Farming successfully in South Africa today
Liaan Janse van Vuuren comes from a long line of farmers, beginning with his grandfather who farmed cattle. From a young age, his passion grew and led him to study viticulture and enology, and obtain his masters in horticulture at the University of Stellenbosch. Since then, he has been a fertilizer agriculturalist, chemical consultant and today, the General Manager for Actions and Insights at Aerobotics.
About the South African grower
On what makes the South African industry unique Liaan says, “The rich culture and the fact that we are so passionate about getting our hands dirty and boots on the ground will always be something that’s truly unique to South Africans. Whether we’re working in or on South African farms or farms in other parts of the world, what sets us apart is that we like to see the solution and not the problems.”
What keeps local growers up at night?
“Reliable water resources and the supply of labor will always be hot topics in South Africa”, says Liaan. “Parts of the Western Cape and especially the Eastern Cape are still experiencing a heavy drought. While some towns might have drinking water, the problem is that there isn’t enough water to irrigate, fertilize crops, provide jobs and ensure food security.”
Adapting to innovation
According to Liaan, these challenging times have encouraged growers to seek out new ways to manage water and make every drop count.
“I think that growers and business entities who invest in agriculture are adopting technology more and more. At the end of the day, it’s a mindset. There are growers and businessmen who are old and young investing in technology because they see the value it adds to optimizing inputs. Input efficiency drives your return on investment, whether it be in labor”, Liaan explains.
Solutions on the market
On the most popular tools for working smarter, Liaan shares that, “On-the-ground sensors and high-resolution spatial technology offer a different vantage point and have been quite popular over the last few years.”
Growers are using a combination of these tools to zone in on their limiting factors, quantify the effect of them, and take action to minimize them.”
“From my experience, the best tool is the one that’s the most practical for growers to take the data that they have been collecting over a number of years and turn it into knowledge. A very good example is where Aerobotics helped a grower to set zones on his farm so that we could hone in on a problem which turned out to be irrigation, drainage and then soil differences. From here, we made corrections that helped him to optimize nitrogen and fertilizer input efficiency, and ultimately, increase the quantity and quality of his yields while using less nitrogen.”
Tech vs footsteps on the farm
Liaan emphasizes that technology is not a replacement for people. “Growers and workers will always be the most important part of the production system. Using intelligent tools like what we provide is merely a guiding light for growers to farm successfully for the future.”
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