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Farming works hard to appeal to young

Agriculture is the “flavour of the month” at one Timaru high school, despite worries from the farming sector that the subject is being overlooked.

South Canterbury Federated Farmers provincial president Ivon Hurst said students were not aware of the opportunities agriculture offers.

“In 10 years’ time, starting as a sharemilker, someone could be worth $10 million,” Mr Hurst said.

“It’s academic snobbery regarding farming being the pits.”

Mr Hurst believed students were learning less about farming because more families were growing up in urban areas.

However, local schools such as Mountainview High are pushing the subject and the skills students learn from agriculture.

The school has more than two hectares of farmland, and principal Derek Friend said agriculture studies were popular.

“It’s just flavour of the month at the moment,” he said.

With a large interest from the year 11s this year, Mountainview is looking to introduce National Certificate of Educational Achievement standards at level two next year.

A recent report undertaken by accounting firm KPMG found the public perception of the industry did not represent the sector as an “attractive profession”, and agriculture education was not recognised enough in New Zealand secondary schools.

Only 1 per cent of university students graduating had an agriculture-related degree. Instead, students were choosing “softer” subjects.

Roncalli College principal Chris Comeau said there were not enough enrolments to justify an agriculture class.

“People have a perception that farming is just sitting on a tractor.”

Aoraki Polytechnic was working with Lincoln University, high schools and local industry leaders to boost the agricultural programmes it offered.

“It is challenging to recruit students into agriculture,” said acting chief executive Alex Cabrera.

“We are very excited about developing further opportunities in areas such as irrigation. Based on our liaison with local industry, other areas we are considering developing are agricultural mechanics and farm management practice.”

The polytechnic’s primary industries portfolio manager, Andrea Leslie, said agriculture was becoming a lot more technological, business-focused, and output-driven.

“We need a skilled, competent workforce in order to meet the developing demand of the industry. It is important not to overlook the opportunities available in primary industries.

“It is not just farming; it could mean irrigation, supporting sustainability and environment, food production, and business.”

_Emma Cropper reporting for The Timaru Herald