Dairy Documentary; A morning documenting farm operations on a dairy farm

I squeezed in one last agricultural shoot the day before lock down in South Africa. One of the things I love most about agricultural photography is that I get to be outdoors, often surrounded by beautiful landscapes and salt of the earth people. I love the documentary aspect of it too, the action especially! A wide-eyed cow leaping out of the dip tank, the hoof kicks of a calf as it bolts for freedom, the grit and the dust and the expressions of farmers and farm workers as they work their every day! I love the freedom of this photography and that it requires me to get up at the crack of dawn, with my travel mug of coffee and sitting on the hillside, waiting for the perfect moment as the sun beams light over lush pastures. I love the quiet moments and independence that comes with it.

Ixopo landscape (2)
Ixopo farmlands
Ixopo landscape (3)
Clover Milk country!
Dairy farmer
Ixopo farmer

I’ve posted about Loch Buighe farm and Craigieburn farm in Ixopo many times before. I am documenting a years’s worth of farm operations and landscapes. On this day, I got to capture and shadow Craig Macfarlane and farm manager, Denton Knight. Though most farmers hate the thought of being photographed, these 2 did pretty well and as I had hoped, were fully focused on the farm operations while I clicked away in the background. The only time I felt they were acutely aware of me being there, with my camera, was when they needed to open an electric fence. I had assumed that by now an electric shock on a dairy farm would be old news, but apparently not! I could see the apprehension and cautious approach as they moved in on the fence, knowing full well that my camera zoom was focused and ready for action!

Electric fencing
Relief captured right here!

On this day, Craig was establishing rye grass for the Winter dairy season. Below are the images of the seed being mixed with fertiliser.

Mixing seed

Planning the day’s plant program

Establishing rye grass for the winter season

To finish off a busy morning of farm photography, I went with Craig and Denton to photograph the heifers being dipped for red water. Red water (a potentially fatal tick-borne disease) has been particularly bad this year. Some say it’s because of the mild winter we experienced last year with very few frosts.

Finishing up!

Washing hands!

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Photographing farmers

Pannar Maize seed (3)

Let’s be honest, men (in general) do not like to be photographed. Then you add a ‘farmer’ to the equation and you get the next level of photo phobia! Their fear of a camera is almost palpable! Those sweat droplets from above the brow are usually not because it’s a hot day…it’s the picture of absolute, raw, gut wrenching fear! And I understand their fear! Being in an organised photo shoot can seem unnatural…I might even go so far as to say – for farmers especially – alien behaviour and completely unfarmer-like!!! I totally get them. I also try really hard to resist the urge to run a mile when I see a camera pointed at me.  In fact there is not much evidence of me as a child because of this. For my family, one of the few but well known images of me growing up was of a family portrait taken in  Zimbabwe….and my left foot in the bottom corner of the image as I literally ran out of the camera frame! That’s as good as it got for someone trying to get a shot of me. I was every photographer’s nightmare!

I’ve quickly come to the conclusion that ‘life’ has a wicked sense of humour, because here I am 30 years on, trying to take photographs of people just like me! I have a great challenge ahead of me. I have been contracted to capture imagery for Pannar’s 2021 catalogue. This has meant I’ve had to approach Pannar seed farmers in our area to be my Pannar models! I’ve had various responses; all of them with a hint or sometimes obvious nervousness on the other end of the phone.  But with a little reassurance and humour (and a gentle ‘nudge’ from their wives) these farmers have generously agreed to be part of these shoots as well as given me free access to their farms so that I can capture a variety of operational images, landscapes and portrait images of themselves and their staff. I am eternally grateful!

I remember the only commissioned shoot we had as a family. It was a family studio shoot and we all had to dress in similar colours and look super happy. The result: Photos (of me at least) that bare a scowling 10 year old face with dark, beady eyes staring right into the heart of the photographer with a “I’m going to get you later” type of look…” It wasn’t pretty…though my mother still hung the photo on the wall for years to come! I’d like to assure my clients, that this will not be the experience you have with me. When you smile, you will genuinely smile! It will be relaxed and more of a meeting and an opportunity for me to see and capture your farm and your work. I have an interest in agriculture and so a photography shoot for me is so much more than just getting some photos. Being interested and knowledgeable about your subject, knowing what to look for, especially when it comes to agriculture, is key to these shoots.  I also value being able to help the people I photograph to completely relax in my presence and to feel comfortable ‘just being themselves.’

A big shout out goes to Clinton Knight (aka Skimps) of Ashleigh Farm Field and Contracting services. Skimps is contracted to do land prep, planting and harvesting for local farmers in our district. He’s been a great sport when it comes to these shoots and has helped me tremendously with getting the support of our local farmers to be in these photographs! Thank you Skimps!

Here are a few images from our most recent Pannar shoot. Ashleigh Farm Field and Contracting Services is planting the Pannar SC701 Green mealie (maize) variety. I will be following and capturing the progress of these crops going in now until harvest time. May there be an abundance of green mealies for sale not long from now!