(Port Alfred) – Middelburg farmer Stefan Erasmus is the new face of Eastern Cape agriculture after winning the Agri South Africa Young Farmer of the Year regional title during the Agri EC annual congress on Thursday evening.
The 33-year-old walked away with R15,000 in prize money from title sponsor Toyota SA and a place in the finals of the national Agri SA competition later this year.
Erasmus beat regional finalists Justin Kingwill (Sneeuberg Agricultural Association), Riaan Strydom (Langkloof Agricultural Association) and Russell Heger (Kwelega-Gonubie Agricultural Association) to claim the provincial title.
According to the judging panel, Erasmus, who is also secretary of his local Nooitgedacht Farmers Union, stood out because of his willingness to embrace new technologies as part of his management philosophy and his forward-thinking approach to farming as well as his community involvement.
Erasmus is the third generation to farm Merino sheep and Bonsmara cattle on the family farm Beskuitfontein, taking over the reins from his father in 2015 after working in partnership with him for several years.
As an extensive stock farmer in the Karoo, he said drought was a constant risk factor, which necessitated a long-term view of farming.
“The entire enterprise can quickly become unsustainable when a two-year drought turns into a three-year one. All other risk factors pale in comparison,” he said.
To counter this, Erasmus, who studied industrial engineering at Stellenbosch University, introduced several key initiatives, such as an intensive lambing system, more efficient irrigation of planted pastures, the breeding of replacement rams and the expansion of the existing livestock-watering network.
“The way to mitigate risk is to optimise every hectare, every ewe and every litre,” he said.
He said winning the award was an unexpected honour and his mission would be to share his learnings with other farmers.
“I feel it’s important, when you do something progressive, to share it with your neighbours and those who show an interest. Your time will save someone else a lot of time, a lot of heartache, and it doesn’t cost you that much.”
Erasmus encouraged the older generation to support young farmers, adding that “some of our ideas are hare-brained, while others are not”, and called on the younger generation to value the experience of their elders.