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June is Youth Month. Over the next couple of months, we will introduce you to several of the Hortgro Science post-grad students. We are kicking off the series with Ansuli Theron, who told her story to Thomas Davidson.

My name is Ansulí Theron and I grew up on a farm in Tulbagh. A lot of people think my interest in agriculture started because I grew up on a farm but growing up the last thing I actually wanted to do was work on a farm. It’s really because I enjoy working outside. I wouldn’t enjoy a desk job. If I could have a mixture of working outside and at a desk that would be great but working entirely at a desk all day would kill me, I need to be outside.

I’m currently working on my master’s in crop cover and soil health in pome orchards. I wanted to do a project on bees for my masters but they didn’t have anything available. But now there’s a PhD opening up for research on bees so I said yes, please!

The PhD on bees would focus on researching pollen. A lot of farmers have a pre-conceived idea that if they have cover crops in the orchards, the bees won’t go into the trees, they’ll only be in the orchard rows, which is what I think isn’t true because bees don’t like pear blossoms, so having the flowers in your row will actually bring the bees into the orchard and then when they’re there they can actually go up into the trees, it’s a bit like a trap. But a lot of farmers are scared to plant the cover crops because they think they won’t get pollinated.

We’re going to assess the pollen on the flower. We monitor visitation (by the bee) but that’s not accurate as to whether the flower got pollinated.

The only downside to the research is that it’s seasonal, so you only have one season to do it. So if it doesn’t work one season you basically lose a year of work. And when you go back to the drawing board you’ve got to focus even harder because if it doesn’t work this time then that’s two years gone.

Why study agriculture?

The entomology caught me. So I thought okay this can work, I can study entomology and work in the field. I’ve always been fascinated by bees and the way they function, I guess it started with me liking honey

Your thoughts about the future of agriculture and the importance of science for the industry?

Farmers are going to be forced into more organic farming, especially if they want to export to Europe. Europe is getting very tight and restricted on what their consumers want and there’s a growing demand for organic goods from their markets. They’re implementing laws in Europe to ensure more organic produce for their markets and they may want to see that here if we’re going to supply their markets too.

Regarding the future of science in agriculture, in Europe, they’ve developed a carbon calculator that compensates farmers for the amount of carbon they take out of the environment, but in South Africa, we only measure farmers’ carbon emissions. I think we should develop our own carbon calculator to reward farmers for their role in reducing excess co2. We’re essentially ignoring all of the trees and flora that can nullify the carbon emissions of farm machinery. Having a calculator that only takes emissions into account will cause a lot of farmers to stay away from more sustainable farming practices as it would become too expensive.

Your future goals?

If everything goes perfectly I’d like to start an apiary on the side. And maybe consult here and there. I’d look for a job where I can work outdoors.

For more on the Hortgro ‘Youth in Agriculture’ series read our first article with Portia Solomon and our third with Buhle Ngidi.

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