Wallie Hardie started farming in a family operation in North Dakota and now he and his son are farming soy in Africa. Surviving in frontier-style farming requires smart farming, he says in a report in the Grand Forks Herald.
Hardie is no stranger to frontiers. He started the North Dakota Corn Growers Association in the 80s and in the past year, has been promoting small-scale “designer nitrogen” fertilizer plants for ethanol plants in the Richland County region.
Now he farms in Mozambique and Tanzania with Aslan Group Global, a Florida-based organization led by Jes Tarp, a former Evangelical pastor and Paul Larsen, a Minneapolis-based financial planner. Aslan Group farmed in Ukraine, then expanded to Mozambique in 2012 when the government awarded it a concession to farm there, the report said.
The concession can grow to up to 25,000 acres, provided the group can clear and farm the land. It runs for 50 years, but is renewable for 50 more. There is no private land ownership and no land rent. Taxes are a few dollars an acre. Land-clearing costs can run $100 to $300 an acre.
Aslan harvested 100 acres in 2011 and 500 acres in 2012.
“We thought, you know, this fits in our wheelhouse,” Hardie said in the Grand Forks Herald. “We know how to grow soybeans, how to grow corn. This is what we do.”
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The Hardies invested some money and agreed to be paid consultants for the group.
To get to their farm in Africa, the Hardies fly into Nampula, Mozambique, a city of about two million where the only Westerners are in the aid business. Then they take an eight-hour ride in a pickup truck to Ruace, a town of about 2,500 people about 10 miles from the farm.
It’s a rough journey. “You want to have a pillow underneath,” Hardie says.
The land is something like the treed areas of northern Minnesota, the report says. The soil is silt loam, ranging from dark to light. The area gets about 40 inches of rain a year, but it falls only from December to March; nothing for the rest of the season.
The family sent a tractor from North Dakota in December. Arrival was delayed due to red tape, the report says.
It’s hard to raise soybeans in the area because of tree branches and other obstacles on the ground, Hardie said. Soybeans are the No. 1 cash crop, but he’d like to bring in sunflowers and maybe sorghum and corn, he said. Sunflower and sorghum can be harvested higher off the ground.
The company put in a 42,000-bushel steel bin this year, and it’s full of beans, the report says.
The Aslan Group bought a 68,000-acre Tanzanian cattle ranch for $5 million from a family who owned it for 20 years, according to Grand Forks Herald.
Aslan cleared 150 acres and plans to produce soybeans and sorghum. The farm has two bulldozers and a backhoe.
Hardie took farmer friends from central Nebraska to see the Tanzanian farm — corn growers with irrigation experience. “The problem is there is no underground water,” Hardie said.
Hardie spent three-and-a-half weeks in Mozambique in April for the 10-day harvest. “I lost 15 pounds,” he said. “If you want to lose 15 pounds, go to Africa.”
One of the challenges of farming in Mozambique is the labor, which Hardie likens to the old Soviet-style collective system — low-skill, low-motivation employees who he said don’t grasp the bigger picture.
The farm employs 160 people. Laborers earn $3 to $4 a day, considered “a good wage” for the community, the report says. About 80 percent of the country lives on less than $2 a day.
Bulldozers do major land clearing, but so do troops of “stick pickers” — manual laborers fine cleaning the land. The stick-pickers work hard, but on a strict eight-hour work day, according to laws that originated from the Portuguese.