Byron News: Program brings farmhands from South Africa to Byron

A program somewhat like a foreign exchange program for farmers has brought two experienced farmhands from South Africa to Wyoming to live, work, learn and to experience a whole new culture in Byron.  Petrus Cornelius Oberholzer and Johannes Cornelius Human, known around these parts as PC and JC, have come to Wyoming to work with Brent and Sherry Ragath on their farming operation west of Byron.

The two men are here as part of an agricultural program called H2A. Getting them here was quite a process. The Dept. of Health inspects and must approve any living arrangements, and offers unannounced inspections after the men are here. The Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Labor, both federal and state, are involved in the program. The employees are paid

Visiting farmhands Johannes Cornelius Human “JC” (far right) and Petrus Cornelius Oberholzer “PC” (far left) of South Africa are working for Byron rancher Brent Ragath (middle) on a special visa through a government program. Pam Hopkinson photo
Visiting farmhands Johannes Cornelius Human “JC” (far right) and Petrus Cornelius Oberholzer “PC” (far left) of South Africa are working for Byron rancher Brent Ragath (middle) on a special visa through a government program.
Pam Hopkinson photo

a wage set by the government, and are here on an eight-month visa and they must be offered 48 hours of work a week. There is a South African government agent on the other end that does the prequalifying there.

One of the advantages to the local farmers is that the men arrive with farming experience and a willingness to work and will do whatever task they are assigned.

PC and JC come from a community about twice the size of Byron. PC lives on the family farm with a sister and his mother and father. They raise cattle, corn, wheat, alfalfa and also raise wild game including water buffalo, kudu, and springbok for hunting. The main difference in farming here, according to PC, is the machinery. Machinery and automobiles are expensive back home, he said.

JC was married just a few weeks before he left to come to Byron for the eight-month work visa. He planned to wait but filled a spot when another worker left the program unexpectedly. He said his wages will allow him to go home and have a nice honeymoon.

The exchange rate for every dollar they earn while working in Byron, is the purchasing power of  $13 there. JC owns a sand, gravel and brick company. They make their own brick with sand, gravel, cement and the heat of the sun. He said he has been to America before and was part of a crew that did custom harvesting in Texas and Kansas. PC also did some of that work, but they both said they like working for one boss on the farm the best. When I asked them who their real boss was here, there was no hesitation that it was Sherry. I might note that Sherry also feeds them.

When asked about the difference in weather, they said they have similar weather back home, but here in Wyoming you get all four seasons in one day. It is very unpredictable. They said their winters do not get as harsh, never below zero.

I asked about food and JC is impressed by the size of hamburgers here. They both miss lamb, which they “braai” (barbecue) with a special salt mixture they brought to the states from South Africa. A local farmer graciously shared some lamb with them so they could have a taste of home.

Before they go back, they plan to do some camping and fishing. They said they would also like to see Yellowstone.

PC is the youngest of the two, at age 24, and being single he gets teased about being girl crazy. I did assure him I would emphasize that he is single and he added “available.” They are busy most of the time, so I’m not sure when they will fit in a social life, but PC is sure he could find the time. They both expressed how glad they are to participate in the program, because it helps them to have a better life when they return home.

BY PAMELA COZZENS HOPKINSON