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The World's Your Oyster

Known for its Scandinavian heritage and prosperous future on the backbone of farming, Dannevirke is also home to Pukemiro Station, a thriving 930-hectare (effective) sheep and beef farm that established a cadetship in 2018, training two groups of three across two years.

The farm was originally owned by Donald Williams, who left it to a charitable trust with the intention that the funds would go towards training and education in agriculture. The ADB Williams Trust’s mission is to encourage young people to get into agricultural work by giving them the opportunities to grow within the field – "cultivating the next generation of farmers".

Pukemiro Station is one of two properties, spanning 1,000 hectares (930 effective). The second property, Otawa, is a 700-hectare hill block that is located 30 minutes south-east of Pukemiro. The second-year cadets usually spend a week at a time at Otawa, where in addition to the cows and ewes, the ewe lamb replacements for both farms are grown out and lambed. The lambs and calves are then taken back to Pukemiro Station for finishing.

“We have a junior group and a senior group of cadets. In the first year, the focus is on general skills such as tractor driving, chainsaws and fencing. We also do ask them to get a heading pup at the start of their first year,” said Sam Mann, operations manager at Pukemiro Station. “In the second year, the focus is mainly on stock work, which is taught by our two stock managers. They also purchase a broken in Huntaway at the start of their second year, subsidised by the trust, so they have two broken in dogs once they leave the cadetship.”

Sam has been working at the Station for five months and already loves the people side of the business, being able to work with the board and set strategies for the farm and cadets, which he then implements. Originally from Napier, Sam, like a lot of people who have grown up around farming, went to study agriculture at Lincoln University. He then worked in rural banking for a couple of years before progressing into rural insurance. "This showed me the nuts and bolts in behind farming and gave me a deeper understanding, so I then took the opportunity to go farming myself, leasing a couple of farms around the area before being stationed at Pukemiro," he said.

"The cadetship itself is what sets us apart. The more cadets we can put into the industry, the better. In my opinion, I think the grounding that they get here, and the quality skills they learn from the staff, makes them very employable once they leave. They could start out in a junior shepherd role, progress to stock manager, then other farm management roles, and eventually farm ownership. The world’s your oyster once you leave here."

With 11,000 sheep wintered, 300 breeding cows, and 400 to 500 trade cattle, there are a lot of exciting learning opportunities for the cadets. They have a diverse farming system where students can learn different aspects of farming, including finishing and breeding. This will give them in-depth knowledge before they transition and work on another farm after they’ve finished their two years.

“We leave our beef calves entire. We try to finish our bulls within a 20-month period before the second winter, and feed them really well. It gives our cadets a taste of how to feed livestock and do it well. Again, with our ewe hoggets, there’s a real focus on feeding them all year round and getting as many of them in lamb as we can while still producing a quality two tooth,” Sam highlighted.

Alongside Sam, there are five other staff members working on the farm, as well as a few external contractors that are brought in when needed. Willy is the maintenance manager who trains the first years in mechanics, fencing, repair work, etc. Jack and Will are the two stock managers that the second-year cadets work with. Andrea is the pastoral care coordinator and helps with the domestic duties (cooking and cleaning) as all the cadets live onsite, and Marty also helps with tutoring a couple of days per week.

A couple of projects that the team at Pukemiro Station are working on are their poplar planting and the continuation of fencing off waterways. They plant 100 to 200 poplar poles annually that help prevent soil erosion, provide shade, and extra feed during a drought. Their fencing work enables the protection of waterways and is also used for subdividing paddocks. "Production vs. environment – it’s a win-win for both," Sam mentioned in relation to providing sustainable projects on the farm.

"Being involved in the community is a big driver for us and something we would like to do a lot more of. We had the local 'Shear4u' fundraiser here earlier in the year, which was a group of local farmers shearing for 36 hours straight. The event was absolutely fantastic, and they raised over $100,000 for their nominated charities. That was all done on 
the farm using ours and the neighbour's sheep, and there was fantastic support from the community and people coming out from town and getting behind them."

“We have school groups come in, Primary ITO and EIT groups, and we’ve got a couple of exciting projects coming up around upgrading our facilities to host a lot more events; opening up the farm and cadetship to the community to come in and share the agricultural experience with them. That’s a big part of where we’re going.”

The number one focus for Pukemiro Station is the cadetship, and Sam couldn’t stress that enough. The opportunity to bring passionate young people into the industry and teach them the skills that are needed to make a great worker is something that is highly sought-after. The next generation will be the ones who will advance agriculture and take it to the next level. "I talk to a lot of farmers, and staff is either their number one or number two concern. So the more we can upskill these guys and girls, in terms of putting them into the industry with quality skills, I think they're going to be in high demand. In terms of Pukemiro, our smaller class size and numbers give our cadets more one-on-one time, and we feel like that gives them a really good grounding and the skills they need moving forward," Sam said.

“I'd love to see more cadetships start up. We need more within the industry to encourage young people who are interested in agriculture to gain some practical skills and experience to set them up for their farming careers,” he concluded.