Food for the future

2007-12-07 00:00

IF we are going to feed our nation in the future then a new revitalised agricultural education programme for South Africans is essential.

This revitalisation will need to be engendered into our education system through the obvious sectors including agricultural schools, technikons, colleges, universities and extension services. Without this new initiative famine is inevitable.

Schools are an ideal place for this training to begin and what better place than Weston Agricultural College situated outside Mooi River.

Weston became famous through the contribution made by Don Paterson, the school principal from 1961 to 1982. The many hundreds, if not thousands, of pupils who passed through this college have also made a huge impact on farming and related agricultural businesses.

The success of this college must be due to the philosophy that guides it and those who ensure that the philosophy is implemented.

The principal executive officer of Weston, Paul Tait, who was previously the principal from 1994 to 2006, gives a clear overview of this philosophy.

“The school is here to allow pupils to develop as boys and graduate into men within a rural environment. There are three essential legs to this development that include sport, academics and exposure to practical agriculture,” says Tait.

The situation of the school in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands gives the pupils access to a wide range of outdoor sports including canoeing, mountain climbing, horse riding as well as the traditional sports of rugby, cricket and tennis.

What is unique to agricultural schools is the exposure to the practice of agriculture. At Weston the practicals involve seven animal-related subjects including dairy, beef, sheep, pigs, poultry, horses and wildlife, as well as seven other subjects including the workshop, forestry, fencing, vegetables, sports fields, the school grounds and the farm crops and pastures.

The academic side is not neglected at Weston. Farming is a tough business requiring a wide knowledge at all levels so the normal full academic training is provided but it is balanced with sport and agricultural practicals.

For a student to participate fully in all three legs of the college philosophy requires a full-time commitment from them.

To fit the practicals into the day there are 14 student “gangs”. These gangs rotate between the 14 practical subjects that need to be run and managed. The school takes pupils from Grade 8 to Grade 12 and the “gangs” have a mix of age groups. Milking starts at 4 am and ends at 6.30 am.

With 200 pupils and 80 staff running the college and a 1 200 hectare farm, it became obvious that a principal could not manage this operation within a typical school administration.

As a result, in 2006 Ross Malcolm and Dennis Ogram, both old boys, were enlisted to evaluate every aspect of the college and farm and come up with a business plan to take it into the future with a financially sound base.

Tait, who is the former principal, has become the principal executive officer with support from a new head of school Joe

Sadowski, farm manager Warren Loader and business manager René Venter.

With this strong management team and a renewed impetus to develop the farm as a commercial enterprise there are already signs of it becoming financially secure.

The dairy is the financial backbone of the agricultural enterprise and requires large input.

Fortunately the Department of Agriculture acknowledges that the four agricultural schools in KwaZulu-Natal are vitally important to feeding the nation in the future and are already supplying bursaries for pupils to attend. Information regarding Weston can be obtained from Tait at 033 263 1328 or Heidi Sadowski at e-mail pro@weston.co.za

• Alastair Paterson is an agricultural consultant. He can be contacted at 033 330 4817 or 082 880 9002 or e-mail agpaterson@satweb.co.za

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