Fostering future farmers

New Zealand schools training the next generation of the rural industry.

To run a successful farming business, understanding all the aspects of modern farming is paramount – and what better way to learn than by doing? Getting out onto the farm to learn the ins and outs of farming work is what is expected of the students at Lincoln University’s Telford Campus and at Smedley Station and Cadet Training Farm. Telford and Smedley are two well-known and well respected institutes and the staff at these institutes are dedicated to training the next generation of farmers.

1Located 5 minutes from Balclutha in the heart of South Otago, Telford covers more than 921 hectares of farmland with halls of residence and facilities, technical workshops (machinery, carpentry and welding), classrooms and livestock units. Telford students learn practical farming skills through handson training supervised by experienced tutors, as well as being part of regular work experience on external farms. Telford Campus Manager, Chis Hargest, has been responsible for the day to day running of the campus for almost 4 years and says he loves the variety of his role. “Every day is different, that’s what makes the job so enjoyable. You just don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next,” he says.

The Director of Telford is based at the main Lincoln University campus near Christchurch, so Chris travels up there on a regular basis.

2“We’ve also got a satellite campus up in Kaitaia where we run our apiculture course,” he says. “I remember when we moved all our beehives up to Kaitaia – that was the first time I had ever dealt with bees. I had to get in a bee suit and all the hives had to come in to the campus to be put on a truck to be driven up north. It was more bees than I’ve ever seen in my life. That was quite an experience.”

Not only does he love the variety of his role, Chris says it’s hard to beat the location. “There’s not many businesses where you can look out the window and see sheep in a paddock and then look out the other window and see students on a campus. It’s a really vibrant place.”

Chris has lived in Balclutha for most of his life and although he doesn’t have a background in farming, he currently lives on a small lifestyle block with his wife and two children. Before finding his dream job at Telford, Chris had roles in banking and finance, small business enterprise and business development.


“I enjoy the challenges at Telford and I enjoy the people I work with. Sometimes it takes people a long time to find a job that they really enjoy – I’m really lucky that I’ve found it.” Chris says he really enjoys seeing how the students develop as individuals during their time at Telford and he appreciates the hard work and dedication that the tutors put in to getting the best out of them.

4“The students that leave the Telford campus are certainly prepared to do well in the workforce. The tutors put a lot of work in to getting them to where they are. Telford students are sought after in the workforce,” he says. “But the thing that probably stands out to me about Telford is the dedication of the staff to the organisation.”

Telford originally operated as the Telford Farm Training Institute from 1964 to 1974, a result of successful negotiations by a group of South Otago residents who were keen to see an agricultural training facility established in the area. The land for Telford was made available by the family of William Telford, administered by the Telford Farm Board of Management according to the terms of the Telford Act of Parliament 1964. In 1974 a partnership was made between Telford Farm Training Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, whereby the Board was responsible for the farms and the Ministry was responsible for the education. In 1989, the Ministry of Education replaced the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as partner and in February 1991, Telford became a polytechnic with a council elected to operate the campus and educational facilities, alongside the Board.

Telford is an integral part of the Balclutha community, with a long and proud history of training New Zealand farmers. “You know it’s here,” Chris says. “But it’s not until you actually come in the gate and see what Telford is, that you appreciate what an asset the community has got in Telford.”

1Smedley Station and Cadet Training Farm is another New Zealand institute with a long and proud history of developing future farmers.

Situated in Tikokino, 40km west of Waipukurau in Central Hawke’s Bay, Smedley Station was gifted to the Crown by Josiah Howard in 1919 for the purposes of agricultural education. The first intake of five cadets arrived at Smedley Station in 1931 and over the years, the number of cadets taken on annually has increased. Now 11 cadets enter Smedley each year for a 2 year cadetship. Cadets receive practical instruction and training in all aspects of farm operations carried out on Smedley Station, along with instruction in the principles of agricultural science and technology and their application to the establishment and maintenance of pasture crops and stock. Every day the cadets do work that they will expect to do in their future employment.

Smedley Business Manager Rob Evans knows the programme well. Formerly manager of a sheep, beef and deer operation, Rob is new to the Business Manager role at Smedley but is certainly not new to Smedley itself – he was a cadet there from 1998 to 1999. “Farming has changed since then,” he says. “But the station, when you drive in, it still looks the same.” Rob returned to Smedley as the Business Manager in July last year and he and his wife Jenn live on campus. His role is to oversee everything that happens at Smedley and to keep things rolling along. “It’s a lot of organising and a lot of time spent ticking boxes,” he says. “But I try to get out as much as I can – helping and teaching the cadets.” Rob says he misses being hands-on but knew that being in the office a lot was all part of the role.

2“I try and get out as much as I can but sometimes it puts a bit more pressure on me to go and catch up on stuff I didn’t get done. I enjoy being out… I might have a week where I can spend a lot of time out and then the next week I’m tied up with meetings or organising or doing accounts and all that stuff. The challenge is trying to balance it and still try and give back to the cadets.”

Smedley Station spans 5,054 hectares (3,186 effective) of flat to steep hill country made up of three blocks – the Main Station, Ridgelands and Onepoto. The station runs sheep, cattle, bull beef and deer and carries approximately 27,000 stock units. Operating as both a commercial farm and a self-funded training facility, the practical and theory based training is structured around the farming year so that training is relevant to what cadets are doing on the farm at the time. The academic part of the Smedley programme is delivered by Telford and upon completion cadets are awarded the Telford Certificate in Agriculture Levels 3, 4 or 5.

Smedley graduates are in high demand in the farming industry and Rob says he feels lucky to be part of the development of the young cadets over their 2 year cadetship.

“It’s really rewarding,” he says. “To be part of a team that influences that is pretty cool. And also to see the staff happy in their jobs. It’s like a little community really. It’s a cool environment.