Young farmer winner sows seeds for bumper crop

New generation farmer scoops KZN award, sets sights on national Young Farmer of the Year title

Thirty-eight-year-old Eshowe sugarcane farmer, Simon D’Aubrey, was named Kwanalu’s Young Farmer of the Year 2019 at its annual congress held at the Royal Show grounds in Pietermaritzburg recently.

The congress was attended by KZN Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) members, farmer delegates, agricultural-industry leaders and businesses as well as representatives from Agri SA.

Simon will represent Kwanalu and all KZN farmers in the Toyota SA/Agri SA National Young Farmer of the Year Competition 2019 which takes place in October. As well as the prestigious national title, a brand new Toyota Hilux Single Cab is up for grabs for the winner.

Kwanalu leadership, from left, PJ Hassard (deputy president), CEO Sandy La Marque, Andy Buchan (president) and Phineas Gumede (vice-president) together with MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development, Bongi Sithole-Moloi, second from left.

“We are heartened by the positive attitude all our finalists displayed; and are encouraged that they all view social development and land reform as an opportunity rather than a challenge. It is very exciting to see young farmers who want to make a difference,” said Kwanalu CEO, Sandy La Marque.

Simon, the third consecutive generation of his family to farm on Arcadia Estate in Entumeni in Eshowe, joined the family farming business in 2013. Today he is the sole director and is a 33% shareholder in the property company, a 100% shareholder in the operational company and is responsible for all farm operations of both Arcadia Estate and his other neighbouring farms.

He holds a B-Tech Degree in Agriculture and a Degree in Property Development, with Honours in Construction Management.

Travelled extensively

Simon, who describes himself as “not your typical farmer”, has travelled extensively and worked in many places around the world before settling, at the age of 32, on the farm he grew up on, together with his wife Emily and their twin daughters.

Ninety percent of his farming enterprise is sugarcane, with 8% dedicated to timber, and 1% to contracting and bottled water, firewood and cash crops on fallow lands. Simon is currently working on diversifying the business’ income stream away from sugarcane to alternate crops. He also runs an indigenous tree nursery together with his brother on the farm.

“The challenge, and the goal as a farmer today, is to remain relevant, while maintaining positive cash flows and ensuring bank balances remain healthy. Pending a cannabis licence to grow hemp for CBD oil, we are ready to plant our first hemp crop. We are also currently running a test plot on organic lemons to determine viability and have 8ha of avos on order for 2021,” said Simon.

Chief Justice of South Africa Mogoeng Mogoeng, centre, with CEO of Kwanalu, Sandy La Marque, left, and President of Kwanalu and Greytown farmer, Andy Buchan. The Chief Justice was keynote speaker at the recent congress.

With the philosophy, “be kind to your land, honour your employees and be open to change”, Simon places strong emphasis on preserving the land for future generations and sustainable practices.

“We work with maintaining the eco-systems we currently have and aim to improve them with time through the use of less harmful insecticides and weedicides, the removal of alien vegetation and the re-planting of indigenous trees; for our soils we maintain our terrace banks and waterways and if there is soil erosion or wash, this is dealt with immediately, generally with advice from the SASRI Extension Officer. All replant cane fields are currently being pulled back 5m from major water courses and wetlands are being rehabilitated in the valley areas of the farms,” said Simon.

“The onus is on us farmers to produce healthy foods, free of pesticides and insecticide residue, sustainably for our burgeoning population at a cost which is competitive globally,” says Simon.

Transformation in the industry

With a focus on the future, Simon places a great deal of importance on his role in transformation in the industry and works closely together with the local community bordering his farms. He assists with the cutting, hauling and land preparation of cane for eight small-scale growers, ploughs and cuts grass for this community in the off-season and supplies drinking water and firewood during the drier months. He also assists with road maintenance.

“I have a good relationship with our Chief, Nkosi Dube. I also assist with advice on farming techniques and provide a link between my neighbouring small-scale farmers and the sugar industry,” says Simon.

Now read: Using tech to feed the nation

Simon is also involved in organised agriculture and serves as vice-chairman of the Eshowe/ Entumeni Farmers Association (EEFA), is the vice-chairman of the local Pest and Disease Committee and represents the EEFA at cane grower meetings.

“I believe that young farmers that contribute positively to the South African economy need to be both businessmen and farmers. Sustainability is key when working with natural resources. Young farmers need to be innovative to maintain yields, without the use of agrochemicals to ultimately provide food to a market that is very aware of what they eat, where it comes from and how it is grown and processed,” says Simon.

The KZN Kwanalu Young Farmer of the Year competition is open to farmers under the age of 40, male or female, who are full members of their province’s agricultural unions. The judging and evaluation of the farmers and their agricultural practices, takes place at provincial level with the applicants being evaluated on all aspects of their business including their overall vision for the future of their farm/ business. The main features on which farmers are judged is their management/ business philosophy as well as the technical competence with which their philosophy is applied.

On receiving his award, Simon said the title was an honour and a privilege and that he looked forward to representing KZN farmers at the national event.