Young, determined and making a regenerative plan!

One should not confuse Bartho Smit’s young age with the deep knowledge and experience this young farmer has amassed and is putting into his farming practices.

Bartho grew up on his father’s farm in the Eastern Free State and has been testing out his farming practices since he was just seven years old, when his father offered him a small patch of land to farm wheat. He recalls that he couldn’t understand why his patch of soil lacked living creatures, was barren and ‘dead’, yet when he dug in his mother’s flower beds around the house, there were earthworms. When, at the age of nine, he progressed to 5ha, he decided to use sheep manure on his fields (like his mom on her flower beds). The results were excellent and Bartho’s curiosity regarding farming practices were ignited.

During his formative years as a farmer, Bartho was introduced to Barenbrug (seed producers) and began learning more about regenerative farming and sustainability.

‘You should learn something every day before you go to bed’ Bartho says. This is definitely his philosophy and practice. Bartho is also a man of deep faith, and he speaks with conviction as he explains that he believes we have been given this life and this planet and we should respect and appreciate what we have been given.
‘This planet is our responsibility’ he states.

When Bartho began farming on a larger scale, he noticed that one of the biggest issues on farmland is the rows and rows of damage as a result of water and wind erosion, resulting in ruts in the fields. Together with the ongoing mid-season droughts in the Free State, a farmer can often end up with only five good years of farming in a 7-to-10-year cycle. Bartho decided to rather try a different approach to conventional practices. He currently feeds the soil with manure, compost and lime (as there is a shortage of lime in his soil). Without the lime, excess Magnesium hardens the soil which results in farmers having to till. However, with the right biostimulants, decreased pesticide and chemical use, Bartho has managed to turn a field around after just one season, from ‘waaisand’ to healthy and productive soil.

Bartho uses the example of an orphaned lamb (‘hanslam’) to describe the difference between conventional farming and regenerative practices. An orphaned lamb needs to be fed by the bottle, and that lamb becomes completely dependent on you, the human, to feed it and meet its needs – it never becomes a fully independent sheep and can be quite sickly too. Compared to a naturally reared lamb, which is fed by its mother and quickly becomes independent. The soil of a conventional farm is like a ‘hanslam’, it requires ongoing input. However, a microbe filled soil requires good inputs early on, but then it is able to generate its own nutrition – ‘I look after the microbes, not the plant’ explains Bartho. He uses biological seed treatments and bio stimulants in furrow versus foliar applications. This approach has resulted in far sturdier plants that are able to withstand changing weather patterns

In addition, Bartho has taken up the ‘no till’ and “minimum-till” mantle as he believes in the need to feed and support microbes. He calls this a ‘new era of farming’, yet, putting it into practice is often very challenging. Despite all the knowledge he has amassed, he still experiences a number of problems. One being working on a rented field, building up the natural microbes in the soil and then having it taken away by the landowner, only for the owner to reap the benefits of all of Bartho’s regenerative practices – which takes time. Bartho also always opts for a winter cover crop plus compost and has had good results for the past five seasons. The challenge is managing his planting schedule for his winter cover crops (post soy harvest), in addition to the challenges of rain/no rain. At the same time, he needs to plant his maize as early as possible in order to maximize his yields.

Another challenge he wants to overcome is access to cattle. Cover crops are excellent feed for cattle, and cattle are high density grazers, perfect for improving soil health. However, it’s difficult to finance cattle and Bartho is still trying to find a way to solve this issue.

Despite all the challenges, Bartho believes that regenerative farming should be like a factory – efficient, and each stage of the farming process should run optimally. If the soil microbes are working optimally, then you have good soil, and good soil leads to healthy plants. His in-furrow application is a combination of PopUp, Real Bacillus and Calsap, which he says offers him real ‘bang for his buck’. Furthermore, Bartho currently uses 25% less fertilizer than the surrounding areas and he has had the same if not better yields. Lower inputs, higher yields… makes cents (actually it makes many Rands!). Bartho is an extremely inspiring young farmer with a vision for improved farming practices and leaving the world in a better state than he found it. We are honoured to share his journey with him and look forward to witnessing all his exciting plans bearing fruit in the future.