Training city kids for farms

The Growing Future Farmers programme has gone nationwide with 80 students learning about farming, hands-on.

In Community9 Minutes
Logan McGregor is thriving in Omihi, North Canterbury, embracing life on the land.

The Growing Future Farmers programme has gone nationwide with 80 students learning about farming, hands-on.

By Annabelle Latz.

Throwing youngsters a bone might solve the country’s farm labour shortage problem.

Logan McGregor knew when he was at high school in Christchurch that he wanted to be a farmer, but his urban upbringing meant minimal background knowledge of the industry.

The 19-year-old, who spends weekends on friends’ farms and enjoys taking his dogs on hunting trips, heard about Growing Future Farmers (GFF) while at high school, and the hands-on two-year training programme sounded instantly appealing.

“It sounded great because I didn’t have to be from a farming background, but I knew I liked the lifestyle,” Logan says.

GFF is a no-fees charitable trust that started in Gisborne three years ago, now being offered across New Zealand. This year, nationwide there are 50 first-year students, and 30 who will graduate at the end of their second year.

Logan’s approaching the end of his first year on the 1260ha medium hill country sheep and beef trading farm in Omihi, North Canterbury, where he works side by side with farm leaseholder Michael Stronach and farm manager Digby Heard.

Digby, Logan and Mike make a great trio as they get the day-to-day jobs done.

As one of five students dotted around North Canterbury, Logan has particularly loved working with sheep dogs and receiving tuition from local dog triallist Neil Evans. He has his nine-month-old heading pup Duke who’s coming along nicely.

“Training a sheep dog pup is the most rewarding work and the most challenging. I’m trying to put some manners on him first of all.”

Every day offers something new, like recently tailing on a neighbour’s farm where his task was clipping the ears and putting rings on the ram lambs.

“On the first day I got the five-minute rundown then was into it.”

Logan is now confident doing farm jobs such as fencing, tractor work, crutching and mustering.

“As I get more skills I can do more jobs myself, like with the mustering when Mike let me figure it out myself. The sheep got where they needed to go – that was the main thing.”

Winter was particularly cold and wet and getting out of bed in his quarters was hard on some days, but Logan’s never been late for work.

Cooking hearty meals like roasts is another new skill, thanks to a nutrition paper that’s part of the course.

Each Friday the regional group comes together for course work, usually meeting at the Glenmark Rugby Club. This can be practical skills’ learning, such as pup training, or classroom sessions, industry sharing, and teaching students best practice that’s linked to the national certificates. Bringing the students together regularly also addresses issues with the geographic isolation of farming.

When his two-year tenure is completed at Omihi, Logan hopes to get a junior role, hopefully in the high country and with a team of dogs.

In the meantime, he’s embraced life in Omihi, having played a few games of cricket for Scargill and he hopes to get a few games of rugby for Glenmark next season.

“Doing a course like this is all about having the right attitude. If you have a passion for it you’ll do pretty well.”


Farm leaseholder Michael Stronach received a call last year from GFF chairman and Lincoln University friend John Jackson, who encouraged him to take on a student.

Admitting he wouldn’t usually take on an inexperienced “city slicker” straight out of school, Michael says having Logan on board has been fantastic and he’s enjoyed watching him grow into the job, now able to fix a fence and is very capable in the sheep yards.

“He can drench faster than me,” Michael says, noting his own big learning curve, working out how to teach someone green and making sure his explanations are clear.

Michael’s goal for Logan is to head into any farm job armed with skills and confidence.

“It’s for us to all be proud of what we’ve achieved together. Lots of lads from farms won’t have the mix of skills that Logan will have, and that’s what it’s all about, to give him the skills to waltz into any job.”

There is a cost to the farmer having a student, as Michael provides accommodation, services (power and internet), and some farm meat. He pays a fee to the programme, which is the support Logan receives as an allowance.

“But the benefits far outweigh the cost,” Michael says.

Digby Heard, 28, has been farm manager since September, and Logan showed him the early ropes, like where the boundary fences were.

He was a farm manager in nearby Cheviot for four years before this job. He says Logan picks things up quickly, and doesn’t mind the occasional less fun jobs such as fixing flood gates or tidying up the shed.

Even a day spent opening gates for Digby still provides an opportunity to ask questions and observe.

“It’s about being accountable to the programme, making sure Logan has a good experience.”

Hamish Murray, board member of GFF and manager/director of Bluff Station, Marlborough, says this programme is a way for farmers to take on the labour shortage issue themselves – the farmer-led programme meaning direct industry input into what is taught, and how.

“There isn’t a shortage of young ones wanting to enter the industry. It’s finding farmers who will take them on,” Hamish says, acknowledging farmers are often too busy to train inexperienced farm workers, but at the same time, they cannot afford to not train them.

“If we don’t invest time into training someone, we are forever destined to never have time.”

Hamish says the course is still in its early stages. The aim is to have 80 first years on the programme next year and about 40 graduates.

“The first and most important step is to establish the entry-level pathway and provide workplaces that are engaging and motivating which will lead students to grow and achieve their goals.”

Without young people coming through, the farm labour shortage problem will continue, Michael says.

“We need more kids coming into the industry, to be shown what it’s about – it’s a pretty cool job really.”