SAB puts a hops in emerging farmers’ step

South African Breweries (SAB) yesterday launched an R80-million agricultural research and development facility in Caledon in the Western Cape  which will pilot new farming techniques, technology and crop varieties to accelerate agricultural development in the country. 

The facility, which will have a critical focus on black emerging farmers, was officially launched in conjunction with the national department of agriculture and is one of the largest privately funded research and development facilities in South Africa.

All research output will be made freely available on a dedicated website, along with weather data, to ensure the benefits are spread as widely as possible to all farmers. Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Mcebisi Skwatsha, noted that agriculture and agro-processing industries played an important role in making a contribution towards economic growth, poverty alleviation and job creation. SAB’s efforts are an important part of this. 

The company said with micro-breweries, a malting plant and laboratory on-site to test and enhance new varieties of barley for making beer, the centre would open new opportunities for farmers to improve yield and profitability, and for brewers to enhance flavour in their beverages.

The space is designed for collaboration in order to co-create innovative solutions with partners, including the Agricultural Research Council. The centre will also test new farming techniques and varieties of all cereal crops grown in the region, including oats, barley, canola, and wheat to develop new standards in agricultural best practice and improve food security.

SAB director of agricultural development, Josh Hammann, explained that the R&D facility would test new practices, including the impact of eliminating the use of pesticides in one field and comparing the results with another field sprayed with pesticides, which would be too financially risky for a commercial farmer to try.

The centre will also conduct trials for input efficiency, irrigation, management, growth regulators and crop protectants to build a knowledge base for new and existing emerging and commercial farmers.

The R&D facility is part of a R610-million five-year investment in Agriculture, which is part of the R1-billion public interest commitments SAB made to the South African government at the time of its 2016 merger with AB InBev.

It is expected that SAB will exceed its initial target and commitment to reach 800 farmers in total by 2021 with the figure already close to 700 currently reached. By the end of last year, the emerging farmers' programme was ahead of schedule, with 684 farmers reached, 44% of them women and 15% youth. 

SAB said it had set itself a target to fully localise barley production by achieving a harvest of 425 000 tonnes by 2021 and to become a net exporter of hops.

Through agricultural support services company FarmSol, which was set up by SAB specifically for the task, SAB supports emerging farmers with zero-interest bearing loans and helps with procurement, mechanisation, advice and hedging of crops, while also entering into guaranteed offtake agreements which ensure a reliable income and sustainability of the farm. - African News Agency .

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