Tragedy spurs family on in new beginning

Tragedy spurs family on in new beginning


Cropping News
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Despite tragedy hitting their family unit, a South African farming family have pushed on with their quest to make a new life in Australia.

THE tragedy of losing their husband and father just weeks before relocating from South Africa to Western Australia has only steeled the van de Velde family's determination to build a successful farming operation in their new country.

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The Australian flag flies proudly on Sam (left) and JP Van de Velde's seeding rig. The Van de Velde family moved to Wagin from South Africa in December to start a new farming life.

The Australian flag flies proudly on Sam (left) and JP Van de Velde's seeding rig. The Van de Velde family moved to Wagin from South Africa in December to start a new farming life.

This time last year, JJ and Sam van de Velde, their son JP (19) and two daughters Emma (18) and Grace (14), were looking forward to building a new life at the iconic Wagin property, Jaloran, which they bought in early 2018.

Political unrest and concerns about the future of farming in South Africa and their daughters' future job prospects prompted the van de Veldes to look overseas for new opportunities, with a view to setting up a farming life in another country.

"In South Africa things were becoming quite unstable and there was a concern about farm ownership and security, as well as our daughters reaching their time to start considering their futures," Sam said.

"I was once held up at gun point and it was then that we first felt the direct impact the changes in South Africa were making on our lives and although this was a few years ago, it stays with you.

"Once we started hearing more and more about the attacks and murders of farmers in and around our area and the talk in the government about changes that would affect us business wise, we started to make decisions on a Plan B – we needed to get out and do so while our farms were still worth something."

The van de Veldes went to look at Uruguay first and while it was a beautiful place and "phenomenal farming country" the fact they couldn't speak Spanish was a major barrier to starting a farm there.

"So we sat down and said 'It is not going to be Uruguay but we still want to leave', so we looked at the world map and decided on WA," Sam said.

"JJ and JP had always been big fans of big machinery and big hectares and we thought we could get that in WA.

"So I came over with a cousin of mine to look first and I said to JJ 'I think you would like it' and so it was decided, a few visits to Australia together, meeting the right people and buying our farm.

"Jaloran was the first and only farm we looked at in WA, it had everything we wanted and the location was great so we decided there was no point looking any further."

They made an offer on Jaloran in early 2018 and that was accepted but it still took longer than they thought to make the move out of South Africa.

"We did everything the wrong way around," Sam said.

"We bought this farm and then applied for our visas and put our farms on the market.

"We battled to sell our farms in South Africa and then we had to wait for our visas to be approved."

The visas were approved and everything was on track for the family to move but, in a cruel twist of fate, JJ was involved in an accident and tragically lost his life three weeks before they were set to go.

Sam said despite the heartache, the family never really considered not moving to WA.

"We didn't really sit down and discuss whether we should move or not after JJ's accident, the ball was rolling and I think the decision to keep going came naturally," she said.

"Everything was set up, JP was initially going to study agriculture at Murdoch but decided that he would rather farm and as long as he was capable, there was no doubt about what we could do."

This year is the first crop the van de Veldes will put in on Jaloran.

JP said he was blown away with the amount of support and advice they have had from neighbours and others in the industry since they arrived.

"Landmark and Steve Wright and Byfields and Dale Woodruff, in particular, have been super and really helped us a lot," he said.

"We have also had great support from our neighbours such as the Ward, Harrington, English and Hall families and many other people.

"The level of assistance we have had has been overwhelming and probably something that you don't see as much of in South Africa."

The main Jaloran property was 1000 hectares and the Van de Veldes also had a long-term lease which took their total operation size to 4500ha.

JP said while he was learning how to farm in WA conditions, they were starting off small with a 1700ha cropping program and had leased the rest of the cropping land out.

Seeding started two weeks ago and the program would be made up of barley, oats and canola as well as some clover to regenerate pasture paddocks for a newly acquired sheep flock.

Due to the season they have pulled out 150ha of canola and will replace that with a hay crop and their program will now comprise 320ha of TT canola, 590ha of Planet and Spartacus barley and 550ha of Bannister oats.

JP said it would take time to get used to farming in a new environment, with Wagin completely different to their farming land in South Africa.

"We farmed in a very lush green area in a 1500mm rainfall zone two hours from Durban," he said.

"We ran a mostly cropping operation growing seed potatoes, maize and soybeans – all summer crops because the majority of our rain fell in the summer over there."

JP admits that farming in WA was always going to be a steep learning curve, but he felt his upbringing and the knowledge his father passed onto him would help him with the transition.

"JJ was from the Netherlands originally and moved to South Africa in his early 20s," Sam said.

"We met and got married and decided to settle in my home town, Nottingham Road, and bought a farm there.

"JJ was a very innovative farmer, he was very keen on research and running trials and I think that has rubbed off on JP.

"From as early as he could walk, JP was out on the farm with his dad and working with him and so he has had a good teacher and that is why we had the confidence to carry on and build on this legacy that JJ started."

JP said while the move would have been a lot easier with his Dad around, the help and support he has had so far had made it easier.

"Dad knew a lot about farming and it would have been great to start this new life with him but he had been over here a couple of times before his accident and he put a plan in place and we had a good idea of what to expect so that has helped," he said.

"I am learning everything fresh, but I am happy to start off small and build up our operation steadily and when I feel I am comfortable I can then try some different things.

"So far there hasn't been any major hiccups or surprises with seeding so that has been good."

One large difference between South African and WA farming operations was the labour component.

"We don't have the workers here that we had in South Africa," JP said.

"We bought our mechanic over with us and it is just the two of us putting in the 1700ha program.

"In South Africa we would have 10 workers putting in 700ha, so it is completely different.

"But the equipment capacity here is on a larger scale and in South Africa we had hands, here you have steel."

JP said it had probably helped him not having to rely on numerous workers.

"Here I can get on and do what I need to do each day. In South Africa I would have spent more time managing the workers and not actually getting out and doing things as much myself," he said.

"At first it was daunting thinking I had to do so many hectares each day, but the bigger machinery we use here is a benefit."

Machinery is one thing that JP is quite passionate about.

With his Dutch background, his father was very keen on Dutch-built machinery and they used to import a lot of it into South Africa.

"We sold as much of our machinery as we could in South Africa before we came over but we did bring two tractors with us that we had imported from the Netherlands," JP said.

"We also brought over a spreader and imported a new boomsprayer from the Netherlands to Australia to use here.

"Our bar and bin were bought when we arrived here."

JP is obviously proud of the boomsprayer.

"It is a CHD trailed sprayer that holds 14,000 litres with a 39 metre boom," he said.

"It is a tandem axle steer with sensors that adjust to the terrain and it is probably the only one of its kind in WA.

"Dad went to the CHD factory and had this sprayer custom designed for us to use here, so it is built to his specifications and was fully built when we imported it.

"The neighbours reckon I might get it bogged more than their self-propelled units, but we will see."

They say another big difference between farming in Australia and South Africa is the level of government support.

Sam said they found it strange that farmers in Australia didn't think they had that much help from the government.

"We have found the agriculture department here a huge plus," she said.

"With all due respect to South Africa, there was nowhere near as much research or support happening as there is here.

"The department of ag website has heaps of information on it and there are lots of available resources that we have accessed.

"JJ was very involved in research and trials that he set up with himself and McCains and Pepsico for potatoes, and Pannar and Pioneer with the soya and maize seed, and there is lots of that happening here and it is really interesting.

"You want to be innovative in farming and not get stuck in your ways and that is the way JP's father farmed and JP is following in his footsteps."

Adding in a sheep flock to their farming operation is also a new step for the Van de Veldes.

Sam said farming in South Africa taught them the importance of not putting all of their eggs in one basket.

"We used to get huge hail storms where we farmed and everything would be wiped out in one hit," she said.

"We had insurance, but it was still quite devastating to see what you had worked on flattened and it taught us that you need to spread your risk."

"We used to run some cattle in South Africa, but we never ran sheep because there was too much theft over there," JP said.

"We bought 600 Merino ewes this year and will look to increase numbers each year.

"We are planting some aerial clover that we will harvest for seed and spread over the pasture paddocks.

"This farm has quite a lot of flat land and saltbush and it has always been run as a sheep farm, so it was a no brainer to run sheep on it."

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