Six GFF students were partnered with farmers across Wairarapa for on-farm training opportunities as part of the programme.PHOTOS/FILE

Four months into the Wairarapa pilot of the Growing Future Farmers programme, GIANINA SCHWANECKE speaks to those involved about how it has been going.

Interim GFF general manager Tamsin Jex-Blake said many students had expressed interest in the Wairarapa pilot late last year and six students were partnered with farmers.

The sheep and beef focused training programme officially kicked off in February this year, and she was happy with how it had progressed so far.

She said the programme helped provide students with opportunities to learn practical farming skills from those experienced in the industry and would go a long way to helping with the skills shortage.

“It can offer a really great opportunity for young people. Our employer-led initiative was established to support farmers to future proof training the next generation.”

The programme combines practical learning with a more formal qualification.

It provided opportunities for students from non-rural backgrounds and those who might not have the funds to study at other education providers, she said.

The high volume of interest meant they had to turn away some applicants.

The programme was also being trialled in Gisborne and they were hoping to expand the programme to cater to about 60 students, including those in Hawke’s Bay, the central North Island, Canterbury and Southland regions.

“Ours is a scalable model,” she said.

Last year, it received a grant of $750,792 from the Te Ara Mahi allocation of the Provincial Growth Fund to run pilots in Gisborne, Wairoa and Wairarapa.

For those from non-rural backgrounds like Grace Blyth, the programme offered her entry into the primary industry and the chance to learn practical skills like shearing. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

For Grace Blyth, the programme offers her a path into the primary sector from her upbringing in Upper Hutt.

Working at Wairere Rams in Bideford, she said it offered her the opportunity to work and learn practical ‘on-farm’ farming skills from a team of successful and experienced farmers while achieving an academic qualification.

“I love learning about all aspects of day-to-day farm life,” she said.

“More importantly the life-skills I am gaining here through GFF and Wairere Rams is priceless.”

She also enjoyed the teamwork of bonding and working with her dogs.

“I love being outdoors learning about a variety of farm animals, and how to manage their needs in order to produce a premium product.”

Flynn Beagley, originally from Mt Bruce, said he had always wanted to be a shepherd.

“I joined GFF because I’ve wanted to be a shepherd since I was a little fella. I saw this opportunity and went for it.”

Working at Palliser Ridge in South Wairarapa, he said he enjoyed learning about stock management.

He’d also picked up practical skills like shearing, crutching, tractor driving, dog work and processing mutton.

Palliser Ridge manager and shareholder Kurt Portas said they wanted to support young people entering the industry.

Farm manager and shareholder Kurt Portas said Beagley had a good attitude towards learning and helped with everything on the farm.

“[He’s] given our staff new enthusiasm to lift their game and train a student, and we are starting to get more jobs done.”

He said they enjoyed new people and helping others get into the industry.

“We feel this is the best way to train up new entrant farmers. It is also part of our vision of the way we farm and will help future proof our farm.”

Like Beagley, fellow GFF student Carley Pryce said she had always been interested in the industry.

However, she had struggled to find a job without experience.

“I am born and bred in Stratford, Taranaki. I didn’t grow up on a big station, but I’ve always had a passion for farming.

“I signed up because I was struggling to find my first job as a shepherd with close to no experience and no team of dogs.”

She hoped GFF would help her to get a first foot in the door of the industry.

Working for Doug and Jo McKenzie at Patitapu Station in Alfredton, she said there wasn’t one thing she had not enjoyed learning about.

“Every task, little or big needs to be done and to the best of your ability. Everything from training dogs, learning how to drive a quad bike, use a chainsaw and crutch sheep can be very challenging at times, but I have enjoyed learning these skills as they are all an important part of being a shepherd.”

GFF student Flynn Beagley said he had wanted to be a shepherd since he was a “young fella”. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Doug said she had been an enthusiastic worker eager to learn through the coaching of others, and the staff had enjoyed watching her development and progress.

“We enjoy seeing the growth and development of young people, regardless of where their future career path takes them.”

They took on a student because they felt there was a need in the industry to give young people that were interested the chance to learn basic farming skills on the job without the pressure of having to justify a full starting salary, he said.

This was increasingly challenging due to increases in the minimum wage.

“We need these young cadets for the future of the agricultural industry in New Zealand. Rather than moaning about the challenges of finding staff, particularly farms of our scale, should be at the forefront of contributing towards developing future ag employees.”

It was also an opportunity for staff to enhance their own skills and learning through teaching others.

“An extra pair of hands at busy times is immensely valuable,” he said.