New Zealand farmers are an ageing demographic and the traditional succession model – of the children inheriting the farm – is breaking down, raising questions around how the generational and experience based knowledge of Kiwi farmers will be passed down.
A study by agribusiness scientists, John Fairweather and Stephanie Mulet-Marques, using Statistics New Zealand data shows that farmers (owner operators) are getting older, and fewer farm children are interested in continuing on the family farm.
There also appears to be an increase in the corporatisation of local farms, although no studies have been done, which also potentially puts traditional farming knowledge that is learned through the experience of generations, at risk.
However, initiatives like the 450 strong Primary ITO volunteer mentor network – as well as training advisers who travel from farm to farm, and retired farmers who remain involved with the likes of Federated Farmers – are helping to make sure that valuable Kiwi farming know-how is preserved, even though farm children are going on to other professions.
Primary ITO regional manager in the Manawatu, Cathy Puanaki, says that steps are already in place to ensure ‘succession knowledge and experience’ is handed down, even to the level of a farmer’s learned experience of factors like the micro-climate and soils relevant to his particular farm.
“We have training advisers who are active farmers at the moment, whose children aren’t interested in going into farming, so we know it’s happening. I think technology is changing the way things are done, and children in particular are seeing different opportunities that they want to explore.
The younger generation are choosing not to carry on the traditional family farm. They are keen to go and attain new qualifications, techniques and technologies and bring them back to the family farm.”
Cathy believes though that the change in the traditional succession model presents an opportunity to bring fresh ideas and new technology on to the farm, without losing the knowledge learned through experience.
“The knowledge is being transferred because our trainees are doing their qualifications while learning hands on during their day-to-day employment activities on the farm. This on the job training gives farmers, and farm managers, the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with the trainees.
Our training advisers – many who are farmers themselves – work with the trainee and his or her employer to ensure the practical requirements of our industry qualifications are met.”
Cathy says the ITO’s volunteer mentors come from all sectors of primary industries, which means there is always somebody there to talk, train and mentor trainees using the benefit of their experience.
“People who go into farming are mostly practical by nature and turn into superstars on the farm. Our training advisers, their employers, our mentors and Primary ITO’s process are there to support their learning.
As an industry training organisation, we are Government funded, but the primary industry also fronts up. This means industry partnership groups are very much part of the Primary ITO fabric, and these partnership groups give us direct feedback about the relevance of our qualifications and how well they are meeting the needs of industry,” says Cathy.
For example, Primary ITO now offers qualifications in organic farming and goat milking, which were put in place to meet the rapidly changing needs of industry.
“I think that when you consider all these mechanisms we have put into place to support on the job training, you will find that we’re well equipped to ensure that new ideas, new technologies and new methods will remain well complemented with the learned, generational knowledge and experience older farmers bring to the table,” says Cathy.