Auckland isn’t the first word that usually springs to mind when discussing the future of farming in New Zealand. It’s the city of sails, motorways and high rises, after all.
But our biggest city holds the key to the Government’s goal of doubling primary industry exports in real terms from $32 billion in 2012 to $64 billion by 2025.
To achieve this ambitious goal people are the key – not just to expand the workforce of our primary industries, but to replace retiring baby boomers.
Speaking at the Future Farms conference in Palmerston North, New Zealand Young Farmers chief executive officer Terry Copeland said about 40 per cent of high school students live in Auckland. This means agri careers need to be relevant to Aucklanders.
The average age of a farmer is late 50s so we need to nurture and connect the next generation to ensure the success of the primary industries.
Terry says the shutters come down when one talks to Aucklanders about “primary industries”. Food creation or food production are better terms as everyone eats, everyone can relate to food.
A lot of urban New Zealanders don’t know where their food comes from so we need to change the message around food. The food creation industry needs to become more relatable and relevant to Aucklanders, he says.
Most of the new primary industries workforce will be from the millennials generation. Millennials won’t put up with poor treatment by employers and managers. They think and need different things to the rest of us, Terry says. Millennials will challenge why they should be doing a given task.
Making a difference motivates this generation and we need to get the message out that one of the biggest ways they can make a difference is sustainable food production, he says.
The human resource management skills of farmer employers is an issue. Some have been farmers all their lives, but only recently become employers. How do we get to those people that don’t know they are not good at it, Terry asks.
The way farmers are often portrayed in the media is not conducive to showing farmers as multi-disciplinary professionals.
Young Farmers is working hard to change the perception of agriculture and horticulture classes at secondary schools. For too long, these classes have been the dumping ground for trouble makers, truants and those who don’t want to be at school, he says.
Young Farmers, with support from CORE Education and funding from the Red Meat Profit Partnership, has developed the Agrication website to support teachers and students to learn more about our land-based industries.
Resources range from planning and running a pet day, to predicting progeny and exploring literature with a farming flavour from the past and today.
Planning is under way to turn a 74-hectare dairy farm in South Auckland, gifted to Young Farmers by the late Donald Pearson, into an educational farm.
Young Farmers says the farm’s location provides an unrivalled opportunity to get urban students excited about the career prospects in the primary industries.