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Dispatches from Africa: Sights and Sounds

JOHANNESBURG – The key thing I’ve seen in the northern portion of South Africa is that the farmers use dry weather to their advantage but also respect the characteristics of red soil that will blow away if given the chance.

The landscape of farms is now popcorn dry. The stubble from last year’s corn crop still stands as picking and shelling has just finished. People are still in the fields gleaning the ears that fell off prior to mechanical harvesting so that the last scraps of the harvest can be turned into corn meal for porridge. The rains for the coming season should start in the next two weeks.

We met Herrich Gerhard, who farms about 5,000 acres near Mahikeng. He accommodated us by digging a hole in his field about eight feet deep. Even though the top 18 inches was powder dry, it progressively became wetter as one looked down and saw roots of last year’s crop exposed at the six foot level. At the bottom of the hole was standing water. That is very important as not every farm has “water table” fields that have a source of water under them. He will rip and till the soil about eighteen inches deep and then plant corn, which he calls maize, at standard depth. It is already getting to ninety degrees during the day so it will sprout quickly and he will fertilize often with small amounts.

In about four months, he will harvest and expects 7 tons per hectare. Coverted to our measurement, that will be about 112 bushels of white corn per acre. It is stored at low moisture in very large plastic bags then exported by truck to other countries in the region.

Farm Broadcaster Ken Root is in South Africa this week; he’s part of a small delegation looking at agricultural potential in the country. In that region, it’s early spring, and Ken is observing land preparation before planting, as well as planting progress.

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