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More Primary Industry Tertiary Educated Workers Needed


About 25,000 more tertiary educated primary industry workers are needed for New Zealand to have any hope of doubling its primary exports by 2025, Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy estimates.

Yet a Ministry of Education report on New Zealand's tertiary sector found just 365 students, or 1.1 per cent of 2013 graduates, completed a primary industries-based degree.

Agricultural education leader Dr Jacqueline Rowarth says the numbers are dismal and more serious efforts are needed to encourage secondary students to support our greatest exports.

Rowarth, a University of Waikato professor of agribusiness, says more in-school guidance would help.

"Too many kids are told they can do whatever they want," she says. "Or they're told: 'Do a range of subjects, it doesn't matter if you don't know what you want to do, you'll work it out.'

"But in reality we need more students to study the sciences at high school and far more to then study them at university ...

we can't afford the luxury of having every high-school student doing whatever they want."

Rowarth says the two things young people want -- money and fast career tracks -- can be provided by agricultural careers.

"Agricultural graduates are in high demand. There's big money to be had in a range of primary industry-related careers.

"But young people are short-term thinkers. A lot haven't made the connection between studying disciplines with an agricultural element and the money and fast career tracks they want."

Lincoln University deputy vice-chancellor Jeremy Baker says New Zealand's increasingly urbanised society -- disconnected from land-based industries -- is another challenge.

"One of the key messages we need to get across is that there is much more to the primary sector than just farming," he says. "We need to show that it is a vast sector incorporating a range of science, business and IT disciplines across both rural and urban environments."

Whether someone's grown up on a farm or not is irrelevant, he says.

"It doesn't matter if you've spent your childhood on a farm or in the middle of a city. [The primary sector] is a multibillion dollar, multifaceted industry which is of tremendous importance to New Zealand, and comes with some amazing opportunities for students prepared to open themselves up to the possibilities."

A perception of primary industry careers being for "the less academically gifted" also needs to be changed, he says.

"We need smart people taking up studies as animal geneticists, plant and soil scientists, supply chain managers, agribusiness specialists, environmental planners, and biosecurity experts."

Baker is, however, optimistic such challenges can be overcome. "There's lots of positive signs out there. This year, Lincoln has about four or five times more agriculture science students than last year and small increases in most of the other primary industry disciplines."

Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston is similarly hopeful. He thinks people are starting to perceive farming as an intellectually stimulating career with good financial returns at the end of it.

Engaging with high school students by making sure they know the primary industries are options for smart people with many careers available is the way forward.

"A lot of people from non-farming backgrounds see farmers in one dimension but the agriculture industry is so big in New Zealand that there are roles in all sorts of aspects from the technical to the financial and practical."

Technological advances already seem to be making an impact, he says. "There's not many career options where you might get the chance to play with drones and that sort of thing ... I think that's attracting some people." 2012