Women making strides in Agriculture
‘I always knew I was going to be a farmer since I was 14 years old’
Despite enduring capital challenges, gender stereotyping and long periods of drought, Salomè Scholtz says she doesn’t imagine herself doing anything else.
While other girls in her community wanted to become ballerinas and go to university, 24-year-old Salomè Scholtz, from a small farming town in the North West province, wanted to be a farmer.
“When I was around 14 years old, I always told people I want to be a farmer. When all the other girls wanted to be ballet dancers, I wanted to be farmer,” says Scholtz, from Stella, near Vryburg and Mahikeng.
“I remember quite clearly I was saving up money to buy myself a pair of veld shoes. So one Friday afternoon I went to Vryburg with my mom and I told her I’m going to buy the vellies. I took them off the shelf and the owner laughed and said those shoes aren’t for girls. I told him I’m going to be a farmer one day and he cracked laughing. He told me women can’t farm.
"That was the moment I realized I’m forever going to hear that comment. I bought my vellies, smiled, said thanks and told him I WILL be a farmer and he should always remember this day.”
A decade later Scholtz has a large herd of Brahman and Simmental cattle and was even recognised as an exceptional farmer by the Beefmaster Group.
A steadfast focus
Scholtz, the youngest of three children, used to watch her hardworking father, Evert Scholtz (senior), work tirelessly every single day. He successfully ran his farm, Mara, between Vryburg and Stella. And even though her peers underestimated her when she broke the news that she wanted to be a farmer, she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else.
“Seeing cows and being on the farm keeps me going, I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says.
Scholtz was born into a working-class family and attended Stella High. She never attended university, but rather chose to join her dad and her second-oldest brother, 30-year-old Evert junior, in the family farming business.
Any doubts that she may have had about her career choice vanished when her father helped her to buy her first livestock in 2015.
“My dad helped me buy my first cows when I was 19 and that’s when it all started,” she says. Scholtz has since grown a considerable herd of Brahman and Simmental, despite having suffered capital challenges, long periods of drought and coming up against gender stereotypes. “The biggest challenge I faced was, I guess, every young person’s challenge and that was capital. My dad helped me more than I could ever imagine. But still, the challenge pushed me to think outside the box. So I started to help people who were looking to buy cattle (being the middle woman and making a small commission on every deal),” she says.
‘I DON’T MIND BEING IN A ‘MAN’S WORLD’ AS LONG AS I CAN BE A WOMAN IN IT,’ – SALOMÈ SCHOLTZ
She also endured one of the longest drought periods in the region. “It was tough for me,” she says. “To see humans and animals suffering. I was depressed most of the time because I had no power to help more than I did. But we survived it and I didn’t lose any animals, except for those I sold to keep the best,” she says.
Scholtz says that she is “extremely grateful” for the 2019 and 2020 rainfall. It has been one of the best rain seasons since she started on the farm.
Even though she has taken great steps in the agricultural sector as a young female farmer she feels that women are still being underestimated in the agri-space and they deserve to be respected more.
“Unfortunately, as a young woman in agriculture people still underestimate me and other women who are only trying their best on the farms. It is not a male dominated sector anymore and I don’t mind being in a ‘man’s world’ as long as I can be a woman in it,” she says.
She has also learned the hard way that words alone mean nothing. “It’s all about actions. People have promised me so many things, but in the end I had to do it myself. I must say I’m very grateful for those lessons.”
The young farmer has already made a name for herself in the cattle industry. In 2019 she was the first Beefmaster Group cattle farmer of the month. The main objective of the Beefmaster Cattle Breeders Society of South Africa is to produce the most high-quality meat at the lowest cost. The breeding and management program that is followed is based on nature’s oldest law: “Survival of the fittest.” Upon selection six economically important traits are required: fertility, temperature, weight, conformation, hardiness and milk production.
I want to feed the nation
Scholtz is currently excited about a new project, where she will be focusing more on commercial beef animals. She says it could be a major breakthrough for her career as a farmer, once it is up and running.
“I want to feed the nation,” she says.
Scholtz is inspired by another female farmer, Chrisna van Der Nest, who she describes as “one of the most beautiful women in Vryburg”.
“I remember looking at her one day at an auction when I was still in school. And she talked about cattle like I’ve never heard a woman talk about it. And that day I realized that’s how I want to be.” Her advice to all the aspiring young females is, “Don’t be ashamed of starting small, start with what you have and make your dreams come true. Make your animals the best you can and don’t ever hesitate to ask people for help and advice. There are people out there with lots of knowledge. Please forget about stereotypes, keep your head high and educate yourself.”