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Growing Future Farmers

It Takes a Village

Upholding a ‘By Farmers, For Farmers’ approach, Growing Future Farmers (GFF) gives students access to career pathways within the agricultural industry. The idea was ignited by a small group of sheep and beef farmers who sat around a table in 2016 with a shared purpose: to enhance the next generation by providing them with meaningful, quality skills that would enable them to thrive.

The Growing Future Farmers trust was formally established in 2019 and has increased from 10 students in 2020, to 139 students enrolled in their 2024 programme. GFF’s two-year programme stretches across 13 regions within New Zealand. Its holistic model offers NZQA-accredited qualifications that include practical on-farm training and mentorship from farm trainers, on-farm team members, liaison managers and members of the wider community. One key component of the programme is pastoral care, with a local liaison manager supporting students and farm staff, incorporating learning and well-being support for all GFF students.

Wendy Paul, CEO of GFF, said, “The employers of the next generation of farmers were actively investing and contributing to on-farm succession planning, and shifting the mindset to training for what future farming needs to look like in an ever-changing context. The GFF model is now an established and proven pilot, led by those with the most at stake – farmers.”

During 2023, the board and new CEO reset the trust's purpose, strategic direction and growth aspirations. This included a focus on giving everyone the opportunity to be part of New Zealand’s agriculture industry by opening up career pathways and opportunities in agriculture through a non-traditional, hybrid vocational education model and experience; developing a pipeline of ‘good human beings’ to keep the Agri-sector strong, sustainable and prosperous for generations to come; and partnering and collaborating with other organisations with similar goals and objectives.

“The model is focused on individual, transformational change and growth by leveraging the old saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, offering students a unique opportunity to live on a farm for the two-year programme, experience what it is like to be part of a team in the rural community, and be nurtured by a range of people who provide pastoral care, expertise and advice.

"They are exposed to a range of experiences that open their minds and give them different perspectives on what it takes to be a farmer now and into the future, as well as a structured framework of formal and informal learning towards recognised qualifications,” Wendy highlighted.

There are clear expectations of what to expect for both the students and farm trainers, and GFF aims to deliver an experience that allows the students to transform and grow into ‘competent, employable, bloody good human beings’. Their entry-level Essential Farm Skills Programme involves fencing, shearing, stockmanship and dog training, along with tractor and chainsaw usage. Their Advanced Farm Skills and Agri-Business Management programme involves financial literacy, record-keeping, soil and pasture management, and animal welfare – including workshops facilitated by local professionals. All students live and work on farms over the duration of the course, with four days dedicated to practical work alongside their farm trainer, and one day away training together with their cohort.

“The on-farm accommodation must be healthy home standard-certified, fully furnished, have power, unlimited WiFi and meat for the student's weekly meals. It will also include a living allowance sponsorship payment of an average of $200 a week. Some students live in a group situation or live independently, depending on the farm setup. Students get involved in their local communities, join their local young farmers’ club, and have a go at their local dog trial days – setting up, competing and meeting like-minded people,” Wendy noted.

“The three key areas are working in the outdoors, the non-traditional learning environment and the opportunity to train their own heading and huntaway pup, which is always up there as a highlight. These pups are sourced by the farm trainers (in conjunction with the regional liaison manager and pup trainer) and supported by regular group regional trainings held with a local dog trialist, who teaches them how to train the pups. All pup food is sponsored by Black Hawk,” she added.

Each year, the GFF graduation is a special occasion that is held in November across each region, where farm staff and families are all invited to attend a special night to acknowledge the hard-working graduates. Over the two-year duration, each student gains NZQA National Certificates through Te Pūkenga Eastern Institute of Technology in Primary Industries (levels 2 and 3), Pre-Employment Skills (level 3), Certificate in Agriculture – Food and Fibre (level 3), and Land-Based Sustainability (level 3).

“It's a night to recognise the personal transformations that each student has gone through, celebrate and be proud of what has been achieved, and have a few laughs about the journey along the way. The regional GFF liaison manager as well as board members and/or management open the evening, and a guest speaker is invited to share some life experiences and words of wisdom. The students and farm trainers are invited to speak about their experiences, express their gratitude to each other and talk about any key memories and/or highlights.

The students are handed their certificates, and symbolic tokens and gifts are often exchanged between the student and the farm trainer. In some regions, special prizes and/or local sponsorship are given to the top student or the student who has had the most significant transformation. There are also some fun awards and the passing of the baton to Year 1s, e.g., the Wooden Spoon Award.” Wendy said.

In the future, GFF is looking at expanding into Levels 4 and 5 in the sheep and beef sectors, as well as having growth aspirations in dairy, horticulture, etc.

If anyone is interested in supporting the Growing Future Farmers programme, please reach out to