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Taratahi gets back to work

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor praised Wairarapa-based list MP Kieran McAnulty for helping bring courses back to Taratahi during a tree planting to celebrate the site reopening. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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From health sector workers and sparkies, to those already interested in agriculture, new students at the Taratahi Agriculture Training Centre were an enthusiastic bunch when Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor came to town on Thursday.

Taster courses run by Ucol and the Eastern Institute of Technology started this week with seven new recruits now finished the first component which gave them a taste of what a career in the primary sector might look like.

At the reopening of the site, O’Connor told those gathered that agriculture was “the most noble profession”.

“The most important thing we can do is feed our family, feed our community, feed our nation, and then feed the world,” he said.

“The second most important thing is education. [Here] we are celebrating both of those things.”

He said the government’s decision to close the centre in December 2018 was a “sad one” and getting new courses had been an “agonising process”.

“I know the people of Wairarapa felt aggrieved by [the closure].”

Working through the liquidation process and resolving farm ownership had delayed the courses starting, but the advent of covid-19 had highlighted the importance of agriculture to the economy.

“We are running courses at a time when there are huge opportunities in agriculture and uncertainty in other parts of our economy.

“Some sectors have been heavily affected by the closure of our borders, and because of this, we’re working to transition Kiwis without work into primary sector jobs.

“This also helps farmers and growers cope with the reduction in migrant workers and helps ensure the sector continues to play a vital role in rebuilding our economy.”

He praised the efforts of many involved in getting the courses started, including Wairarapa-based Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty.

McAnulty said the reopening of the Taratahi campus was one of the most satisfying days in his career and a great thing for the region.

He hoped students would be able to enrol in more long-term courses early next year, but it was important to get something going now.

The government has injected $1.2 million into the programme to train 1000 people through short-term courses which will run until mid-December this year

The courses are free, with accommodation and meals provided, and include visits to farms and industry.

It was these qualities which encouraged 20-year-old Lachlan Hutchison to apply for the taster courses.

A city boy, his dad worked in the farming sector and often told stories of his time on the land which got him interested.

“The taster course is really good with just one day for each category of farming. They tell you what you’re getting into.”

He said having the accommodation, food, and tutoring provided for free was a big part of the reason he applied.

“That’s what stood out.

“It’s just a week, and if you don’t like it, you can do something else.”

He encouraged others to give it a go.

Having completed the first four-day and three-night part of the course, he was keen to continue on to the next modules and later pursue a career in the dairy industry.

Makuri-based healthcare assistant Patrice Heald was similarly inspired and applied for the course after seeing it advertised in her local paper and fell in love with dairying.

“I just wanted to look at having a change of lifestyle. This came up and I thought what an opportunity.”

Heald said the course had been “above and beyond” what she had expected and she planned to carry on.

While she enjoyed the milking and dairy experience, the hardest part of the course was the fencing module – as O’Connor learned while competing against the students.

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