KWAZULU-NATAL’S hugely successful farmer apprenticeship programme, Future Farmers is now calling on sugarcane growers to step up as demand for careers in the industry are on the increase.

Future Farmers is a non-profit organisation that is getting on with its work without fuss or trumpet blasts.

But in reality over the decade since its founding by former Midlands dairy farmer, Judy Stuart, hundreds of South African youngsters have not only become leaders in the agriculture sector, but have worked at some of the biggest and most modern operations in the United States and Australia before returning to farms here where they are expected to impart their valuable skills and take over the running of some of the most successful commercial farming operations.

Midlands commercial dairy farmer, Rene Stubbs, who has taken on a number of interns said the programme was working “extremely” well. “This is the first proper and well managed mentorship programme in agriculture. It is unlocking fantastic potential in our young people. And the intensity by which Stuart manages the programme is so good to see. She is hands on. The selection process is strict. It is an honour to be chosen as a Future Farmers intern and that is good,” he said.

The Future Farmers Foundation started out mainly in the dairy industry, but interest has spread across all agricultural professions, from cut flowers, poultry to commercial goat milking and now in ever increasing demand for positions in the sugar industry.

“That’s why we now need to get the sugarcane farmers involved. We have scores of youngsters coming to our Howick offices who want to work in the sugar industry. I am building contacts in Colombia and Florida in the USA where the interns can go for their international experience. All we need now are sugarcane farmers to take them on here for those first two years,” Stuart said.   

Velile Phakathi (21) is such a student. “I have a Diploma in Agriculture from Cedara Agricultural College. I have just completed a cane husbandry course and passed with merit at the South African Sugar Industry headquarters at KwaShukela outside Durban. But now I need experience and that is why I have come to Future Farmers to see if they can help me find a place,” she said.

But instead of being out in the fields where she can gain valuable experience, Phakathi is employed in the administration offices at Future Farmers in Howick.


In short, Future Farmers is a two-year apprenticeship programme with the third year spent working on farms overseas.

But the funding model Stuart has devised is ingenious.

“When I first started it was really just to help a few kids I knew who wanted to be farmers. I got in touch with some of my friends here and overseas and placed them. But then the idea started to catch on. I began getting calls from youngsters daily who had heard about it and wanted help,” she said.

Now 800 youngsters are listed on the database, 25 interns are currently overseas and, depending on funding, another 50 interns will take up international positions during the next 12 months.

The process is as follows:

  • Students have to go to the Howick-based offices for an interview. These are conducted every Thursday. Students are encouraged to bring reference letters.
  • Once accepted for the programme their details are added to a database.
  • Farmers are contacted in a bid to place the students. “We have farmers who come back to us regularly to source staff for their farms at many different levels.  These relationships are invaluable to us,” Stuart said.
  • Farmers are expected to pay the students a minimum wage and choose the candidates themselves through an interview process. “The farmers usually come to our offices to do the interviews,” she added.
  • Once the students have completed their two-year apprenticeship they are eligible to qualify for the international training.  Qualification must be supported by excellent references and a good track record.  “Only the best qualify,” she said.
  • When the students start working overseas they are required to pay back their travel costs to Future Farmers from their wages. This is usually a direct payment back to their sponsors, which include, Saville Foundation, Underberg Farmers Association and the Umvoti Farmers Association. Future Farmers handles the internship sponsorship from Bayer, Baynesfield Estates and The World Poultry Foundation. The money is then allocated to send the next apprentice. “We expect them to pay half of their salary each month to us until the costs are covered. It usually takes about four months.”
  • The South African farmers are not obliged to employ the students once they return from overseas but according to Stuart that was a rarity.

“We stress to the farmers here they have to start the interns from the very bottom, doing menial tasks before slowly building areas of responsibility. It is all about practical experience.”

Interestingly, over the 11 years not a single intern has failed to complete their international contract.

Stuart was also careful to stress that land ownership was not necessarily the future for commercial agriculture in the country. “It is an unrealistic future for these youngsters. They have to stop thinking about land ownership. They have to think bigger than that. They must think about leasing land or becoming shareholders in a commercial farming operation or to serve on the board of agri-businesses. That is the future and these youngsters are the leaders, they are that future for our agriculture sector,” she said.

For further information contact Judy Stuart on or go to


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