August 5, 2008

Knowledge Brings Rewards

By BASHAM, Laura

Training in agriculture is proving to be a way to get ahead for young people with a love of the outdoors, reports Laura Basham ---- ---------------- FARM PAY IN NELSON REGION Dairy farm worker: $28,000-$35,000 Herd manager: $36,000-$45,000 Farm manager: $55,000- $65,000 Sharemilker: $90,000-$150,000 Other benefits: subsidised accommodation, food, power, phone, transport, and production and performance bonuses. --------------------

Tristan Wastney did not want to go dairy farming.

His father had milked cows for 25 years, working long hours in all weathers on their Wakapuaka farm.

"I totally did not want to go dairy farming," Tristan recalls.

Now he is 24, has won the West Coast Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year award, and sees farming as the way to get ahead.

Robyn Cooper worked as a florist in Nelson after she left Waimea College.

Farming was not pushed as a career option at school, she says.

"It was all about doing computers or science or uni - not dairy or sheep and beef farming. I think it's a shame."

Now Robyn has completed a diploma in agribusiness management, and with husband Braden is sharefarming a 1400ha property with 7000 stock in the Owen Valley, near Murchison.

Robyn and Tristan love what they are doing, have gained valuable qualifications and experience, and will make good money.

The top of the south region has 95 Agriculture Industry Training Organisation trainees, 17 of them doing apprenticeships and the rest doing national certificates.

When Tristan left school, he shunned farming and did an apprenticeship as a mechanic for a year and a half. However, he saw his boss earning only $15 an hour. "I thought, 'I am not going to get ahead doing this'."

After eight months working as a kitchenhand at Portage resort in the Marlborough Sounds, he took his first farm job on an 850-cow farm at Canvastown, earning $680 a fortnight.

That was eight years ago, and it was not bad money, considering that most of his mates were not working or were in low-paid jobs such as apple picking or fish processing.

"I was not paying for rent, power or the phone. That's where you can save money."

He was milking, feeding out and doing routine farm jobs, and started studying for his Ag ITO level two.

After six months, he wanted to step up, and took a series of jobs progressing from assistant herd manager to assistant farm manager to farm manager at farms in Golden Bay, Nelson and Tapawera.

Tristan completed his level three and four qualifications to complete his apprenticeship, and at 21 was managing a farm with three staff under him.

One motivation for him to get ahead has been his partner Sylvia and their now three- year-old daughter.

Along the way, he has learned a lot about how to farm - and how not to.

"That's probably why I have got where I am today, because I have worked on these different farms and got different experiences."

The young family's latest stop was at Sherry River, where Tristan was farm manager with three staff, peak milking 520 cows.

He increased production by 25,000kg of milk solids and achieved his goal of 5 percent "empties" (cows failing to conceive), compared with the farm's 13 percent rate the year before and the regional average of 11 percent.

"I was rapt."

However, his success was overshadowed by an equity partnership deal that saw him end up out of a job.

Undeterred, it has given the 24-year-old a new opportunity. He is now a contract milker for Raine Farms at Motupiko.

"This farm was run down to the ground. I am putting in a whole new water system, refencing the farm and improving the irrigation system.

"The goal is to be a 50-50 partnership in three years.

"I have a huge challenge."

Contract milking means Tristan is paid a certain amount for every kilogram of milk solids, so the incentive is to increase production.

He sees lot of potential, and while he is having to work hard, he finds the challenge satisfying.

"There is so much opportunity.

"There is such a shortage of young people coming through, and it sucks, because it such a vibrant industry. Everybody is there to support you. If you are willing to put your head down and get your qualification, everyone will help you."

He believes the most important thing for people coming into the industry is attitude and a willingness to learn.

"If you go in with a good attitude, and get your qualifications, you are going to have that many jobs offered to you."

He has enjoyed the study, with classes held fortnightly at venues such as the Takaka Rugby Club rooms.

"It was awesome, nothing like being at school."

Robyn Cooper, who gave up floristry to manage her parents' Tapawera sheep and beef farm at the age of 21, has combined farming and study off and on over the past six years.

Completing her diploma included having to do a case study on a farm she did not know - a sheep and beef farm at Culverden.

It involved assessing the farm's stock policy, fertiliser policy and finances, and working out how its owners could increase production.

While the study has been a big commitment, it has allowed her to compare the farm with her and Braden's own farming business and seeing if they can do better.

She sees farming as a great choice for those who love the outdoors and are prepared to work hard.

"I don't know if people think sheep farming is an inferior job, but you've got to be up on new technology and clued up in lots of fields, like the effect the dollar has on your own business, about the international marketplace, what's happening overseas with oil and how that's going to affect your business.

"It's not just riding a motorbike to move sheep from paddock to paddock."

Robyn, 33, and Braden, 34, lease the farm they work and hope to buy into it, with the ultimate goal of owning their own farm.

They have now gone from trainees to trainers, and employ 18-year- old apprentice Jeremy Dillon, from Lake Rotoiti.

"Any worker we have, we make them do ITO training. We think it's extremely worthwhile. What they learn in theory they can practise on the farm and vice versa."

Agriculture ITO training adviser Robyn Patterson says there has been a big change in the past couple of years, with good people coming into farming.

"The students coming in are a higher standard. They have a commitment to training that was not there five years ago.

"It's coming through from the school system, where there's an expectation people are going to train, and employers are very supportive of training."

Waimea College is the only college in the Nelson region teaching agriculture combined with horticulture.

Head of department Allan Rankin sees good opportunities in those areas for his students.

However, agriculture has become almost the "forgotten subject", he says.

Post Primary Teachers Association representatives told Parliament's primary production select committee last month that agriculture was a "fragile subject" that was under-resourced. It was the only subject that did not move across to Scholarship when NCEA was introduced, which had hurt its credibility, they said.

Mr Rankin says the future of agriculture training in schools is now hanging in the balance.


(c) 2008 Nelson Mail, The. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.