Mid-Canterbury farmer Ryan Esler enjoys an enviable lifestyle – working in the scenic foothills beneath Mt Hutt, jet boating on the Rakaia River, and fishing for fresh salmon.

But it’s becoming harder to attract young people to a career in farming and he believes the industry has a perception problem which needs to be addressed.

“If you start looking at petri dish meat, you’d think farming is doomed but there’s a lot of scope for a lot of different directions.

“When you look at the marketing of wool and merino, the range of products being made now is absolutely incredible.

“There are a lot of career opportunities related to agriculture out there and we need to be encouraging more people to enter the industry and make the most of apprenticeships and on-the-job training rather than heading off to university and racking up big student loans.”

While Ryan acknowledges university graduates are certainly needed in today’s workforce (his own daughter is studying veterinary science at Massey University), he says farming is a skilled and professional career in its own right and shouldn’t be overlooked.

“There’s a whole heap of technology that’s coming into farming that’s just mind-boggling. Irrigation, soil science, mapping and all sorts. There’s just so many things that people don’t realise. There are a lot of career opportunities to be had.

“When I was young you got an apprenticeship – painting, plumbing, all those sorts of things. That’s what we did when we left school. I reckon there’s a big hole there somewhere.

“We’ve advertised for shepherds over the past 18 months. I know in the rest of the Rakaia Gorge at the moment there’s farmers looking for staff and just can’t get them, or if they do get someone, farming’s not as easy as what everyone thinks it is. It’s a public perception thing.”

Ryan believes farmers are often portrayed in the media as being responsible for environmental degradation.

“Not every farm is perfect and we aren’t either, but farmers are trying a lot harder than people think.”

Over the past few years, Ryan has undertaken study with Primary ITO to further his own knowledge and skills. He’s completed a Diploma in Agribusiness Management and is studying towards his Level 4 certificate in sheep and beef while working fulltime as farm manager on 1400-hectare Cleardale Station.

“The diploma is quite a broad qualification. It covers a lot of topics and gives you a better appreciation of what’s going on behind the day-to-day stuff.”

Human resources, health and safety, staff management, sustainability and sound financial management are all covered off, helping farmers to take full control of all the variables at play and improve their overall performance.

Ryan says a career in farming suits people who love the outdoors and don’t shy away from hard work. Maintaining a healthy separation between work and family life is important, and the ability to earn money while studying with the likes of Primary ITO is a huge advantage.

“I’ve always enjoyed the farming lifestyle and it’s provided some great opportunities for my kids. We’re into boating, fishing and hunting – typical outdoor stuff. We’ve got a jet boat and live right beside the Rakaia River so on a nice evening if there’s salmon around, me and my son, Lachie, will go fishing.

“I also love the ability to live where we work – you don’t have to get in the car afterwards and drive home. We just walk across the yard, it’s brilliant.”

The family used to live further south in Omarama and have treasured the experiences farming has offered. “I’ve had the opportunity to work in some pretty cool places – I used to go to Glentanner up by Mt Cook and then right out on the Waitaki Plains so I got to see a whole heap of different farms and different styles of farming.

“I’m damn lucky where I work and live. I can’t fault it. My wife and I talk about it all the time and ask ourselves ‘what else would we be doing?’ At the moment we’d say ‘nothing else’.”