Farmer Focus: Black boxes prove a pest in South Africa

In the aviation industry, the black box is actually a red flight data recorder. Over the past few years in South Africa, there have been people selling black boxes to farmers.

Whereas a flight data recorder can help investigators determine the cause of a crash, these agricultural black boxes have no capabilities whatsoever and could cause the downfall of farmers who use them.

So what are these black boxes supposed to do? The answer appears to cover everything, from supplying all your crops fertility needs, to combating all pests and diseases.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

When you sign up for this “technology”, you pay an annual per hectare fee. This black box is installed on your farm. It transmits a frequency depending on your crops’ specific needs.

At planting, your crop may need phosphorus and potassium so that is the frequency programmed into the box. As the crop progresses throughout the season you have the frequency tweaked until you finally reap a magnificent crop with very low input costs.

If at some point you see that the plants don’t look quite right then you simply take a photo of the field and email it to them and they will upload a new frequency on to the box to address the issue. But wait, there’s more.

Super frequencies

If an insect infests your crop then, again, simply email them a photo of the bug and they will be able to adjust the frequency that will frighten that insect away. But wait, there’s more. Fungal infections are no match for these super frequencies.

Unsurprisingly, at harvest you feel the true cost of all these savings. It is sad that many farmers were caught by this scam. Unfortunately, after the drought of 2015-16 many farmers were desperate to cut costs.

Some farmers had used this system during the drought with no drop in yield, but of course it was a dry year and that crop could scavenge enough residual fertility for that season. It was only the following high rainfall season this black box showed its true colours. Red, just like those farmers’ bank accounts.


Bruce Shepherd farms in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He plants 500ha of rain-fed summer crops across 3,000ha. He also runs 2,600 weaner oxen on pastures, finishing them in a feedlot with maize grown on the farm.