“Banding together to love thy neighbour.” This is how Liza Bohlmann, chairperson of Agricultural Writers SA, described the way in which the agricultural community came together during 2020 to overcome challenges posed by COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.

Agricultural Writers SA traditionally hosts the Farmer, New Entrant to Farming, and Agriculturalist of the Year award ceremony during November. However, due to COVID-19 the event, which took place on 13 November, was hosted virtually this year.

“The event was almost cancelled, but we realised that in a difficult year such as this, many people rallied to help where it was needed. We could still use our platform to pay tribute to the industry. So many farmers, agricultural companies and associations helped communities in need and assisted fellow farmers wherever there was help needed. They not only clothed and fed the nation but kept the economy afloat,” said Bohlmann.

Rossouw Cillié, custodian of the Agricultural Writers SA and chairperson of the ProAgri Group, noted the way in which people helped one another. “When the COVID-19 bomb dropped, it was amazing how quickly everyone mobilised to help one another. It has always been my dream to see the sector unified, and we saw during the crisis that unification is possible because everyone came together when we needed it most.

“My message to role-players in the agricultural sector is to remember that humankind needs us. They need food and clothes and as such there will always be opportunities for those willing to work hard. We must not be afraid of what lies ahead.”

Industry discussions

In addition to paying homage to these stalwarts, the event featured discussions by industry experts. These discussions focused on topics that are crucial for the continued success of both agricultural communicators and farmers. Bayer, Santam Agriculture and Health Squared Agility Agri sponsored the event.

Kobus Steenekamp, commercial lead at Bayer, and Theo Vorster from Galileo Capital shared valuable lessons on succession planning. Vorster explained that succession planning went far beyond doing what is stated in the previous generations’ will. “It needs to entail your vision for the next five, ten and 20 years. No business can grow as fast as a family grows so you must decide how you will ensure that the business is big enough to carry everyone. If not, decide what is fair to everyone, and how you will approach fairness and equality.”

Steenekamp noted that he has often seen that the parents on the farm make the decisions while the adult sons or daughters are out in the field. “The sons or daughters are not part of buying, selling and making business decisions. Parents need to bring their children into the business side of the operations far quicker to enable a smooth transition.”

In his talk about responsible land use and stewardship, Rod Bell, CEO of CropLife, spoke about how technology enabled the company to reach a far wider audience than what they would have reached if they could travel to farms. “COVID-19 forced us to use this opportunity and we are very excited about how this will enable us to further educate the sector about better stewardship practices.”

Letlhogonolo Tau and Emil Pretorius, both managers of business development at Santam emphasised the importance of confidently acting on risk. They also shared valuable insights into making the most of difficult situations.

Kobus Laubscher, an independent agricultural economist and strategist consulting for Agility Agriculture, cautioned farmers to be more attentive when taking out insurance policies. “We don’t do enough to understand what our insurance policies entail. It is also important to make sure you do your own due diligence to prevent disasters such as fires at all costs, as prevention is always better than cure.”

Speaking about health insurance, Marcia le Roux, sales executive at Health Squared Agility, said that insurance to properly take care of workers who have sustained serious injuries was often lacking. “Our labourers are usually subjected to the public health system, which is not ideal – especially when there is an emergency. If we value our workforce, we will look after them.”

Outstanding work recognised

During the event members of Agricultural Writers SA were honoured for their role in communicating issues of interest to the agricultural sector and aiding in responsible communication in the sector.

The winners of the respective categories are:

CropLife SA Crop Protection Article Award:

Gerrit Bezuidenhout.

CropLife SA Biotechnology Article Award:

Carin Venter.

FNB Communicator of the Year Award:

Print: Charl van Rooyen.

TV and audio: Lise Roberts.

Social media and online: Ronel Botha.

BKB photo competition:

Agricultural Photographer of the Year: Willem van der Berg.

Agricultural Photo of the Year: Willem van der Berg.

Bayer technical article award:

  • Gerrit Bezuidenhout.
  • Fredalette Uys.

Santam Agriculture Farmer of the Year Best Coverage Award:

Charl van Rooyen.

Agricultural Writers SA Special Award

Charl van Rooyen was given this award as a token of appreciation for the passion he has displayed for agriculture for the past 30 years, both on an association level locally and on an international level. – Press release, Agricultural Writers SA