Agriculture is an integral part of the South African economy and global food security as a whole. Not only do we need to ensure investment in the agricultural value chain, from primary production to market, and address regulatory constraints so that the sector can contribute more meaningfully to economic growth, we also need to remove the stigma of farming as an unprofitable and unglamorous profession to encourage youth to enter the sector. The latter is possible when a sense of responsibility and interest in farming is nurtured from an early age.

Growing up on his parents’ 54-hectare top fruit farm instilled a love for the land in Ricard Myburgh, a 28-year old apple and pear farmer from Vyeboom in the Western Cape.

Cortina Farms was bought by Myburgh’s parents Richard and Yvette in 2000 and it was a forgone conclusion that he would someday join the family business. It was in 2013, after spending holidays helping on the farm, that Myburgh officially came on board having completed his agricultural studies at a local college, a move his younger brothers seem primed to repeat.

“I am passionate about farming and agriculture in general,” explains Myburgh. “There has never been any doubt in my mind about what career I wanted to pursue, so joining the family farming business was a natural progression for me,” added Myburgh with a broad smile.

He has since taken over general farm management to develop the 40ha fruit farm and has led the modernisation of production, which has resulted in increased harvest and exports. Cortina Farms is part of the Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber’s (DFDC) Farmer Commercialisation Programme in partnership with the Jobs Fund managed by HORTGRO. The programme supports emerging black farmers to expand their primary production, provides market access and integrates them into a secure value chain. The farm has diversified its farming operations and expanded further into the pome-fruit value chain by offering storage, packing, transport and marketing services on the same premises.

Myburgh has worked hard doing his part to change the face of agriculture and sustain a vibrant business enterprise.

“I am committed to the success of our farm, although I work hard to achieve this, I would not want it any other way,” he said.

Agriculture is a tough business and not one that has traditionally appealed to youth, whether they live in bustling cities, townships or in rural South Africa. Its many challenges faced by the sector include climate change, slow progress on land reform and ownership modalities as well as insufficient attention to research into improved farming methods, technology, appropriate financing models and technical assistance in comparison with other countries.

“I am very positive about the future of agriculture and believe that our sector offers many opportunities for young people. A lot of innovation is coming into agriculture and with the younger people it will only help implement it faster as the older people are more old-school and don’t adapt easily,” concludes Myburgh.

This innovation means there is room for young people to come in as agricultural scientists, engineers and also provide specialist services.

Locally the sector has often voiced frustration for not receiving support similar to that of its global competitors. Myburgh would like to expand Cortina’s production unit but is constrained by a lack of available land nearby. He also has plans to expand the packing facility to its full capacity. Not one to sit back and wait for things to happen, he has travelled to apple production regions in Italy and the United States of America to investigate new varieties and rootstocks available as well as study the advances in production methods.

For the country’s agriculture sector to be a bigger contributor to economic growth it has to be more competitive globally and it has to leverage South Africa’s demographic dividend drawing more young people into the sector. It has to support and encourage innovation so that passionate farmers like Myburgh can lead the sector’s growth trajectory.