Hands-on training for apprentice farmers

By arranging SA and overseas apprenticeships for graduates of a Midlands agricultural college, KZN’s Top Dairy Woman of the Year Judy Stuart is giving students the opportunity to launch their farming careers. Robyn Joubert reports.
Issue date : 13 June 2008

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Judy Stuart won the Top Dairy Woman of the Year award at the KZN Master Dairyman AGM in April for her work promoting the Swedish Red breed in SA. Bcc But what really clinched the award for Judy was the development of an apprenticeship programme for young black students from Zakhe, a private agricultural college in Baynesfield in the KZN Midlands. Zakhe is a small, strictly disciplined school that upholds a strong Christian ethic, accommodating students from Grade 8 to 12. It has about 150 students, 25 of whom are in matric.

The first group of students who matriculated in 2006, had a 100% pass rate, while the second group achieved a pass rate of over 90%, thanks to the efforts of founder Richard Dladla, headmaster Solomon Tembe and the staff. B ut Richard wanted to do more for young matriculants, and in 2006 shared his idea of an apprenticeship programme with Judy. They’ve been working on it ever since. “We have to ensure these young students receive quality training so they can ultimately become effective farmers and managers,” says Judy. “There’s a huge shortage of farm managers and if we train them well, we won’t only be helping the industry, but will be helping them get top-paying jobs. If they acquire land at some point, they’ll know how to farm it well, benefiting them and all their descendants.”

Using her contacts with SA and overseas dairy farmers, Judy aims to place as many students as possible on 24-month apprenticeships: 12 months on SA farms, followed by 12 months on overseas farms where possible. Farmers as mentors “Participating farmers are expected to give their apprentices broad practical experience,” says Judy. “That means learning to milk cows or plant vegetables, drive tractors, put up fencing and irrigation, and hopefully a bit about computers. We also require the farmers to send their apprentices on short agricultural courses at Cedara, which cover a broad range of subjects from dairy, beef and sheep management to soil fertility, veld management and farm record-keeping.

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The idea is that the students get good practical training, reinforced with theory.” Some farmers hesitate to take on apprentices, partly because of issues with existing labour. “They don’t know how their labour force will accept students from the outside,” says Judy. “don’t want to put the students in a situation where there’s intimidation.” A nother concern is that farmers don’t know who they’re taking on. “Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that a student will work out and it reflects badly on me if it doesn’t,” says Judy. “An apprentice I placed on a farm in the Midlands absconded after three weeks.” T he incident hasn’t shaken Judy’s faith in Zakhe graduates. “I’m not offering the farmer anything more than good raw material. The students are disciplined, well-mannered kids. I’m not afraid to stick my neck out for them.

We all need to make some small contribution to our future and farmers can do it without too much effort or money. If working with a farmer for one year makes the difference between success and failure in a student’s life, that farmer has done something valuable.’” An invaluable apprentice One young man whose life has probably changed forever is Sifiso Ntshiza, a 2006 graduate who has been placed on Andreas and Elizabeth Thiessen’s dairy farm in Germany. He regularly attends lectures in English at the local agricultural college. “Sifiso has fitted in very well and has a very good attitude,” enthuses Judy. “He’s always the first at work in the morning and has made himself invaluable to the Thiessens.

When Andreas had a hip replacement operation and spent three weeks recuperating, Sifiso ran the farm. The Thiessens have even organised an extension on Sifiso’s visa so he can stay on for an extra six months.” The international approach The overseas apprenticeship exposes the youngsters to a unique work ethic. “Generally speaking, overseas farms are smaller than South African ones,” explains Judy. “Our students work alongside the farmer in the pit, milking cows, and learn that being a landowner doesn’t mean employing others to do the work. Unless the farm is big, the farmer can do most of the work himself to make more profit. We need to bring the European work ethic back to Africa.” Judy’s income from Swedish Red semen sales enables her to work with Zakhe at her own expense. “Without that, I wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she acknowledges.

Feedback indicates Swedish farmers are keen to participate in the programme. “Sweden has always been a good friend to SA. It is sending a representative here in August and I hope that something good will come of it. This programme is in its infancy and with the right nourishment, it will mature into something worthy of the dedication being invested in it.” Others agree. “About a year ago, Dr Maurice Bakke, a top businessman and scientist from California, spent two weeks here,” says Judy. “He ran AI courses and spent almost a week at Zakhe, helping with student and staff training. He did a lot of good here.

He believes the apprenticeship programme must be about setting the students up for success.” Contact Judy Stuart on (033) 330 4322 or 083 555 0082, or e-mail [email protected] Contact Zakhe on (033) 251 0094 or e-mail [email protected]. |

Zakhe: when students are serious about farming

Zakhe is the brainchild of Richard Dladla, who has a degree in agriculture and envisions using his skills and enthusiasm to benefit children who are passionate about farming. Zakhe is a private school, with parents paying between R16 000 and R19 000 a year. Subjects include business economics, crop science and animal science, plus basic welding, fencing, tractor driving and artificial insemination. There’s also practical work with pigs, dairy and beef cattle, sheep and goats, poultry, crop production and an indigenous nursery. Learners also participate in various youth shows, sports and community projects. English is the school’s official language. “Students have to know English to be successful,” explains Judy. “They need it to go on to study at university, do research, or work overseas. It just gives them more universal appeal.”

Farmers enjoy their mentor role

Since starting the apprenticeship programme in 2006, eight students have been placed on farms in SA and one has been placed in Germany. Miles Eaglestone and his son Dylan, who farm 1 400 cattle and 700 dairy cows in Creighton, took on an apprentice in February. “Kgotso Matebesi is doing fantastically well,” says Miles. “He has tremendous manners and is so willing to learn. When Judy first spoke to us, we were reluctant to take on an apprentice and had issues about where we’d accommodate him. But he’s living with the general staff and has slotted in fine. He doesn’t expect more than what the others have.”

Kgotso is currently doing a dairy course at Cedara and will go on to the advanced dairy course. “Our main dairy manager is teaching him to be a replacement manager,” explains Miles. “As an outsider with more qualifications, we’ve slowly introduced him to existing staff and have had no resistance.” Miles is hoping to get Kgotso to New Zealand next, where he’ll learn about the dairy system the Eaglestones try to follow. “Once he has more experience, we’re hoping he’ll come back and become our manager,” says Miles. The Eaglestones are considering taking on two or three more apprentices next year.

“They can oversee specialist jobs and keep our labour motivated in their jobs, freeing up time for us to spend running the farm,” Miles predicts. Veronica and Peter Ratsey, who farm beef and dairy cattle, sheep and vegetables in Kamberg, took on two apprentices, Mzwandile Duma and Lunga Ngubo, in January. “We’re very happy with them and they’re doing very well,” says Veronica. “We’ve put them with our staff and they’re learning our way of doing things, everything from planting, reaping and soil sampling to inoculation, how to treat sick animals and calving problems.” Open lines of communication with staff has helped to avoid problems. “Our staff aren’t threatened by the apprentices.

We’ve told them they’re learners and not here to dictate. We don’t want to cause problems by putting a 19-year-old fresh out of school above men who’ve worked for us for 20 years.”