For Tammy Williams, finding her niche in the farming sector has been both rewarding and challenging, writes Shirley le Guern.
Tammy Williams, who keeps a watchful eye over 120-hectares of banana plantations and a 150-hectare macadamia operation at the Sekela Farm near King Shaka International Airport as well as a young family, is the 2022 KZN Toyota Kwanalu Young Farmer of the Year.
KwaZulu-Natal’s Agricultural Union says it chose Tammy because of her determination when it came to learning from the ground up. She has not only mastered the many technical aspects of farming, but managed many of the practical aspects while also implementing environmentally conscious applications and driving community upliftment.
Tammy’s fascination with the technical aspects of farming began while she was working as a receptionist for Sekela. Her duties included ordering pesticides, fertilisers and other necessities. After she began quizzing her boss on their use, he took her into the banana fields to explain. When an opportunity to manage a 30-hectare banana plantation at the company’s smaller Windermere Farm came up, she swapped the switchboard for a tractor.
Looking back, she says she had a lot to learn, but consulted her boss, other farming experts and her husband who was managing another of the group’s farms at the time.
When the Sekela Farm expanded to include a 100-hectare banana plantation, she moved there as manager.
In 2012, the farm owners ventured into macadamias. Within four years they had planted over 60-hectares of macadamias but had no one to oversee the operation. It was a natural progression for her to use the knowledge gained in the banana plantations and apply it to the macadamia operation. It has since grown to over 150-hectares.
As a busy mother to two young sons, Tammy’s day starts at 4.30am, and by six, her sons are ready for school and she is in her office talking to staff and reviewing the tasks for the day. Then it’s off to the fields to make sure all is being done correctly – something she likes to do at least twice a day.
Specific tasks depend on the time of year – sometimes it is pruning the macadamia trees, on other days it is weed control in the banana fields or even harvesting and packing. Then there’s also the admin for the company.
Amazingly, she still manages to attend after-school activities and cricket matches in the afternoons. Then it’s back home, supervising homework and making supper like a normal working mom.
“It is a very rewarding lifestyle and, what the kids get out of the way we live, is incredible. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Even now, we are on school holidays and they’re off at the dam fishing.”
She is passionate about her job and says there is nothing else she would rather do. “I’m just so grateful that I have found my niche. Every day is so different on a farm. You just have to adapt,” she admits.
She says the support of her husband, Brett, is behind many of her achievements – including the award of which she is extremely proud.
“I’m very grateful for the recognition and for what it means for women in agriculture. There are so many aspects to farming – whether it is the technical side, the soil side or anything else. If you find something you are interested in, find out about it, make it a career choice,” she says.
Looking to the future, Tammy’s goals revolve around the farm itself. She’d like to improve the quality of the nuts produced while reducing the amount of spraying. This fits with her love for conservation which inspires her to find ways to minimise the use of insecticides and herbicides.
“I am also an avid bee lover and I have introduced bee basil and other vegetation to attract good insects. I make sure we conserve the natural bush and waterways to take care of the sensitive ecosystems on the farm,” she adds.
Switching to the admin, she admits it is challenging to manage a farm during turbulent economic times. “It is very difficult with diesel hikes, high fertiliser prices and electricity costs, and even the cost of boxes going up. Expenses are very high but the banana price is very low at the moment. Macadamias are a high value crop, so you have to manage your costs carefully. But, everything is a wheel and you just have to stick with it to go forward,” she says.
Tammy will go on to represent KZN in the national leg of the competition later this year.