farm. Now 13 years later, Petrus is an award-winning farmer driven by passion and dedication. Peter Mashala visited him on his farm Die Bult, between Kestell and Harrismith.

Qwaqwa-born Petrus Ranko Tsotetsi is having a great run in agriculture. As a member of Grain SA’s 250 Club, he was recognised as the best maize producer in 2018 and he was the first runner-up in the National Sugar Beans Award in 2019. In September this year, Schoeman Boerdery awarded him for the well-maintained and clean fields of his small white canning beans. Yet farming was not always his destiny.

Raised by an enterprising father who was a taxi owner, mechanic and farmer, Petrus benefited from his father, Joseph’s, knowledge from a very young age. Petrus began fixing cars with his father when he was in primary school. “I couldn’t even play soccer with other kids. When I got home from school, there were cars already waiting for me,” he jokes.

Fortunately, he enjoyed it and Petrus decided to follow his father into mechanics. His first step after matric was to formally study motor mechanics in Bethlehem, in 1993/94.

Then in 1995, he opened his own car repair workshop, Tsotetsi Motor Mechanics, in Qwaqwa. Some of his business contracts included servicing government vehicles and he employed about seven permanent staff. “It was a successful business for a few years. Until around 1999, we had a good run at the workshop before experiencing some challenges. Some of the contracts were not renewed,” recalls 55-year-old Petrus.

Following these challenges, Petrus closed the workshop and moved to Pretoria with his wife, Ophelia, to work as a supervisor for Metrorail. In 2003, his father was involved in a fatal accident during a fire on a neighbour’s farm.

As the only son, Petrus was expected to take over Die Bult, Joseph’s grain and cattle farm near Kestell, outside Harrismith in the Free State. Joseph had begun leasing the 326ha farm in the late ‘80s from the then- Qwaqwa government.

After 1994, Joseph acquired the property under the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development programme. Petrus was faced with a tough decision. He had not been involved in the farm, except when he was asked to fix broken vehicles, and it was about 350km away from Pretoria.

“My wife and I were both working in Pretoria and raising small children. We had also just bought a house, so leaving Pretoria wasn’t an option,” he recalls.

Petrus first tried to manage the farm remotely. “I would travel to the Free State at least every second weekend, but that didn’t work out,” he says. The only option was to rent out the farm as he didn’t want to sell it.

After a few years of renting it out, too many things were going wrong. The tenants were not taking care of the property and implements were being stolen. “The house was vandalised, and I was unhappy about it.”


In 2008, he made a decision that would change his life forever. Petrus decided to take over the farm without any farming knowledge. “After discussing it, my wife and I decided I would resign and move back to thre Free State while she stayed in Pretoria with the children.”

Petrus resigned from the company but was asked to stay on for a year to train his successor. He took this opportunity to start fixing things on the farm, including the house, and began taking agricultural short courses.

Petrus moved to the farm full-time in 2010. The courses provided him with some know- ledge of how to operate the farm but he arrived without any implements.

His first significant farming activity took place in 2012, when he planted 20ha of small white canning beans after he received a grant from the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (FSDARD).

“I was given seed, fertiliser and diesel for 20ha. My neighbour Pienaar Motlokwa assisted me by lending me his planter and finding a tractor to prepare and plant, thanks to our close neighbourly relationship.”

He harvested 23t of beans from this crop. “I used the proceeds to buy a tractor and some smaller implements.” He sold the beans to the World Food Programme (WFP) through their programme of sourcing products from local black farmers. Through his registered company, Petrus linked other local farmers to this market, further strengthening relations with local and neighbouring farmers. This was the beginning of a successful journey – but it was not without challenges.

Petrus was using only 30ha of his farm at this time and was renting out the rest of the land. In 2013, his mother and grandmother passed away. The loss of his parents weighed heavily on him but he still managed to increase his white canning bean production to 50ha, which also yielded a good harvest. By 2014 he had 50ha under yellow maize and 30ha under bean production – utilising 80ha of the 216ha of arable land.

In 2014, he joined Grain SA’s farmer development programme. Besides improving his skills, Petrus received assistance with production finance from Grain SA and FSDARD. It was an interest-free loan that helped him increase his planting area.

Petrus suffered a major setback in September 2015, when he was hospitalised until February 2016 following a car accident. It was only in 2017 that he could get things back on track, and he was granted a loan by VKB to increase his plantings. Bertus Cordier was assigned as his mentor to help manage the planting season. Petrus reclaimed the rented fields and planted them under Bertus’ guidance and management. In that year, he planted 150ha yellow maize and 70ha small white canning and sugar beans. He was also able to obtain some implements on credit.

The 2017/18 harvest was successful, with the maize sold through VKB, the small white canning and sugar beans sold to WFP and other clients, and the sugar beans were exported to Lesotho.

In 2019, Petrus was introduced to Schoeman Boerdery, one of the country’s largest buyers of small white canning beans. His neighbour, Sello Malakoane, was not able to plant all the contract beans required by Schoeman’s – but instead of returning the seed and fertiliser, he approached Petrus to plant them on 30ha of Petrus’ land.

“Because they are under a contract, every time they checked my neighbour’s crop, they checked mine as well. The company was so impressed with my farm’s progress that they offered me a contract for the next year,” says Petrus.


Currently, Petrus grows yellow maize, soybeans, small white canning beans and sugar beans on 216ha. His fields are divided into four sections: 83ha, 35ha, 60ha and 38ha. “I rotate crops every year. My production is dominated by yellow maize, followed by soybeans, and the rest is made up of white and sugar beans. So where I planted maize this year, I will plant soybeans the following season, followed by beans.”

For the beans, he uses Pannar cultivars, while for the maize, he uses Dekalb cultivars. Schoeman’s supplies the seed and fertiliser for the small white canning contracts since they have their own specifications. They perform annual soil tests to determine how much fertiliser to apply but Petrus estimates they use 200kg/ha of nitrogen-based fertiliser at planting, followed by a top dressing after sprouting.

In terms of crop plant population, he plants about 36 000 seeds per hectare for beans and 30 000 to 32 000 seeds per hectare for maize.

“The soybeans, white and sugar beans yield 1-1.4t/ha, while maize yields up to 7t/ha, depending on rainfall and how well the land was prepared and sown,” says Petrus, who disks, rips and tills before planting conventionally.

Occasionally, the shift in rain patterns affects land preparation. “We typically get our first rains in August, sometimes earlier,” he says. Changing and unpredictable weather patterns make planning more difficult. Currently, preparations begin in October.

“However, we are currently experiencing heavy rainfall that hinders our planting plans. In the past, we experienced the same problem and struggled right through the season,” Petrus explains.


With crop rotation taking place on 210ha of arable land, his cattle graze on the other 116ha. Due to the size of his farm, grazing is a challenge for his herd of about 80 breeding cows. He feeds the cattle maize stover post- harvest, which can cause a lag in his fodder flow when harvest is late due to unfavourable weather conditions.

Because there is not much grass, Petrus sometimes leaves the cattle on the stover for longer, to gain weight. His cattle herd consists of predominantly white Brahman and Charo- lais breeds. “I produce weaners for the feedlot market and this combination works for me.”

Running an agricultural enterprise requires patience, passion and discipline – along with proper planning and budgeting, he says.

“This is a seasonal business so I have to be careful with my money. I run my business using a 60/40 blended funding model, with 60% coming from loans and 40% from my own cash. By doing so, I am able to reduce the amount of interest I have to pay the financier. I learned this from my dad, and so far, it has worked for me,” says Petrus.

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