There have been several attempts to establish a formal system for training farmers and young people entering the industry. In the early 1940s the New Zealand Technical Correspondence Institute offered a course in farming, and by the early 1970s the Trades Certification Board had developed certificates in farm management.
In 1971 the Agricultural Training Council (ATC) was set up to coordinate farmer training at a national level. It produced guidelines for the various tasks that were deemed necessary for the success of farming operations and established similar guides for a Certificate in Horticultural Practice. In 1985 the government cut funding to the ATC and it was disbanded.
In 1974 Federated Farmers of New Zealand, the national farmers’ organisation, set up the Farm Cadet Scheme with funding assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture. The ATC appointed training officers to run the scheme, which was a three-year practical course where cadets studied for trade certificates. Practical on-farm training was provided by approved farmers.
In 1976 the scheme was expanded to include the equine and horticultural industries. In 1985 there were 1,600 cadets, but three years later the number had dropped to 1,000, reflecting the depression in agriculture that followed the removal of farm subsidies in 1984.
Industry training organisation
In 1990 the Farm Education and Training Association (FETA) took over the Farm Cadet Scheme from Federated Farmers. In 1993 the organisation trained 1,600 cadets and offered two qualifications: the Trade Certificate in Farming and the Trade Certificate in Farm Business Management.
In 1995 FETA became the Agriculture Industry Training Organisation (ITO) and began to expand its activities. The first modern apprenticeships were launched in the agriculture industry in 2000, and by this time the organisation offered 50 nationally recognised qualifications over farming subjects such as dairying, deer, poultry, fencing, wool harvesting, the stock and station industry, and artificial insemination. In 2003 over 5,800 trainees were enrolled, increasing to 10,271 in 2006, including 481 undertaking modern apprenticeships.
The national certificates developed by the Agriculture ITO are part of the National Qualifications Framework of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
National Certificate in Agriculture
The NZQA-accredited National Certificate in Agriculture is the foremost national qualification for people making a career in agriculture. Certificates can be attained at different levels, and trainees must pass one level before progressing to the next.
The entry stage, which is at Level 2 of the NZQA framework, is a one-year course with a practical focus. Trainees learn about farm safety, vehicles and machinery, handling livestock and basic fence-building.
At Level 3 trainees can specialise in arable, cattle, dairy, deer or sheep farming. This takes up to 18 months, and covers farm vehicles, farm safety, soils and fertilisers, pastures, animal husbandry and health, handling livestock and animal feeding.
At Level 4 trainees can again specialise, and are introduced to feed budgeting and have to prepare a property report. This takes up to 18 months and is a prerequisite for those wishing to advance to the final level – the one-year National Certificate in Agriculture (Production Management). Students learn management techniques to increase farm productivity and performance, and can specialise in a specific strand of farming.
Accredited training providers
In 2007 there were 77 institutions accredited to award the National Certificate in Agriculture, although many only took trainees through the preliminary levels. They included 12 secondary schools and 19 polytechnics and institutes of technology, with most of the rest being commercial businesses. The largest of these is Agriculture New Zealand, a private training establishment that is part of the PGG Wrightson group, New Zealand’s biggest stock and station company.
NZQA is also responsible for accrediting institutions that provide certificates in other aspects of rural education, which in 2007 included:
- horticulture (94)
- pest management (65)
- rural contracting, including chemical application (16)
- wool harvesting, including certificates in shearing, wool classing and wool handling (6)
- equine industry (5)
- pork production (3)
- poultry production (2).