Tuesday, 08 March 2016 10:55

First students busy at dairy academy

Written by  Peter Burke
Jaymee Smith serves tea during the opening last week. Jaymee Smith serves tea during the opening last week.

A new training facility for aspiring dairy farmers and herd and farm managers in the central North Island has its first intake of students.

The Central North Island Dairy Academy is a $1.1 million project by Shanghai Pengxin on its Ariki farm on the outskirts of Taupo.

The venture is a collaboration by Shanghai Pengxin and Landcorp Farming's joint venture company, Pengxin NZ Farm Management; it was a condition under which the Chinese company bought the former Crafar farms.

Six men and four women have begun their tuition in the inaugural 32 week live-in programme which combines theory and practical training with onfarm experience.

Teaching staff are from Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre and the practical learning happens on the Ariki dairy farm. The students are housed on nearby farms.

Graduates will be awarded Massey University's Diploma in Agriculture (Level 5).

The programme is designed to appeal to people with some technical skill or knowledge in dairying. The official opening of the classroom facility was attended by representatives of Shanghai Pengxin, Landcorp, Taratahi, Massey University, and government and industry.

The deal to set up the academy was negotiated by the former chief executive of Landcorp, Chris Kelly, who is now the chancellor of Massey University. He was among the many guests present and says it was great to see the facility finally open.

Pengxin Farm Group chief executive Andy MacLeod says leaders will be needed in the dairy industry to succeed the present cohort of farmers as they retire. He sees the academy as a small stepping stone for the industry, given that it will produce only ten graduates when there are 12,000 dairy farms in NZ.

He says good leaders will be needed to manage those farms economically and sustainably; the new facility is the company's contribution to the industry to promote young people coming through.

In addition to paying for the building, Shanghai Pengxin is putting in about $350,000 a year to run it. It cost the students nothing – their tuition, accommodation and food are free.

In May 2017, when Landcorp's contract as the sharemilker for Shanghai Pengxin ends, it will step aside. But this won't change anything, McLeod says.

"I guarantee right now Shanghai Pengxin will maintain it. This is not even a question we ask. We should get enough benefit out of this if the students who come here learn our network and come and work on our farms. The benefits to us and the industry speak for themselves."

MacLeod says it would be easy to replicate the facility in the South Island. He would like to work with other industry partners on such a venture.

He likes the way the students get to mix with farm staff and gain an appreciation of what farm life is all about.

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