South African farmers visit local operation

Trent Sanderson (in the orange shirt) talks with South African visitors to Sanderson 
Ag near Clare in August.
Trent Sanderson (in the orange shirt) talks with South African visitors to Sanderson Ag near Clare in August.

CLARE — When using the blog on his family farm's website as a journal of daily activities, Trent Sanderson forgets it can be read by anyone with Internet access – like a John Deere implement dealer from South Africa.

Sarel duPlessis contacted Sanderson after reading the blog and brought nine of his clients in August to learn about farming practices in the Midwest.

"He (duPlessis) emailed us around the Fourth of July to ask if he could bring a group for a visit. I was just baffled that would even happen," Sanderson said. "We were just blown away, and honored. This doesn't happen to everyone."

Sanderson, 24, said he is the seventh generation of farmers in his family, originally from Norway. Today, Sanderson Ag, based near Clare, farms about 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, and raises about 50 head of beef cattle.

The 2007 Hiawatha High School graduate went to Kishwaukee College in the ag transfer program and graduated from Illinois State University in 2011 with a degree in ag engineering technology.

Along with working his family farm, Sanderson has established his own ag technology business, E4 Crop Intelligence.

Because the South African farmers wanted to learn about farming practices in the U.S., Sanderson invited others to speak about fertilizer and chemical use, as well as the recent trend toward raising cover crops. He explained cover crops are planted toward the end of the growing season, in soybeans or corn before they are harvested, primarily to reduce erosion and to add nutrients to the soil to benefit next year's corn or bean crop.

He said his family began planting cover crops over the past couple of years.

"I won't say that what we do is the only way, but it's made us more productive by keeping costs down, increasing yields and promoting soil health," Sanderson said. "We are producing twice the crop they (the South African farmers) are, and it all comes down to taking care of the soil."

Prior to the visit, Sanderson said duPlessis emailed bios of each farmer that would visit. He said their operations were similar in size and crops grown.

In an email, duPlessis said the group's itinerary included visits to several John Deere factories, the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, the Dodge County Fair in Beaver Dam, Wis., and a threshing bee in Iowa. Along with the Sanderson farm, they visited farms in Indiana and Ohio. He said they traveled 2,915 miles over 15 days.

"We were very impressed with the way the Sanderson family presented their family operation to us, and found the visit very informative," duPlessis wrote. "We experienced the American farmers to be very friendly and open to us as fellow farmers. I have experienced that openness from the first contact I made by email with the Sanderson family, as well as the other dealers and farmers we visited on our tour."

He said he hopes to return with a small group in 2014, and hopes to spend more time in the Sycamore area.

Sanderson summed up the experience as being "pretty neat."

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