Sydney Qedumona Hlanguza from the Umvoti tribal area has been nominated by the NCT Forestry team as their Small Scale Tree Farmer of the Year for 2023.
This is a prestigious award presented annually to tree farmers who display excellence in the management of their plantations grown on tribal land.
After spending 20 years working in the formal sector, first as a teacher and then with Old Mutual’s sales division, Sydney returned to his traditional home in Ntembisweni in the Umvoto tribal area where he bought a plot situated adjacent to his family’s ancestral land.
Initially he managed a small rural trading store but was eventually persuaded to try his hand at forestry, initially planting wattle on his land from seed acquired from NTE.
By the time those first trees reached maturity, Sydney had made contact with NCT’s Greytown District Manager, Cliff Walton, who helped him find a market for the timber.
This was the start of a long-standing relationship between Sydney and NCT, with Sydney becoming a member of the co-op in 2010.
Sydney continued to plant wattle on his land, and now also manages the wattle plantations on the adjoining land owned by his two brothers. He has a total of three hectares of wattle under his management.
Sydney has been instrumental in assisting the foresters from NCT and NTE to roll out Project Wattle Regen in the Umvoti tribal areas, which aims to support the small-scale growers to improve their productivity, and expand the areas planted to wattle.
Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) is an ideal tree crop well suited to local conditions, and with ready markets nearby.
Most of the wattle timber grown in this area is marketed through NCT which has chipping and export facilities at the nearby port of Richards Bay. The wattle bark is marketed through NTE which has a factory near Greytown that turns freshly harvested wattle bark into tannin and adhesives, destined mainly for the export market. Wattle timber not marketed through NCT is also widely used by locals in many applications such as fencing posts and building material.
Sydney shared some of the many challenges he faces daily. Goats, cattle, and duiker breaking through his fences and seedlings being removed shortly after planting. Fire also is a constant threat and part of his management plan is making sure that he has good firebreaks during the winter months. He deals with challenges faced proactively and responds tactfully. He allows neighbours to collect firewood on his property in a controlled manner, this way he gains allies rather than enemies.
In addition to his forestry business, Sydney also runs a small side-business selling gas refills, lectures in Theology at a local Bible college, and is a speed-walking champion for good measure.
Sydney is a proud father of seven children. His older children are all in successful careers while he is still responsible for his last two who are both training to be teachers. Sydney’s wife works for the University of KwaZulu-Natal as an admin clerk.
He is a humble person who is always open to learning and improving. He considers himself a “student of life” and is always ready to take advice from people who know more about something than himself.
Conserving soil health for future generations
Terry and Belinda Wolhuter of 92 Farming (Pty) Ltd are NCT’s Commercial Tree Farmers of the Year for 2023.
Terry is the sixth generation of the Wolhuter family farming on Eiland Spruit Farm in New Hanover in the KZN midlands. The farm was established in 1851 by Mathys Wolhuter, and was historically utilised for raising cattle while crops were cultivated in the flatter areas.
It was Terry’s father, Peter Wolhuter, who started growing wattle on the steeper areas of the farm with sugar planted on the flatter areas.
The farm is 500ha in size and is currently planted with 250ha of sugar cane, 110ha of Acacia and 40ha of Eucalyptus. The remaining hectares are managed as open areas, valleys and waterways which are well maintained with seasonal work being done to ensure alien invasives are eradicated.
Terry is very aware of his responsibility as the custodian of the land and the importance of ensuring the viability of the farming operation for the next generation, so conservation of the natural resources - especially the soil - is of fundamental importance to his operational planning. Hence the move to ‘regenerative agriculture’. All timber compartments that are harvested are being re-established along the contours; cool burns are practiced to reduce the harvesting residues. This is only done when the weather conditions are conducive to a cool burn, and after the local community has removed firewood from the harvest sites.
Pesticide usage is kept to a minimum and weed control is done by means of line hoeing followed by a modified slasher that uses chains instead of blades. This creates a mulch in the inter-row that conserves moisture, reduces weed germination and protects the soil from sun, wind and heavy rain storm events. Terry uses his Nguni cattle to graze under the canopy thus reducing the fuel load for fire protection, and promoting weed control.
Regenerative agriculture in the sugar cane blocks is done by planting the fields due for re-establishment with a cover crop seed mix that includes Japanese Radish, Stooling Rye, Fescue grass and Oats. The resultant crop is used for grazing by the Ngunis – the manure they leave behind is a bonus for the soil. After this operation, maize is planted that is either sold or used for feed.
Terry is discovering the benefits of leaving a two-year fallow period between sugar cane crops which he says increases the microbial activity in the soil and results in improved growth when the sugar cane is replanted. Due to the current situation with more sugar cane being carried over than usual, Terry is feeding this to the Ngunis so these blocks are receiving an addition bonus of manure before the sugar cane ratoons or is planted with the cover crop.
Terry’s passion for his farm doesn’t stop at his adoption of regenerative agricultural operations. Innovation is what has assisted Terry in the timber operation, with the creation of a unique wattle seeder as well as a modified ripper with a duck’s foot that has improved stand survival and uniformity.
The wattle seeder, built by Terry’s mechanic Tewis, has reduced the quantity of seed used per hectare and created a uniform dense hedge of young wattle seedlings that are thinned 12 to 18 months after sowing to 2 500 SPHA and then down to 1 800 SPHA at 24 months. Where site conditions allow, conventional Acacia mearnsii (Black Wattle) seedlings are planted. This is where Terry’s ripper and duck’s foot combination comes to the fore. This piece of equipment creates a rip line, and the seedlings are planted into it after is has been marked to the correct espacement. The addition of the duck’s foot behind the ripper’s tine shatters the soil underneath the surface, while the suspended weight automatically closes up the rip line ensuring that soil moisture is not lost due to drying out. This replaces the conventional pit planting system.
Being a sugar cane grower and owning an earth moving business specialising in cane contouring and water way construction, Terry knows the importance of a well-maintained road infrastructure. All the main access roads throughout the farm are gravelled. Contour roads and water ways are all grassed to prevent erosion. Stream crossings are constructed with pipes and concrete so vehicles can cross easily and silting up of the streams is prevented.
A composting operation on the farm reduces the need to purchase synthetic fertilizers to boost growth of the sugar cane crops. Compost is made from a mixture of cane tops, Mila sourced from the local cane mill and chicken litter. The ingredients are mixed and left to break down into a healthy compost that enriches the soil and boosts growth.
Social responsibilities are as important as any other operation on the farm, and apart from assisting with firewood, Terry has loaned TLBs to the community and sponsored a local soccer team.
Terry he attributes the success of the farm to everyone working together, and he says it wouldn’t be the success that it is without the assistance of his wife, Belinda, especially when it comes to all the admin work.