Training farms have given students a practical introduction to farming and experience towards earning a qualification.
The New Zealand government established the first farm school at Ruakura, near Hamilton, on 280 hectares of land. It began as an experimental farm in 1901 and in 1912 took on its first 12 students. By 1935 competition with Flock House training farm and Massey Agricultural College had led to fewer students entering the course, and so it was closed.
Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, near Masterton, was set up in 1919 to train servicemen returning from the First World War. The 299-hectare property was established with funds donated by the public and a contribution from the government. After the Second World War, Taratahi again trained returned servicemen, this time under the government rehabilitation scheme that required the men to do a farm training course before they were settled on properties of their own. In 1951 Taratahi’s trustees decided to extend and improve the property, and established a farm training scheme for 16–20-year-olds.
In 2007 Taratahi had a 170-hectare dairy unit and 370 hectares used for farming deer, sheep and beef, making silage and hay, and growing green feed-crops. The institution also ran Glenburn Station, a 5,500-hectare farm 65 kilometres south of Masterton.
Taratahi offers a 40-week course towards a Certificate in Agriculture in either dairying or sheep and beef, and short courses in farming skills such as fence-building, shearing and wool handling, electric welding, chainsaw operation and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) handling and safety. Taratahi also gives Ministry of Education Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) courses, which are three- to four-day courses for senior secondary school students in a range of farming skills.
Flock House, near Bulls, was founded in 1924 to train the sons of British seamen who lost their lives in the First World War. By 1937 the original function had run its course and the 3,200-hectare property was sold to the government. The Department of Agriculture, later the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF), managed it with the aim of training young people in practical farming.
Flock House farmed sheep, beef and dairy cattle, and pigs. Fifty trainees were taken on each year for a 12-month course. In the 1980s the introduction of full fees led to a dramatic fall in student numbers, and in 1988 MAF closed the programme.
Smedley Station is a 3,186-hectare property in central Hawke’s Bay that has been run as a training farm for over 60 years. A large commercial farm, it runs a practical course in farming sheep, beef cattle and deer. Eleven trainees are accepted each year for the two-year course, so that there are 22 trainees on the property over the working year. Trainees have to provide their own harness gear and working dogs, but the cost of the course, accommodation and food is covered by the trust that administers the station.
Traditional training at Smedley
Rēnata Apatū from Ngāmatea, one of the biggest sheep stations in the North Island, was a cadet at Smedley in 1987–88. He recalled training under the guidance of manager Graham Lunt: ‘He was a real traditionalist and he showed us how a traditional sheep and beef station should be run. We even learned how to load a packhorse, how to balance loads and tie them all up, the real basics – shear and crutch and run a dog. It was … large station stuff writ small, but it was all there.’ 1
The Telford Farm Training Institute was opened on an 820-hectare farm near Balclutha in 1965. The institute provided a one-year practical course for 80 trainees. Like Flock House, applicants to Telford fell dramatically in the late 1980s when the institute had to charge full fees. Now known as Telford Rural Polytechnic, it runs a variety of courses, some by correspondence, including year-long certificates in agriculture, forestry, equine studies and beekeeping, and two-year diplomas in advanced agricultural production. In addition, the polytechnic runs short courses in fencing-building, using chainsaws, tractor and ATV handling, and milking.