South Africa has a population of around 59 million people. Of this population, there are only around 40 thousand commercial farmers. This means that each farming unit provides food for around 1475 people. Now that is a lot of mouths to feed!
There are two contrasting views about farmers these days. Some people see farmers as caring people that produce food for our nation. On the other hand, many view farmers as non-caring people that cause unaccountable damage to the environment. The latter is a very unjust and unfair perspective.
Producing food is more complex than you think
Many people have the misconception that producing food is a simple process. They think that you can simply plant seeds and/or feed animals and end up with food. Considering this, I have decided to discuss three of the many tasks that farmers have to manage daily.
It is important to note that these tasks are specific to dairy farmers, as most of the farmers we work with are dairy farmers. However there are many similarities in other sectors of agriculture.
1. Soil stewards
Taking care of their soil is a primary task for pasture-based dairy farmers. The food for the animals starts with the soil, and the better farmers are at creating healthy soil, the more healthy and nutritious food they will grow for their cattle.
Building soil health is about implementing practices that build carbon, encourage soil life, keep a balance of nutrients, and protecting the structure of the soil. It takes time and effort to build and maintain healthy soil.
2. Pasture managers
Since the animals on pasture-based dairy farms are green ranging and free grazing, farmers must manage the pastures well so that there is always green food available when the cattle free-range graze.
Roughage grown on pasture-based farms is the main food source for animals. Therefore it is important to grow and utilize pastures effectively. This is achieved through regular measurement and allocation of pastures. Farmers must continuously figure out how much food the animals need, and how to best provide this to them each day. If you thought school math was complex, you should see the formulas and graphs farmers use to figure out where next to move their cows.
Irrigation and planting are other tasks that farmers manage to have roughage for the animals. Each season brings something new, and with changing climates farmers need to adapt accordingly. Pastures are an ever-evolving thing, and the best farmers grow and adapt with new information, new technology, and an ever-changing environment.
3. Animal caretakers
Taking care of animals is one of the highest priorities of a farmer. Farmers must ensure that all the animals are fed enough, according to each one’s specific needs, whilst ensuring that all the animals are healthy. Veterinarians assist farmers with major health issues, however all minor health issues and vaccinations are resolved without professional help.
In the midst of all of these tasks, farmers also have to be mechanics, weather forecasters, mechanical operators, computer operators, caretakers, and financial planners. So the next time you bite into a crunchy apple or drink a fresh glass of milk, thank a farmer!