In a departure from livestock-dependent practices, Southern Cape of South African no-tiller Jacobus Human has fully embraced conservation agriculture, a legacy passed down by his father, Jack Human. Jack’s unwavering commitment to sustainable farming practices has since revolutionized agriculture, proving that change can begin with a single seed of innovation.

On the Eerstekop farm in Swellendam, Food For Mzansi strolled through his fields of canola, wheat, and barley. It soon became clear that Jacobus is not just a farmer; he is a custodian of a family tradition deeply rooted in the land.

Jacobus’s journey in conservation farming traces back to his grandfather, who purchased the Boskop farm in 1946. His father, Jack, joined his grandfather in 1970 and embarked on pioneering conservation farming efforts in 1982. In 1981, Jack acquired Eerstekop, located adjacent to the family farm, where Jacobus now carries the torch.

Laingsburg Floods – A Turning Point

The catalyst for their conservation journey was the devastating Laingsburg flood of 1981. The flood exposed the vulnerabilities of traditionally plowed fields, leading to significant soil erosion. Witnessing this environmental disaster, Jack realized that change was imperative.

Jacobus reminisced about those challenging times, “With the Laingsburg flood, it rained a lot here as well, and because the fields were still cultivated at that time, the water eroded a lot of the topsoil and washed it away.”

This moment of reckoning led to a shift in farming practices. Jacobus continued, “He saw that the plowed land had been completely washed away. The land worked with the tooth implement eroded less. And the stubble fields didn’t erode at all.”

However, this transition wasn’t smooth. Initially, the community criticized Jack for deviating from conventional farming practices. Jacobus explained, “That initial period was difficult for him because it was something new. Everyone criticized him. You have to remember, he was doing something nobody had done before.”

But Jack persevered, believing in the long-term benefits of conservation farming. Jacobus recalled, “He saw results in the first dry year, which was in 1984. It was just two years later when things started running smoothly. In 1986 and 1988, there were even more advantages.”

Commitment to Soil Health & Sustainability

Jacobus’s own dedication to conservation farming is evident in his commitment to a 100% crop rotation system without any livestock or lucerne. This sustainable approach has improved soil structure, increased organic content, and conserved moisture, making farming viable even in dry years. As we stood in a barley stubble field, Jacobus explained the significance of crop residues, “The crop residues are left on the ground to keep the soil cool in the summer and conserve moisture. With the cooler soil, there’s less evaporation, so we carry the moisture from the summer over to the winter, allowing us to have good yields in dry years.”

His commitment to soil health and sustainability extends beyond no-till farming. Jacobus has embraced precision farming, incorporating chicken manure, cattle manure, and compost into his practices. His dedication to improvement remains unwavering, even as he looks to the future of conservation farming.

When asked about the future of conservation farming, Jacobus mentioned the emergence of regenerative agriculture, cover crops, and no-till planters. He acknowledged the need for continual adaptation and innovation, stating, “So, there are definitely still new things that will be implemented and offer benefits in the future.”

Vision & Change

Jacobus’s story is not just one of agricultural innovation; it’s a testament to the enduring impact of a father’s vision and the courage to pioneer change. He carries forward his father’s legacy, building upon a foundation of sustainability, resilience and a deep connection to the land.

Jacobus reflected on the privilege of continuing his father’s work, “It puts me in a position where in a region that was risky and high-risk for cultivation 40 years ago, I can now sow 100% of my land and fully benefit from conservation farming.”

Today, he stands as a beacon of hope for the future of sustainable farming in the Western Cape, reminding everyone that sometimes, all it takes is one person with a vision to revolutionize an industry.
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Since 1991, Martin Industries has designed, manufactured and sold leading agriculture equipment across the U.S. and Canada. Known for Martin-Till planter attachments, the company has expanded to include a five-step planting system, closing wheel systems, twisted drag chains, fertilizer openers and more in their lineup. Their durable and reliable planter attachments are making it possible for more and more farmers to plant into higher levels of residue.

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