From South Africa to Iowa and back; one Future Farmer’s journey
“I may live in Iowa, but my story began in South Africa”
This is the message on Mthokozisi Luthuli’s favorite t-shirt during his year in Iowa as a Future Farmers Foundation poultry intern. A born extrovert, he relished the opportunity to extol on his beloved South Africa.
Mthokozisi’s story did indeed begin in South Africa: He joined the Future Farmers Foundation program after graduating from university and working at one of South Africa’s largest day-old chicks suppliers. In 2016 he was one of the first South African poultry interns to be funded by the World Poultry Foundation to train in the U.S.
Mthokozisi’s home for a year became Rose Acres Farm, the second largest egg producer in the U.S., he said. Upon arrival, he was struck by the enormity of the operation – “12 houses with 110,000 birds each, and its own feed mill!” In addition, the working environment was “101%” different than back home. “When something breaks, you get trained to fix it,” he exclaimed, “and you learn to spot problems early.”
Mthokozisi relished the learning environment at the farm and continues to speak warmly of the experience. “You’re in good hands with this company,” he told me. “The training program is strong and the bosses leave you alone if you’re on top of your work,” which Mthokozisi obviously was! His training supervisor and production manager wrote, he was “impressed with [Mthokozisi’s] attitude towards his work… we have all benefited from the experience.” During his year in Iowa, he worked in egg production, feed mill operation, and on the pullet farm for placement of day-old chicks and chick vaccination. He took special pride in checking for egg jams on the impressive conveyer belts, analyzing the cause of jams, and figuring out prevention measures.
Returning to South Africa, Mthokozisi didn’t struggle to land a good job, even in a tight market. Companies saw he had lots of experience with a top American company, he said. “You get a lot of recognition if you’ve gone abroad.” In fact, he had two job offers almost immediately, and chose the poultry manager position at a mixed poultry/pig farm in his home province, reporting directly to the owner and overseeing a poultry staff of 11.
Mthokozisi has implemented lots of changes to production that he brought from the U.S. and has worked hard to raise production standards, with special attention to biosecurity. He’s encouraging his boss to expand production; 40,000 birds feels small to Mthokozisi after Iowa!
Looking ahead 10 years or so, Mthokozisi would like to own and run his own poultry operation, but for now, he is giving back. At his encouragement, his South African farm currently employs two Future Farmer Foundation apprentices – one in poultry, one in pigs. His advice to them: “Dedicate yourselves, don’t be someone who needs to be followed, be your own supervisor!”
Ms. Frances Chisholm
Friend & Supporter of the WPF
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