Rodney Duma; right; one of the top Future Farmers, goes through cows with a vet.

Passionate about agriculture but nowhere to go, a Howick woman is providing a platform for students to receive training as farmers.

About seven years ago, Judy Stuart began Future Farmers. Due to the positive feedback she received over the years, she has now applied to be registered as a non-profit organisation, the Future Farmers’ Foundation, and is awaiting the outcome.

Starting off on an informal basis, Future Farmers has now grown, creating a need for formal structures to be put in place in order to ensure its sustainability.

Stuart felt that there were many school leavers who were passionate about agriculture with nowhere to go to learn: “I have been working with young people who do not have the resources to take their education further. There are so many really talented young people of great quality in the communities. Many of them don’t ever get an opportunity to prove themselves. Our youth is our most valuable resource and too much of it is being wasted.

“Our motto is ‘Your Future: My Future’. In securing a good future for all the young people in this country, we are also securing a future for ourselves and our own children,” she said.

Young people who were genuinely passionate about agriculture were identified and placed on farms as apprentices where they started at the bottom doing the most menial tasks. They then work their way up through the system.

“If they perform really well… and I believe that they have the potential to become top managers, they are then sent overseas on a one-year internship programme,” she said.

“Although Future Farmers has not been going for long, there are already a number of young managers running large commercial operations effectively. It creates an opportunity for young people who have nowhere to go. They go out there and prove their value in the workplace. I believe that the industry needs them and the Future Farmers themselves need the project,” she said.

The students do not pay to join the programme as most of them have nothing and come from impoverished backgrounds.

“The apprenticeship system means that they earn as they learn. Although their wages are not high, they are not paying for their education. It is up to them to get as much as possible from the experience,” she said.

When it is time for the students to go overseas on internship, the costs are paid by two sponsors, Saville Foundation and the Underberg Farmers’ Association. While working overseas, the budding farmers save up to pay back the travelling costs which allows for another student to be sent.

“The overseas experience is… about learning about new cultures and very good work ethic. They discover how large the world is and how different the other countries can be. It is an educational experience for them. Of course, they also learn a lot about farming. One of our lads is currently in the top position on an award-winning dairy farm in California,” she said.