Niel Wilke of Glentana Farm near Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape has been announced as the greenest dairy farmer in the country. Niel is the fifth winner of the Milk Producers Organisation (MPO) Nedbank Stewardship Award 2023 at the MPO’s Annual General Meeting at Nampo Cape on Wednesday 13 September.
This award recognises dairy farmers who are exemplary stewards of their farming enterprises, which means they address sustainability while paying attention to protection of natural resources, fair and ethical treatment of their workers and animals, producing a safe, healthy product, while also farming profitably.
The other three finalists include Dian Landman from the Eastern Cape, Coenraad Basson from the Western Cape, and Shaun van Huyssteen from KwaZulu-Natal.
“It was extremely difficult to select a winner from the four – they all love what they do,” said MPO chief executive Fanie Ferreira. “They are committed to this journey and their approach to their staff is nothing short of inspirational. In the end, it was Niel’s approach to staff development that clinched the award for him.”
According to Fanie, it was clear that Niel is passionate about the importance of creating an environment where every team member can take true ownership of what has been entrusted to him or her. “Niel believes that the farm belongs to each employee as much as it does to him. They are all working together to achieve the shared goal of growing their business. Employee development is a crucial part of sustainable farming, and it is obvious that Niel manages this successfully.”
Winner of the MPO Nedbank Stewardship Award 2023 Niel Wilke, Daneel Rossouw and Fanie Ferreira.
Sustainability is profitable
Niel farms with about 2 700 dairy animals in the Somerset East area in the Eastern Cape.
According to Niel, they have been farming sustainably for the past ten years and feel that they are the stewards of the land.
“We want to empower people, take the dairy industry forward, provide healthy food and provide a future for next generations.”
He accepted the nomination because he wants to show other farmers that farming sustainably is better for all as it improves the financial viability of farms.
The farm is part of the community and depend on the people and he wants to get the best out of them and develop them as individuals. It is not about the farm; it is about the people and how they can motivate each other.
Sustainability started with putting carbon in the soil by planting more and better grass, which makes the farm profitable. “Sustainability makes farming more profitable,” he declares. It helps to manage your business in a more efficient way, which causes long-term sustainability to be viable.
To make the enterprise more sustainable, the whole farm is under self-pressure pipeline, which makes them non-reliant on Eskom. They also installed a solar system, which helps reduce carbon emissions by not using diesel fuel on the farm. Sustainability is constantly measured, and they are implementing changes as they go. “As the environment change, we must also adapt and change.”
He is of the opinion that Nedbank and the MPO help the agricultural sector through farm visits, helping with systems and financing, which contributes to long-term sustainability. “We can’t be financially sustainable without the support of Nedbank. The MPO supports and helps on a daily basis with better practices and the latest technology and innovations.”
Niel believes sustainable farming is about being a custodian for future generations.
“Our stewardship journey started with paying attention to soil health,” he explained.
“Optimising our soil health led to healthier feed, which resulted in healthier and happier cows. This ultimately reduced costs in terms of inputs and transport.
“The financial viability of farming sustainably is the biggest and most immediate benefit, but it’s about sustainability and resilience in all its forms. Empowering staff to truly be partners in your endeavours is very much part of that.”
Niel Wilke from Glentana Farm in Somerset East was the winner of this year’s MPO Nedbank Stewardship Award.
Daneel Rossouw, Head of Sales for Agriculture at Nedbank Commercial Banking, says this is the fifth year Nedbank has sponsored the award, which is in line with the bank’s commitment to mitigating climate change.
“Climate change is one of the defining systemic issues of the 21st century. Without urgent, unprecedented action and cooperation from all stakeholders, prospects for economic development, food security and societal well-being are expected to deteriorate,” says Daneel.
“Failure to address climate change will commit the African continent to a much more challenging and less prosperous future as Africa is highly exposed to physical impacts and often lacks the capacity to respond to them.”
Daneel said this reality underpins much of what they support at Nedbank. Strategically. “We aim to not only be good with money, but more importantly – to do good with it. This sponsorship strongly reflects that.”
He says Nedbank believes it has a significant role to play in helping the agricultural sector evolve to a more efficient and productive model through sustainable business practices.
“Climate change, soil health, water efficiency and renewable energy are key focus areas. We have created innovative financial products designed to support our clients with sustainable farming interventions.”
‘However, we believe that our role goes beyond simply financing the transition. We use our financial expertise and understanding of the sector to raise awareness about climate risk and the business case for sustainable farming. Our sponsorship of these awards, which recognise and reward farmers who are adopting industry best practices, is also about raising awareness.
“Our sponsorship objectives are to recognise and reward the climate-smart practises that are successfully applied on each farm; to share this knowledge and these successes with others. It also aims to create greater awareness about climate change among dairy farmers, which will equip them with the knowledge they need to farm climate-smart – and to do it in a way that promotes excellent stewardship,” he concluded.