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Corn+Soybean Digest

Are We Luckier Than We Think?

Thanksgiving is the ideal time to take stock of a few things we're thankful for. Better yet, make it count even more and tell someone — out loud — what you're particularly thankful for right now.

Sure, some parts of your life or farming operation could be better. If not, there wouldn't be a challenge to look forward to. But things could always be much more difficult — always.

Take for example the farmers I visited on a recent trip to South Africa. Although they're smart, productive and innovative, they want for the advantages and everyday conveniences we almost take for granted here in the U.S. (Incidentally, they have no government support programs.)

I was lucky enough to travel to several parts of the country, which would about fit into the states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Although South Africa is only 4% of Africa's landmass, it's home to half of that continent's population, or about 45 million people.

In the breadbasket area of the country of the Free State, or central South Africa, it's estimated there are 9,000 white farmers and 90,000 emerging black farmers. Only 30% are educated. Corn, or maize, is their base crop, and it's mostly used for food in a white, dry porridge called pap. Sixty-two percent of the population in this province is classified as poor.

As you may recall, apartheid ended there 10 years ago and the country has been in a transitional economy ever since.

That's also when senseless attacks against farmers began. Unheard of here, farmers and their families there are being brutally murdered. In fact, in the last 10 years 1,500 farmers have been killed and there have been more than 24,500 assaults.

The majority of attacks have been against whites, says farmer Bennie Van Zyl, who claims the attacks are “professional, almost like they're trained military men.” Only 11% of all murders are solved.

Consequently, when I arrived at J.T. Botma's farm, the house and garage perimeter was completely fenced by 10-ft. tall high-voltage wires. Although he normally keeps gates open during the day, they're closed at night, electricity is turned on and the rottweilers are set loose.

During the day, he and his family remain cautious. He has 10 employees who help operate the 1,700-hectare (4,250 acres) farm, mostly planted to corn, soybeans and sunflowers. They all stay alert, all the time. Guards are even posted around different points on the farm in case of unwanted visitors.

Nearly every farmer I talked to had a horrific story about a neighbor who had been murdered. Almost every farmer also had a high-security system.

As you'd imagine, I was shocked. Most U.S. rural families still brag that they rarely lock their homes at night, let alone flip a switch to some deadly high-voltage security system.

Still, the South African farmers' energy and optimism overshadow the dangers they contend with every day. They're thankful and proud to be farming the land they love.

Often, it takes a new experience to give us a fresh perspective on what we already have. Let's all look for some of those new experiences.

Happy Thanksgiving.
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Sign Up For MarketMaxx

Now's the time to try out your marketing skills by signing up for our new online fantasy grain game called MarketMaxx.

The game allows you to make trades on 100,000 bu. of corn and 50,000 bu. of soybeans throughout the marketing year ending Oct. 31, 2005.

For all the details, including prizes like the use of a combine or tractor, go to

Good luck.

Tillage Conference Feb. 8-9

Plan on attending the Conservation Tillage Conference & Expo Feb. 8-9, 2005, at the Ramkota Hotel in Sioux Falls, SD. It's a jam-packed two-day event with presentations on pests, soil fertility, tillage systems and much more. There's even a trade show.

For more details, go to or call 800-722-5334, ext. 4698. This magazine is a sponsor of the event, so I look forward to seeing you there.

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