Staff needed to ‘man our farms’

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Southland Federated Farmers president Geoffrey Young (left) and NZ First MP Mark Patterson discuss the Government's plans to attract more young people into the primary industries at a Southland Federated Farmers AGM last week. Photo: Abbey Palmer

THE absence of young people with the experience or desire to get into primary industries has left Southland farmers feeling the pressure.

Industry professionals met to discuss issues within the community at the Southland Federated Farmers annual meeting at the Invercargill Workingmen’s Club last week.

NZ First MP Mark Patterson spoke on behalf of the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins.

In his speech he acknowledged farming resources were “scarce” and there was an immediate need to attract more young people into the primary industries.

“We need to have a strong, healthy vocational education system to support our regional economic development strategies and we look to progress that.”

Mr Patterson said the minister noted in his speech that top-class training and education within the range of primary industries were vital contributors to the education sector.

He said 70% of New Zealand’s merchandise exports came from farming, with an expectation the industry would generate $45.6 billion in revenue for exports by June this year.

However, he acknowledged there were some challenges in the workforce. In 2012, 22,500 students were enrolled in agriculture and environment-based courses, but in 2017 those numbers had shrunk to 16,500, he said.

“This is happening at a time where demand is far outstripping supply, the ability to attract people into our sector is being challenged.”

A meeting attendee said she was struggling to find local staff to work on her farm and the process of hiring immigrants who were suitable for the job was taking too long.

Mr Patterson said the increase in compliance requirements for the environment and health and safety meant a wider range of skills were needed to “man our farms”.

“I know that personally from trying to get labour on my own farm, managerial labour, I know how scarce those resources are and how important it is that we do up our game.”

He also noted the minister said the funding system needed to change.

“The minister references going to Telford watching an exhibition of students learning to shear – there is no equivalent in teaching a room full of accountancy students compared to teaching all those practical skills that are needed on our farms and the funding model absolutely needs to reflect that.”

The minister also wrote of a primary industries cove, which would be a “centre of vocational excellence”, which was under consideration, with Telford being a potential candidate, he said.

The minister said he hoped to have a decision made by the end of the year. The government had allocated $1.8 million to support the Southern Institute of Technology to support Telford this year.

“It is only for one year at this stage to allow for time to look at other options.”

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