Staying in Agriculture

Five years ago, at the age of 63, the farming operations of Piet, or Piet Lentedou as he is known, looked a lot different than it looks today. Mercifully his son and son-in-law decided to become part of the farming operations. Pieter is a pilot and Cassie studied Forestry and Natural Resources and they brought a new vibe to the farm. Believe it or not", says Piet Lentedou, "there are three Piet Ferreiras who farm in this sandy region".

Piet started farming in 1975 when he took over from his father Lou, who had a shop in the area, Lentedou Cash Store. Lou was the manager of the Senwes retail branch in Tierfontein in 1947 and started farming in 1954, when he also established his cash store.
Piet learned the basic principles of farming from his father and other farmers in the area. He started with 150 hectares of wheat and 300 hectares of maize and today, 43 years later, he has built up a strong farming business. An interesting fact is that his father attended the first grain grading course at Senwes in 1940.

They have adjusted the farming operations significantly since 2013. They initially planted 95% maize and 5% wheat. In 2015 they started with 100 hectares of sunflower and the year after, 40 hectares of soybeans under irrigation. The farming operations have changed so much that in the 2018/2019 season they will be planting 37% maize, followed by 24% sunflower, 19% soybeans, 7% small white beans, 7% wheat and 6% of the fields will be left fallow. "This is because the maize sum by itself is not sustainable", Pieter and Piet said. His son Pieter handles the crop farming and his son-in-law Cassie handles the pecan nuts, which they started planting five years ago.

Cassie loves the pecan nut farming, 10 500 trees to be specific. According to him his hard work over a number of years will start paying off in a few years' time. He plants Wichita and Navaho trees, 12 by 6 metres on 75 hectares for more sunlight, and to utilise the soil and water more effectively. When the trees become too big, they will be thinned out. He also believes in an infield nursery and replaces damaged trees with trees of a similar age. He carefully prunes the trees and tells us: The branches are the factory, but the trunk transports nutrients. His advice to producers is: “Rather buy a R300 plant than a R200 one, and rather wait a year in order to plant a grafted tree.”

Piet has a ‘n threefold philosophy about farming. He was an agricultural extension officer in Bophuthatswana in 2013 and believes that wind erosion, soil temperature and rainfall are the most important aspects to consider. After 40 years they have a winning recipe to address all three issues. When you walk in the fields you don't sink into loose soil - you walk on crop residue between the rows of stubble from previous seasons. Thanks to their 8-series John Deere tractors and implements they can plant two rows 76 cm apart, with the next two rows 1,5 metres further.

Wind erosion: The stubble stops wind erosion in its tracks and the only dust clouds I can see are next to the dirt roads leading to the fields.
Soil temperature: We compared the soil samples below the residue with soil samples not covered and the difference was very evident - definitely degrees
Rainfall: The soil was damp a mere 10 cm below the residue by the middle of September, which means that the 500 mm of rain per annum is being utilised more effectively - all three aspects addressed!

They use the minimum tillage principle and plant on the rows of two seasons past. Last year's stubble is still standing. This brings a totally new perspective to the bare, hot and sandy image of this part of the Free State.
As one digs deeper, believe it or not, organic material is found. Piet's dream is to have a perfect system - so perfect that his grandchildren have to go to other farms to see what the sandy area looks like. Pieter, who was part of the 2018 Syngenta Grain Academy, adds that he hopes to see an earthworm or two.

John Deere tractors and a scale model in the showcase tell us that they are John Deere and Senwes customers. Pieter tells us that the RTK is particularly critical for them and that no system touches it - price, service and precision are outstanding. They also have a production loan at Senwes and a portion of their grain is marketed by Senwes. He makes special mention of his branch manager Gerhard van der Ryst, agri-business manager Vonnie Haarhoff and silo manager Jurie Maree: “When I have a problem, they will definitely be able to solve it.”

They mention that there is a good vibe amongst the producers who are part of the Midde-In Study Group. They are currently planning an American tour.

He has 21 labourers and he believes that knowledge has to be conveyed to employees. They act as mentor for Ruben Motlhabane, an emerging producer. “We are his current mentors and we share all information with him. He knows what I know. What would it look like if he has a poor crop and people hear that I am his mentor?" Pieter and Piet also added that they feel very good when Ruben is successful. 
The advice of the trio to other producers is that one has no control over politics, but producers should stand together and fight for what they want. Piet also said: “Learn as much as you can - then things will happen on the farm as a result of hard work and by God's grace". The farming operations of Piet and his wife Marianne, their children and their spouses, Pieter and Colene, Gretha and Cassie and their other daughter Rinda, who married a farmer from the area, Willem du Plessis, are heading in the right direction. And with eight grandchildren, the future of the farming business is in good hands. They have no intention of leaving.