André Compion of Farm Ghaub, situated in the middle of the Maize Triangle between Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi, was officially named the Master Agronomist for 2014 on Thursday 10 April 2014 at an event held on his farm. Compion was awarded the title for his white maize crop that has been cultivated under rain fed conditions by the Namibian Agronomic Board during the Annual General Meeting of the Namibian Agronomic Producers Association. He was nominated for the Master Agronomist title by the Grootfontein Farmers Association for the second consecutive year and selected from amongst other top-class finalists by a multi-stakeholder team led by the NAB.
In his welcome address to white maize producers from all over the country, Compion said, “It is an honour for me to host so many visitors from all over the country. Even more so, for somebody who is relatively new to the industry, it is a huge honour for me to be in the presence of experienced producers; farmers who have been awarded this title under even more challenging conditions than the previous production period. Thank you for the opportunity of being able to share my farm and some of my history with you.”
Compion’s eventual path to Ghaub was carefully crafted and his story is unique amongst his peers. After matriculating, he studied to become a pharmacist and owned two pharmacies in Windhoek for 7 years before embarking on a full time career in aviation. He was a part time cattle farmer on his very first farm, Omaha in the Okahandja District in 1987 which comprised 4 143 ha and reached a milestone in his farming career on his 45th birthday in 2005, when he awoke to having realised his dream of being a full time farmer. Ghaub presented itself as a farming opportunity in 2007 which he bought because he thought the transaction was right at the time and sold his other farming concerns in the Okahandja district to focus on new challenges there.
When he started the operation at Ghaub, Compion admits to knowing nothing about producing white maize and acknowledges with gratitude the help and advice that many of the experienced farmers in the area have given freely and without hesitation. He also sought advice from professional agricultural organisations such as Agra and Kaap Agri. He also says that one of the reasons that he plants white maize is because information is so readily available; on the internet, at farmers’ days, and from companies who distribute fertiliser, seed and pesticides. The commitment and attitude of the team at Ghaub also makes a huge difference to production and the success of the operation. Compion says, “My team don’t wear their watches when we start working in the field.”
On his journey to becoming a full time farmer, Compion acknowledges the unwavering support of family. His father has always given him unconditional support and his wife, Marelise is a huge stabilising influence on him. He says, “Last year, the only dark clouds on my farm was my outlook; the drought was catastrophic. My wife remained calm, relaxed and very supportive throughout.”
Compion believes in the principle of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts and translates the principle at Ghaub as the diversity of operations that complement each other. The farming operation at Ghaub comprises three primary synergistic components; cattle farming, a tourism and hunting operation and the production of white maize – both under rain fed conditions and under irrigation – beans and sorghum. Rain fed white maize is taken up by Namib Mills while and one of the main uses of the crop under irrigation is to produce feedlot for the cattle as they go to slaughter. Guestfarm Ghaub is a 22 bedroom establishment that focuses on the tourist operators, while the hunting activity is limited to just 6 trips per year. All the meat from those trips is fully utilised by the guest farm.
When he first started farming at Ghaub, he worked with the existing 132 ha on the farm. In 2013, he planted 500 ha but has reduced this area to just 200 ha in 2014 and 60 ha of sorghum because of last year’s drought. The yield of rain fed white maize over the past four years has been 4.11 tons/ha in 2010 to 4.4 tons in 2011 and 5.37 tons in 2012. Last year, he harvested 850kg per ha in one area and allowed the cattle into the rest to feed.
“Ghaub is a beautiful farm and gets good rain and I believe in managing it by paying close attention to; properly prepared fields for planting new crops, rows planted 90m apart for excellent plant population; proper soil classification and soil analysis with the aim of applying correct and adequate fertilisers, and staying abreast of potential problems in an effort to produce a healthy crop,” he states. He goes on to say, “I believe in 4 principles on my farm; financial planning and management, diversification, value adding and effectiveness.” He elaborated on each principle in detail. Because farming is a capital intensive and high risk activity, Compion spends an hour in the mornings before farming begins and two hours at the end of the day, budgeting for his cash flow, monitoring his income and expenses against his budget and trying to anticipate and plan for any potential problems. The diverse activities on the farm helps to mitigate and spread the risk while value adding optimises the income, and the approach to effectiveness is heavily focussed on ensuring that the right tools for the job are available and that they do the job well.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Compion has plans in place to meet a three year objective. His aims are:
to install a third pivot sprayer so that he has a total of 56ha under irrigation;
to erect a silo at Ghaub to create capacity for using more of his own grain to add value to his livestock;
to have a total of 1300 ha rain fed production; 1000 ha for white maize and 300 ha of rotational crops for producing his own feed; and
to debush as much as he possibly can to create grazing areas for his livestock, both natural and planted.
“I thank the Heavenly Father for the incredible privilege of being able to farm on my own property in Namibia. God created our country with this climate and its circumstances and if we want to be productive as farmers, we have to accept this,” commented Compion during his address. He went on to say, “We can farm with far greater effectiveness than in the past with all the technology, information and communication available to us that we could not dream of in the past; we can increase our production drastically by debushing, planting grazing areas and by practising prudent management; and, we can farm more intensively by incorporating feedlots, irrigation and using improved cultivars in our production.” He is intent on reaching the goals he has set for himself and looks forward to being able to host another day such as the Master Agronomist event on his farm again in the future. Compion also commended the Namibian Agronomic Board for creating a marketing environment – comprising stability, transparency and a consultative approach for producers – and expressed his hope that such a marketing environment will prevail and be sustained in Namibia for many years to come.
Ghaub is a catalyst for Andre Compion in realising his dreams. He has the energy, vision and drive to keep moving forward and improving the way he farms. In an interview given by Compion as a finalist for the 2013 Master Agronomist, he said, “I’ve got a wonderful piece of land in a beautiful part of the country and I am very grateful.” When asked whether he’ll ever get bored with farming, his enthusiastic response was, “Not here.”