A smallholder with an expanse of land can consider various ways in which to run a business on your plot to make money. Whether this is your primary source of income or a secondary income stream, there will be a number of factors to consider before you start your journey. Depending on what kind of business you choose to run, the factors that will determine your success will differ. These factors are over and above the basic input costs, set up costs, marketing and advertising, staffing, etc that you will need to consider when starting any business, all of which will differ according to what type of business you run.

One fundamental applies in all cases: before you turn your first sod for a crop, hatch your first egg, or furnish your first bedsit, it is vital that you establish your potential market or even seek out clients. Once your seeds are sown or your broilers grown, it will be a waste to discover there is no demand for your produce.


An agricultural business that involves raising and selling livestock or livestock-related products such as eggs will require certain factors that a horticultural business will not.

  • Location: Access to main roads and abattoirs will be crucial for the success of your livestock business. Whether you are raising broilers, sheep, cattle or even something like snails, fish or rabbits, you will need to transport your product (be they live or already slaughtered). How navigable your roads are will affect your transit time and will determine what size vehicles you can use, and how much maintenance you will need to do on your trucks. Additionally, you might need to consider the cost of refrigerated trucks.
  • Biosecurity: You must, by law, maintain a good level of hygiene and biosecurity when farming with livestock. Your chicken houses, pig sties, stables, kraals and paddocks must all be regularly sprayed with disinfectant, your staff must be provided with adequate PPE and training in biosecurity measures. Your water runoff must be controlled to prevent contamination of groundwater with the chemicals you use as disinfectant. Egg businesses will require slightly different, but no less important, biosecurity measures.

biosecurity egg production

  • Bylaws: Your town or municipality will have bylaws that govern livestock farming in your area. This will be related to the size of your property, noise control, and waste management, among others. Make sure you are operating within these laws to ensure your business does not get shut down by council, and to ensure you maintain a decent relationship with your neighbours. q Waste management: You will find yourself with a lot of manure or chicken litter. Composting can be a viable option but you will need a lot of space and management for it to work. You might need to make use of a waste removal service. Or you can turn this into another income stream by selling the manure. Waste management should also cover carcasses and the adequate disposal thereof.
  • Water and electricity: You must have access to decent amounts of water, both for your biosecurity as well as the health of your animals. This means the water must be clean, so water storage is crucial. Related to this, make sure your electricity supply is stable so that you do not end up with cold chicken houses or a non-functioning water management system when you have no electricity to run your pumps.

Crop farming

Given the size of most smallholdings, it will not be viable to start an extensive crop farm on your property, for example of mealies or wheat. However, there are a number of ways in which you can make money from crop farming off smaller pieces of land. For example, you can choose a highly-specialised and sought-after high-value crop that does not require a lot of space, such as garlic, saffron, turmeric or microgreens.

Tunnel farming. Image: Dicla Horticulture

The possibilities with a crop farming business on your plot are almost endless if you erect tunnels and greenhouses, which open your land up to a whole new world of possibilities for crop farming, and take away external weather factors, allowing you to produce almost yearround. But, as with all businesses, there are certain South African problems you must take into account.

  • Soil quality and runoff: One would think a good businessperson would consider this first and foremost when starting a crop farm, but the reality is that a lot of people don’t plan ahead to prevent severe degradation of their soil. You must take note of what kind of soil you have, what nutrients you need to add and how this will affect any runoff your farm may produce. Additionally, you must plan from the beginning to incorporate some kind of crop rotation into your annual plans to prevent your soil from being depleted.
  • Location: This relates, again, to your access to market. In your business planning stages, you should take into account the profit margins on the crops you are considering versus the cost of transport to a market, supermarket or other retail partner. For example, if you plan on producing a bakkie-load full of spinach every other day, but the fresh produce market is a 30km drive from your property, you will spend more in petrol getting the spinach to market than you will make in profit. So, if your property is a considerable distance from the point of sale, consider rather a high-value crop, or partner up with a neighbour to share transport costs. Also, in certain cases in South Africa today, the roads have deteriorated to such an extent that transporting delicate crops such as soft fruits to market can result in unacceptable bruising and crushing, if not wasting the entire crop then certainly adversely affecting its quality and the revenue derived therefrom.
  • Water and electricity: There are very few places in the country that can get away with specialist, highvalue crop farming (of any size) without some form of man-made irrigation. This might be as simple as rainwater harvesting tanks and drip irrigation lines, or you might need to look into further water storage from your municipal supply. Those with the space (and funds) can also consider building a dam connected to your irrigation system. Electricity will be very important if you are running greenhouses. Refrigeration of produce will also play a role in determining what crops will be viable. Electricity will also be vital for your irrigation systems to run your pumps.
  • Climate: Unlike livestock farming which does not rely entirely on weather, crop farming will be affected by changes in climate and weather. This will include rainfall (or a lack thereof), temperature changes and light. Many of these factors can be overcome by backup systems, all of which you must take into account during your planning stages. Tunnels and greenhouses will help mitigate these factors, but this is a more costly exercise at the outset than outdoor growing. Shadecloth structures will be a cheaper solution and will help in reducing sun damage, hail damage and can act as cold-weather barriers in some areas as well. Too much rainfall is more difficult an issue to overcome and can cause reduced yields in your crops. This can be mitigated by choosing water-heavy crops.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics

Although different from each other, these two types of growing (one for crops only and one for fish with the possibility of crops as well) require similar setups.

  • Water and electricity: It goes without saying that access to consistent, clean water will be your number one determining factor when setting up an aquaponics or hydroponics business. Hand in hand with this is your power supply, to ensure your pump and filtration systems are not affected by outages.
  • By-laws: Like a livestock business, you must take into account the laws on noise in your area. You should also factor into things how you plan on dealing with waste water as this might be determined by by-laws as well.

This is part one of a series on running a business on your plot. For part two, click here.

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