NCT acknowledges Top Tree Farmers for 2014

November 30, 2014

Two family-owned and run farms have taken top honours in the 2014 NCT Tree Farmer of the Year Awards.

NCT’s top tree farmers for 2014, Neville Schefermann (left) and Alfred Khoza.
Beautifully kept Alford farm in Vryheid, with maize, grassland and timber.
Part of Alfred Khoza’s 26 ha of eucalyptus, grown in small patches on communal land, Zululand.

In the commercial category, Alford Farms, located near Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal and owned by the Schefermann family, took top honours, while Alfred Khoza (Senzakahle Trading Enterprise) outside Mtubatuba in northern Zululand was awarded the winner in the category of a farm managed on communal land.
The winners were recognised for their excellence in sustainable plantation management which earned them a place on the exclusive list of achievers in tree farming.

Keeping it in the family
The NCT Tree Farmer of the Year in the commercial farm category is Alford Farm, owned by the Schefermann family. Management of the farm, which is situated near Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has recently been handed over from Trevor to Neville Schefermann, the 4th generation of the Schefermann’s to be involved in the business.

The original farm of 555 ha was purchased in 1931 by Trevor’s grandfather. Trevor subsequently expanded the operation by buying two adjoining farms. The current land area is 1 294, which includes 214ha of leased land.

Approximately one third of the land that they manage is under plantations consisting of 219ha wattle, 96ha pine and about 35ha of eucalyptus. 145ha is cultivated for maize production and 150ha as planted pastures. The remainder of the area is managed as extensive grasslands and used for grazing their cattle.

Alford farm is renowned for their breeding stud herd which produces a three-way cross between Simmentaler, Afrikaners and Sussex breeds. They also run a beef herd which produces wieners for annual sales.

Timber compartments are planted to species best suited to the site conditions, with the pine being planted largely in frosty areas. Wattle is planted on sites where less severe frost occurs, or as strategic fire breaks. These plantations are managed to produce a variety of products including sawlogs, pulpwood, bark and firewood. Exceptional silviculture practices ensure that the mature plantations are of a high quality producing good yields for the area.

The business is managed entirely by the family with 26 permanent staff employed to assist with running the farm. The only operations that are outsourced are the harvesting and stripping of bark.

The NCT citation notes that the farm complies with all the broad principles of good land stewardship including legal compliance and implementation of best operational practice.

Notable features of the operation include the following:

One of the farms that was bought comprised 306 ha of wattle jungle, which was rehabilitated and transformed into a productive plantation area in the space of six years. This was achieved through lining out a grid of compartments with a rectangular road system, thinning existing salvageable jungle into straight lines and clearing and replanting the worst areas. Today this farm is a productive, weed free plantation operation.

All valleys have been delineated, exotic timber has been removed and the areas rehabilitated with riparian vegetation.

The system of veld management is highly effective and productive. Trevor talks about being a ‘grass’ farmer rather than a cattle farmer. The grasslands are divided into camps and grazing is carefully managed to maintain species diversity. Veld is carefully monitored and burnt every three to four years when it starts to become moribund.

Neville has developed a productive harvesting system with his neighbours which involves sharing resources. The three partners in the consortium pool their wattle bark quota to achieve a combined bark tonnage of 70 tons/week. A contractor is paid on the tonnage of bark stacked in field (this involves harvesting and stripping). The consortium then share their equipment to get product to depot and market. The system has resulted in improved efficiencies and big cost savings.

Due to the high frost risk in the area, wattle has traditionally been established using the natural regeneration system. However, Neville is experimenting with different methods to try and improve the genetics of the wattle on the farm, and reduce costs. This involves shallow ripping, planting seedlings early and allowing natural regeneration to develop as a ‘frost shield’ around the young seedlings. Surviving seedlings are then selected after the first winter and the excess natural regeneration is removed.

The Schefermann farming operation is a shining example of a successful, family-run enterprise. Foresight, implementation of best operating practices and excellent communication have been the basis for their success.

Building a business around forestry on communal land
Alfred Khoza hails from KwaMnqobokazi reserve under the chieftaincy of Ngwane. He joined NCT in 1994, later establishing Senzakahle Trading Enterprise CC in 2008.

Alfred developed an interest in forestry while working for corporate growers as a supervisor for 15 years. Eventually he decided to venture out on his own and established his own small plantation. He says he chose forestry ahead of other land uses because he believed the input costs were lower and that the rate of return would be relatively high. He also believed that – despite the long rotation – forestry carried a lower risk than sugar cane.

Alfred’s choice in pursuing forestry plus the years of hard work has paid off, and he is now the proud owner of some 26ha of eucalyptus timber plantation and he is planning to expand even further. Forestry has provided the platform for him to broaden his business – he currently owns 48 rooms (for renting) at Kwa Msane. He owns a tractor and trailer and has been able to build a decent house for his family.

He says he has benefitted immensely from his membership of NCT through acquiring technical knowledge about forestry through workshops and field days as well as logistical assistance in getting his timber to the mill, and market access.

Alfred employs 28 people to help him run his forestry business. His wife, Lindiwe, serves as manager of operations and his daughter is a clerk.

Alfred discs the land before planting to improve the effective rooting depth of the seedlings which ensures better survival and growth of the seedlings. He says that this operation breaks down the soil and allows for better root penetration.

He used this method when he recently planted C. henryi seedlings at 3m x 2m espacement. The plants are showing signs of good, early growth because they were planted on a well prepared site.

Alfred generally does a manual ring weed in his young compartments, and also applies a chemical spray. To protect his trees from wildfires he disced a 3.5m strip around his compartments as part of fire protection and prevention strategy. He also fenced around all his recently planted seedlings to protect them from cattle damage.

Father and son team of Trevor and Neville Schefermann, top commercial tree farmers.
Young wattle trees get the best possible start on Alford farm.
Loading timber on Alford farm.
Cattle and timber … the Schefermanns have found the right balance on their farm.
Alfred Khoza has built up a business around 26ha of eucalyptus grown on communal land in Zululand.
Part of Alfred Khoza's plantation.

*Published in August 2014

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