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Humanity’s most ancient industry combines the latest technology in machinery, genetics and processes but will always require hands in the soil.
That means competent, confident farming personnel are a resource requiring as much care and management as the land itself.
Growing numbers of young people are looking towards rural careers, and the responsibility for encouraging and training these future farmers is taken on by educators such as Telford, near Balclutha, South Otago.
Supported by the Southern Institute of Technology, Telford is a nerve centre of knowledge, resources and expertise which, with universities like Massey, Lincoln, Otago and Auckland as well as numerous polytech and UCOL institutions, works to safeguard the sustainable self sufficiency of our core economy.
Telford runs a Taster Camp in early October where potential students can experience life and learning there and sample rural work and lifestyles in general.
Courses are explained and hands-on experience provided to broaden minds to the great opportunities in the primary sector, while they meet people with similar interests who can help them make career decisions.
Attending Taster Camp with her daughter Lucy is Megan Fraser from Pleasant Point near Timaru, where her husband, a lifelong farmer, is now a large-scale contractor specialising in dairy and rural transport.
Lucy is interested in the Level 3 New Zealand certificate in agriculture course — specialising in dairy, sheep and beef — which covers everything from vehicles, tools and animal husbandry down to pasture, then delves below ground into the secret biochemistry of soil and water.
To seasoned farmers it is a programme of practical basics but to the layman — the urban consumer moving through the produce and butchery sections of their favourite supermarket — it is a distant, different world.
Many of the 38 school leavers attending Telford’s Taster Camp already come from rural New Zealand but nonetheless find themselves surprised by the inner workings of the lifestyle they thought they knew.
The young men particularly enjoy the power cutting tools and welders give them to make running repairs and construct custom designs with steel on-site.
At an introduction to rural animal technician training, participants watch and assist in a practical seminar on the anatomy and dissection of stock.
Emily Ladbrook (17) comes from suburban Christchurch and her parents work in engineering and retail, but she has a rural instinct exemplified by her love of Western riding.
‘‘It is important to know where food comes from. I respect my vegetarian and vegan friends’ choices but I think many people aren't totally informed how meat and other food gets there,’’ she said.
She explained she was going back to Christchurch for a quick weekend at home before heading straight up to Blenheim for job interviews in farm work ranging from horticulture to sheep and beef.
Her plan was to work for a year to get experience and save money, then return to education on an equine skills course the following year.
Taking a quick break from helping with the dissection, Pam Haycock (18), of Hawke’s Bay, pointed out a simple truth.
‘‘Whatever else happens, people still need to keep eating. If it weren't for farmers there’d be no food at the supermarket. That’s a huge responsibility I want to be a part of.’’
Veteran tutor Anton Van Schalkwyk spoke about the promise he saw among this year’s ‘‘Taster Campers’’.
‘‘They're a good bunch and we have more than usual.
‘‘They're keen to learn how science and technology reduces work by understanding and optimising plants and animals, but they understand agriculture is always going to involve physical labour.’’
Course marketer Mariette Guldenhuys said there were city kids looking for careers with variety in the open outdoors.
‘‘A lot of year 12 to 13 kids are sick of books and classes and want to be hands on with an active, broad spectrum career.
‘‘Some are looking for a different role model — we have one camper interested in ag who is primarily a musician.’’
The nation’s future remained with farming, and encouraging young New Zealanders to put themselves in that future had never been more important.
- Nick Brook