From financial adviser to farmer on 600 hectares!

Giving financial advice to farmers is what encouraged Welkom-born Happy Letsitsa to take up farming himself. The rest is history, as they say, and today he supplies the “big guns” with his fresh produce.

Letsitsa tells Food For Mzansi that although her father owned land in the Free State, he had no real interest in working it. Instead, he was determined to climb the corporate ladder. In fact, he never dreamed of one day renting 600 hectares of land.

“Following interaction with farmers [for whom] I was their financial adviser, that’s where I started to develop a love for agriculture,” he says. “In 2016, that’s when I really started to seriously consider getting into the agricultural business.”

Letsitsa successfully applied for state-owned land. “They bought me a 423-hectare farm, but at the time I relied on mentors to guide me because I lacked experience in day-to-day farming.”

Over time, he became more independent.

“From the initial farm I had, 123 hectares were for pasture while 300 hectares were arable. I started planting what I was advised to do and it went well. With the profits, I started buying used tractors and other important resources needed to make my life easier.

Happy Letsitsa produces some of the sunflowers used by a well-known margarine manufacturer. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Expand your territory

Letsitsa then expanded her agribusiness by renting more land from a neighbor who has retired.

His greatest chance, however, was to land a contract with FarmSol, a leading South African agricultural development organization.

He supplies them with maize while Sixalo, another company, relies on its sunflower oil which is used to make a well-known brand of margarine.

“The weather has been a very big challenge for me,” he says, speaking of some of the tough battles farmers face. “Climate change has really hit us. After years of drought, this year we received too much rain, which led to the destruction of some crops. »

Another major challenge is the poor road infrastructure in the Free State. And as if that weren’t enough, “dams and rivers overflow as soon as it rains. The drainage system is also a challenge. Escalating food, fertilizer and fuel costs make it difficult to hire more people. »

Currently, Letsitsa has seven full-time employees.

He says, “With the minimum wage [being enforced] and rising operating costs, it is even difficult to hire more staff. I don’t want to see myself laying off anyone but, on the contrary, I want to increase my workforce.

“Running a farm is not easy, Eskom also charges us a huge amount for electricity. As a farmer, safety is also important. So, there are many factors that keep me awake, but we continue to do our best.

Plus, he thinks a 30-year government lease is holding him back. If he was the rightful owner of the land, he could more easily accelerate the growth of his farming business.

High demand for future skills

Despite this, Letsitsa remains optimistic about the future. It encourages more young people to choose agriculture and also study this field in higher education institutions. In addition, he is available to share his knowledge with newcomers to the sector.

“I will encourage young people to get as much information as possible. Go to school and be equipped.

“We are in the fourth industrial revolution which is also important in the agricultural sector. We need competent people who can lead us towards precision agriculture. We need young people with relevant qualifications to get by.

In previous years, many foreign agricultural students as well as Free State University gained work experience on his farm.

“Learn as much as possible,” advises Letsitsa. “Have long-term plans and make sure you’re successful over a longer period of time. Don’t get excited about a big deal and think you’ve done it. Strive for more and be the change your community needs.

ALSO READ: Kgomotso’s farm trip is hot

Get stories of change: Inspirational stories from the people who feed Mzansi.