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Supporting the next generation of farmers

Wanted — farmers to inspire the next generation to perform at their best.

That is what Growing Future Farmers (GFF), a training programme for young people interested in entering the sheep, beef and deer industry is looking for — providing a career pathway for farmers of the future.

A pilot programme has been held in Gisborne and Wairarapa and it will be rolled out to six regions next year, including two in the South Island.

The aim was to have 10 farmer trainers in each area.

Gisborne farmers Dan and Tam Jex-Blake spoke at information evenings in Winton and Kurow recently, outlining the programme to potential farmer trainers.

The Essential Farms skills programme was a two-year programme with zero fees, comprising practical workplace training and development, NZQA level 3 qualifications and pastoral care support.

It offered a range of specialised farm training and development courses with the practicalities of farm experience and training throughout the programme.

Mr and Mrs Jex-Blake's involvement in the programme was driven by a desire to train young people in their sector.

Everyone recognised the issue and a lot of farmers believed there was “someone out there” that was going to sort it.

“There's actually not. Farmers now have to sort it themselves,” Mr Jex-Blake said.

Mrs Jex-Blake said there was nothing wrong with existing training programmes, but there was not enough of them.

Employing school leavers did not always work in a high-risk environment and it was very hard to teach a young person in the sector in a classroom, she said.

GFF came about from the need to offer more opportunities to young people.

It was a hybrid of transitioning young students into a genuine workplace, taking two years to get them work ready and give them the skills to “hit the ground running” and continue with their next step of learning.

Mr and Mrs Jex-Blake have four employees, as well as two second-year GFF students on Mangapoike Farm.

Asked what qualities a farmer trainer needed, Mr Jex-Blake said they needed to accept they were taking on students, not employees, and needed to be prepared to invest time in the student.

They needed to have an attitude and team that bought into the concept of developing young people. And it created its own energy in the team, because they took ownership of it.

Industry specialists were used wherever possible to train the students — the likes of dog training with a triallist, fencing with a contractor and shearing with an instructor.

There was a big gap in learning and huge variability around what people knew in the sector.

There were sometimes people in senior positions who “don't know a whole lot of the basics”, he said.

Being involved in the programme was hugely rewarding as they watched the progress of the students, Mr Jex-Blake said.

The two they had, now a year and a-half in, each had a heading dog they had broken in themselves and a huntaway that was two-thirds broken in.

The students, who knew very little about farming prior to the start of the programme could now do the likes of fencing, shearing and crutching.

Farmers needed to know there was support provided with the amazing liaison support and pastoral care, Mrs Jex-Blake said.

Farmers needed to have the confidence to put their hands up to be trainers and the support had to be provided to allow them to make it happen.

She was encouraged by the industry “getting in behind us” and offering support to help develop young people.

“We have to support our farmers, otherwise it's just too hard on their own.”

“It's not just about bums on seats, but quality and delivering what the farmer and the student want.”

The couple were passionate about the initiative and the wider agricultural sector.

“It's business-critical for us. This is the next generation of farmers, we need to show them what it looks like.”

Dan Jex-Blake