New-era commercial producer seizes every opportunity

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The Grain SA/ABSA/John Deere Financial New Era Commercial Farmer of the Year for 2023 winner, says he is addicted to farming. He is humbled by and grateful for the opportunity that he has been given to produce grain and be profitable in the process. William Raphoto from Lichtenburg in North West was crowned the winner in this category during Grain SA’s Day of Celebration held recently at Nampo Park near Bothaville.

This colourful annual event is aimed at giving recognition to hundreds of producers who are part of the Grain SA Farmer Development Programme and is considered a true celebration of learning, growth and the development of producers while recognising especially those who excel in their various categories. 

Maintaining high standards

Liana Stroebel, chairperson of the judging panel, said the standard of this year’s competition was once again very high. All nominees exhibited growth in their respective farming operations and made the judges’ task of selecting winners in the respective categories, more difficult.

Each of the categories in which the competition is judged has its own criteria. The categories are: new era commercial (producing more than 250 tons); potential commercial (50ha to 249 tons or 101 tons to 249 tons); smallholder (4 to 49ha); and subsistence (1 to 3ha). Stroebel said the competition does not necessarily focus on the number of hectares, tractors or cobs, but it is more focussed on the producer as an individual, his/her knowledge, passion, attention to detail and most importantly growth.

Other category winners: Philani Khoza (Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year), Busisiwe Msibi (Subsistence Farmer of the Year), and Nkosinathi Hadebe (Smallholder Farmer of the Year). PHOTOS Christal-Lize Muller
Other category winners were Philani Khoza (Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year), Busisiwe Msibi (Subsistence Farmer of the Year), and Nkosinathi Hadebe (Smallholder Farmer of the Year). (Photograph: Christal-Lize Muller)

Success through great mentorship

Raphoto attributes his success to his late father, Rykie, who was an established producer and also a member of Grain SA.  He encouraged him to become part of the programme after Raphoto graduated with a diploma in animal health from North West University in 2003.

Grain SA, through the programme’s mentorship as well as the knowledge he gained from other commercial producers, was a major contributing factor to his success. Raphoto believes farming is a learning curve and it is important to continuously improve and learn while keeping track of the latest technology. He uses his own equipment and is also contracting out his combine. He says his father acquired the 210ha farm, Lareystryd, through the government’s land reform programme in 2012 and started planting white maize and sunflower.

He joined his father on the farm and gained a lot of experience in the process. Raphoto took over the farming operation in 2020 when his father passed away. He decided to lease an additional 300ha of land and started rotating maize with soya bean instead of sunflower, because of some challenges he faced with sclerotinia. Despite numerous other challenges, especially with regard to climate change, he still managed to produce successfully by adapting some methods, such as preparing soil immediately after harvesting.

In the 2022/23 season, he planted 310 ha of white maize with a yield of between 4,5 to 5 tons/ha. He also planted 100ha of soya bean with a yield of approximately 1,2 tons/ha.

Read more about Grain SA’s farmer development programme here.

Other top performers

  • The Grain SA Potential Commercial Farmer of the Year category winner was Philani Khoza of the farm Dukuza in Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal. Khoza is a dedicated crop producer who plants maize and soya bean. He got his inspiration and knowledge of farming while studying agricultural management at a college in Mooi River. He joined the Grain SA programme in 2014 and started by planting a single hectare of maize which he managed to increase to 82ha over the years.  
  • Nkosinathi Hadebe from the farm Eastborn in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal scooped up the Grain SA Smallholder Farmer of the Year award. This former police officer joined the local Grain SA study group in 2019 and started out by planting 2ha of maize which he has since expanded to 15ha. Despite numerous climate and logistical challenges, he goes all out to control weeds and applies the required nutrients for growth.
  • Busisiwe Msibi of Amersfoort in Mpumalanga is the Grain SA/ABSA/John Deere Financial Subsistence Farmer of the Year. She farms on land that is administered by a communal property association. In the 2022/23 season, Msibi planted maize on 3ha along with half a hectare of dry beans. She joined Grain SA’s Beyond Abundance Programme nine years ago and has never looked back. She hopes for a total maize yield of 14 tons this season. – Christal-Lize Muller, Plaas Media

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