The 25th SA Large Herds Conference: The science of energy

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

The 25th annual SA Large Herds Conference (SALHC) hosted by the Milk Producers’ Organisation (MPO), took place from 26 to 28 May at the Sun International Boardwalk Hotel in Gqeberha.

Some pertinent issues faced by milk producers were in the spotlight, and in the opening address, Georgina Muller, a herd performance consultant at Dairy Junction, a dairyherd performance and benchmarking consultancy service, and Neil Bisseker, master of ceremonies, welcomed the attendees, thanking them for their support. Fanie Ferreira, CEO at the MPO, also introduced the main theme of this year’s event: the Science of Energy.

The sessions during the course of the congress were chaired by Neil Bisseker who also introduced the keynote speaker on day one of the event, Vusi Thembekwayo, a South African entrepreneur and author. He addressed attendees about global trends and the fast rate of technology development while highlighting some advancements made over the years.

He used the example of Shoprite/Checkers, where hindsight tied to insight has led to foresight and spotting opportunities which should be fully utilised. He also mentioned the issue of South Africans being a tad too “racially sensitive” saying there is a need for people to celebrate and start doing things together to make things work in the country.

Revolution in energy supply

JP Landman, independent political analyst, talked about energy in our economy and the first Independent Power Producer (IPP) renewable contracts being signed in 2011. He also referred to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement regarding the breaking-up of Eskom into different segments. He said a revolution is taking place currently and comprises three major changes:

  • Moving from government monopoly to the private sector.
  • Moving from one regulated price to a market/competitive price in electricity.
  • Moving from high carbon (coal) to low carbon (renewables, gas and perhaps nuclear).

Energy expert Chris Yelland gave an analysis of the energy situation in the country. “Eskom produced energy is going down, while the public and private procurement of renewable energy is making a difference in loadshedding.” He said the reduction in load shedding is thanks to democracy at work, the drop in unplanned maintenance at Eskom, and a government that seems to have realised the seriousness of unreliable irrigation supplies.

Next up was John Finn from Ireland who, in a virtual address on multi-species pastures and nitrogen, addressed the issue of how one can reduce fertiliser use by making use of pasture mixtures, hence increasing sward diversity. His key message was not to randomly accumulate just any type of plant species, but functional types resistant to weed. He briefly talked about soil health with nematodes serving as a reliable source of exhibiting soil health.

Lyn Sykes from Australia reflected on the intergenerational planning conundrum and good succession planning. She addressed questions such as whether families are dealing functionally with their legacy, functional versus dysfunctional families, and the older generation’s belief in themselves.

Managing our social license

Dr Marina (Nina) von Keyserlingk (PhD), a globally recognised leader in animal welfare, discussed the social responsibility of dairy producers and how the industry reacts to difficult issues. She said animal welfare sits at the heart of sustainability, tackling complex and often unpleasant issues such as calves slaughtered at two weeks old, cow/calf separation, farmers not wanting bull calves, cattle spending too little time on pastures, etc. These are unpleasant issues the dairy industry needs to deal with.

“Engaging with the public is the way to go in establishing the right perception or favourable attitudes,” said Dr Von Keyserlingk. She suggested that the South African dairy industry learn how to deal with industry critics. A good starting point would be to listen to them and try to show them that the dairy industry is constantly endeavouring to improve at all levels.

The risks of social media

Emma Sadleir, South Africa’s leading expert on social media law, joined the conversation on the topic of the legal, disciplinary and reputational risks of social media. She said, as a starting point, that as soon as content has been seen by just one other person, in the eyes of the law, that content could be dealt with as if it was printed on the front page of a newspaper. It is a balancing act – where do I draw a line as to what I can say on social media, and how I can react to what is being said?

Sadleir strongly advised attendees to be cautious with strong views on social platforms such as WhatsApp or work WhatsApp groups. For example, putting a flag or symbol of Palestine or Israel on one’s profile picture, or having conversations about others on social media, could boil down to a criminal offence.

“Digital content is dangerous content. Do not share personal information on social platforms,” she cautioned. “If you would not put it on a billboard, you should not want to put it on a social media platform.” Sadleir also referred to a brand-new law relating to cyberattacks, which implies one can be prosecuted for threatening another person by saying things that may be deemed as threatening or aimed at causing damage. – Carin Venter, Plaas Media

For more information on the Large Herds Conference, contact the Milk Producers’ Organisation on 012 843 5600 or email

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