During the Africa Wide Extension Week, 2017, in Durban, South Africa, AFAAS and UFAAS team participated in visiting Karkloof farm located in uMngeni municipality. Britt and Rene Stubbs bought the farm in 1986 for beef and maize production. He decided to develop the farm into a dairy farm. Maize, soybeans, potatoes and carrots were planted using conventional cultivation methods. The total size of the farm is 790ha and situated in an area with an average rainfall of 1150mm/year.

The conventional cultivation methods would always weaken and expose soil to wind and water erosion. It would also come along with serious wear and tear on the equipments used in the farm which would be costly to replace. The eroded soils from the farm due to wind and soil erosion could, in most cases pollute Karkloof river, one of the main sources of water in uMngeni through formation of soil sediments. This situation prompted Mr. Stubbs to investigate and convert to conservation agricultural practices that would reduce or wouldn’t expose soil to wind and water erosion. He started new practices in the farm like no-till planting of maize silage, from 1986. The dairy operation started with 60 cows for milk production.

Currently, the farm is operating with over 1000 Holstein dairy cows with the state of the art infrastructure. He also practices dairy in another farm he has set up at Nottingham road. Dairy in his farm is practiced from a no till fodder/pasture base system comprising of;

  • Growing rain fed maize silage in summer (planted into a winter grain cover crop-stooling rye)
  • Grazing a kikuyu/rye grass (perennial and annual)/clover/chicory mixture. Produced on dry land that is under irrigation

The well laid out dairy infrastructure consists of; an 80-point turning milking unit, a roofed shed, closed barn and roofed handling facility, roofed feed pad and calf rear unit.

All manure is collected into seepage pits with the solids spread by manure spreader and the liquids administered through centre pivots. He vaccinates regularly against Lumpy skin disease and rift valley diseases.

He currently harvests 15.5tons/ha of maize silage. During the month of September, he spreads lime containing fertilizers to reduce the acidity of the soil. During this same month, the cover crops are often sprayed with glyphosphate herbicide. During the month of October, maize is planted using a no till disc planter. A pre-emergence herbicide is also sprayed after planting. After three weeks of planting, post emergence herbicides are used and fungicides after a month. Kikuyu grass is integrated with rye grass for grazing of animals and make silage of excess.

The farm is now managed by Mr. Nick Stubbs, son of Mr. Rene Stubbs who was introduced to farm management at the age of 10 years by his father. He’s been involved in farm activities and applies much of the experiences he has gained from being involved in farm activities with his father. He’s a graduate of BSc. Agricultural Mechanization and barely applies what was taught in class. The farm now employs 46 youths (male and female), led by Mr. Nick Stubbs.

Each cow produces 7000 litres of milk per lactation cycle and the inter-calving period for each is 405 days. The average cow productive lifetime is 3 lactations and a mature one can weigh about 560 Kg. Every animal in the farm wears a computer collar which allows for monitoring of each animal’s activity.

However, it’s difficult for him to assess the environmental costs from use of glyphosphate herbicide as some people point out that its not environmentally friendly. ‘We have changed from ploughing to use of herbicides like glyphosphate and the returns have increased tremendously compared to the past when we were using conventional methods like ploughing’ he noted.

There is need for more research on the environmental costs from use of agro-chemicals like glyphosphate. This will require concerted efforts from both public and private stakeholders in agricultural extension so us to design policies that provide a conducive environment for farmers in using such agro-chemicals.