The world is the oyster of those who choose to be part of an industry that contributes to the most important thing in the world – sustainably produced food.
Lincoln University Adjunct Professor Dr Jacqueline Rowarth, Growing Future Farmers general manager Cyn Smith and Napier Boys’ High School head of agriculture Rex Newman all say there is plenty to encourage a new generation into farming now with good cadet schemes, training partners and opportunity to help them achieve their best.
A panel, including Jacqueline, Rex and a representative from GFF, will be joined by youngsters who are forging their way in the industry for an on-stage discussion as part of Wednesday’s (February 23) seminar programme at the East Coast Farming Expo in February.
Dr Rowarth says choosing a career in agriculture brings with it the ability to make a difference. “Whatever your skills and interests, there is a place where you can contribute to the major thing that the world needs – sustainably produced food,” she says. “From practical to theoretical, the industry needs people who can think about food production in a different way while understanding the current practices.”
Plants, animals, soils, computers, mechanics, driving trucks or tankers, or research in the lab, sorting trade deals, creating policies, or even marketing, media and advertising taking New Zealand’s superb product to the world . . . there is so much choice. “Local and national governments need people who understand the issues in the industry and can create a better future.”
Dr Rowarth says the industry is always keen to welcome motivated people into the fold. “They recognise the value in different backgrounds and perspectives, and there is plenty of training and education available.”
The industry sometimes suffered through a lack of desire by people not recognising agriculture as an engaging career path. “They don’t want to come so the challenge is great,” she says. “If the world is your oyster, why would you want to come into an industry that is regarded by a vocal subset of society as environmental destroyers?”
She would love to see the government take a lead and ensure the media give more airtime to supporting the farmers and growers who create the economy, than they give to activists.
Dr Rowarth sees plenty of value in the many cadet schemes run across New Zealand. “The on farm work, immersion training and the people they meet bring much to the table.”
While the government continued to invest an increasing amount into agriculture at many different levels, she felt unless the stigma associated with farming and food production was overcome, some of that money would be wasted.
“We need to ensure that parents in agriculture and horticulture feel valued, that they are enjoying their work and are able to create vibrant businesses. If they feel oppressed by paperwork and unable to see how they will manage the next regulation or tax being imposed and stay viable, they are not likely to recommend agriculture and horticulture as a life for their children.”
And if the children watched their parents struggling, they would certainly look for opportunity where they felt more valued.
Growing Future Farmers is an initiative driven by Gisborne couple Dan and Tam Jex-Blake that seeks to meet the critical skill shortage in farming through a programme that creates a career pathway for students keen to work in the beef, lamb, and deer sector.
Each student is taken on a fees-free two-year course that will see them gain entry level essential farm skills, followed by advanced skills and then into business management, leaving with NZQA level three qualifications. Students are paid weekly, so graduate with no student loans, and at the end of their two years will also have two trained dogs at their sides. One of the key components is the wrap around pastoral care the programme offers students.
Cyn Smith is the GFF general manager and says one of the biggest positives with the programme is that it is employer-driven but industry-backed. “There are so many opportunities within the industry – from agricultural service industries like fencing, shearing, machinery operation and more, to shepherding, or being a stock manager,” says Ms Smith. There was certainly something for everyone.
She felt the demographic isolation and distance to social networks, internet connectivity, financial rewards and perceived opportunity did bring some challenges when seeking new people to come into the industry. GFF have worked hard to address those issues through pastoral support, guidance, and holistic programmes.
“Due to current shortages of qualified staff in the sector, employment opportunities can sometimes lure students to work before training adequately qualifying themselves long term.”
GFF was just one of many cadet schemes and programmes available. “Different strokes for different folks,” says Ms Smith. “It really depends on the learning environment the student is seeking and their financial options. To futureproof the sector there is a great need for training in agriculture where there are such large employment gaps.”
She felt government needed to do more. “Their support is for the formal tertiary qualifications but beyond this there are many areas requiring support as young people transition from school into careers. Funding rural training in remote areas needs to address issues of wellbeing, demographics and costs associated with delivery in these settings.”
Ms Smith said the current Targeted Training Apprenticeship Fund had been essential in vocational training and needed to continue.
“COVID has highlighted the value of the primary sector and the employment security it offers in New Zealand,” she said. And it had led to an increase in interest in the sector for both training and careers.
Napier Boys’ High School head of agriculture Rex Newman figures there is more opportunity in agriculture now than ever before, with a wide range of choices for anyone moving into the industry.
He worked in the industry before moving to teaching and says it is a far cry from those days. Hawke’s Bay was lucky to have the likes of Smedley right there. “It really is the leading institution as far as training goes, with 26 cadets that come out of there. Growing Future Farmers has a really good fit and especially for kids who are out there training on farms rather than stuck at school where it probably doesn’t suit them so much.”
The opportunities were vast and he was seeing more and more keen to move into the industry. “All of a sudden, with the likes of GFF, people have a positive experience learning on farms and it just grows from there.”
He sees it as a real privilege to teach agriculture as a subject. “We have such a wonderful community involvement here in Hawke’s Bay . . . I think we are pretty fortunate all round really.”
For more information on the Expo, head to www.eastcoastexpo.co.nz .
WHAT: East Coast Farming Expo
WHEN: February 23-24, 2022
WHERE: Wairoa A&P Showgrounds
MORE INFO: www.eastcoastexpo.co.nz