The Country - NZ Young Farmers: Securing the future of dairy a challenge

Finding and attracting young people to take New Zealand dairy farming into the future is recognised as one of the biggest challenges facing the sector according to NZ Young Farmers chief executive Terry Copeland, one that is being actively addressed.

Farming was not the most obvious career choice for city school students, but his organisation's AgriKids and TeenAg programmes were introducing primary and secondary school students to the primary sector, and educating them about career possibilities.

AgriKids was for primary school children, providing a fun, educational learning experience in a club environment, while TeenAg promoted a positive picture of agriculture and agricultural careers at high schools.

"The goal is to show students, from town and country, who enjoy the outdoors and don't mind getting their hands dirty just how stimulating agriculture can be," Mr Copeland said.

Annual regional competitions tested students' agricultural knowledge in theory and practice, ranging from animal anatomy to fencing, soil testing, plant identification, erecting a gate and assembling a beehive.

Mr Copeland said the competitions were important, as they were responsible for introducing the younger generation to agriculture and its exciting career possibilities.

"The competitions are hotly contested, with teams coming from all over New Zealand to represent their schools, and we are thrilled to see the development of these young students, particularly those who go on to enter the FMG Young Farmer of the Year," he added.

Those who had developed careers in the dairy industry because of the school programmes included Sam Moscrip (Hikurangi), who came from a farming backgrounds, but credited TeenAg with "igniting the spark".

He was introduced to TeenAg at Kamo High School. In 2012-13 Kamo was the top club in the country with 30 members, and six teams in the regional finals, two in the top five.

"The cool thing about the club was only two of us came from working farms so it was a chance for the urban teenagers to learn what farming was all about. We had great support from the school and parents, went on a field trip to Fonterra, and organised social activities including a visit to Marlborough with a stay at Molesworth Station. This was an eye-opener for some students, especially those who had never been across the Auckland Harbour Bridge," he said.

"I wanted to leave school in Year 12 to go farming, but I hung in there and went to Lincoln University to do a Bachelor of Commerce in Agriculture. I wouldn't have done that if it hadn't been for TeenAg."

The 2018 Northland Dairy Manager of the Year said he loved farming and the variety it offered.

"What other job includes animals, soils, plant and environmental management, and people skills, all in one day?"