Agribusiness in Schools 10-year anniversary

Agribusiness in Schools 10-year anniversary The St Paul's Agribusiness team members and pioneers from the past ten years.

13 April 2023

Story by Gerald Piddock from Farmers Weekly

The nationwide scheme to encourage students to consider career pathways in the primary sector has grown from a piloted plan at St Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton to being in more than 100 schools across New Zealand.

It celebrated the anniversary at a function at St Paul’s on March 29.

Agribusiness curriculum director Kerry Allen said looking ahead, there is still plenty of unfinished business to focus on with the biggest task getting more schools and students into agribusiness.

“The New Zealand youth requires an understanding of agribusiness and the agri sector and its importance to New Zealand. They go hand in hand and there are so many opportunities out there for them.”

Agribusiness in Schools evolved out of a 2013 St Paul’s parents survey that concluded it was not meeting the needs of its students with rural backgrounds in encouraging them to consider pathways into the primary sector.

The event at St Paul’s recognised its principal and the 16 business partners that have supported the initiative over the past decade.

Allen said the programme will also look to provide more support for agribusiness teachers and establishing regional hubs to help reach smaller, more remote areas.

They will also work on trying to attract more urban youth to agribusiness and highlight career pathways available in the primary sector.

Improving collaboration between businesses and schools was another aim.

In the long term, Allen said, she wants to see Agribusiness in Schools at the scholarship level, as well as more emphasis on training teachers and sourcing people with background knowledge in the primary sector.

Event emcee and former St Paul’s principal Grant Lander said everybody could feel proud of what they have achieved with Agribusiness in Schools.

It was a public-private educational initiative that came from business rather than the government.

“It’s been a game-changer for our sector, but it hasn’t been an easy path, especially in those first three years.”

Greenlea Meats managing director Tony Egan said the programme’s creation showed great leadership from St Paul’s, and revolutionised education for the primary industries to meet the challenges of a changing world.

The company has been a supporter of the programme since the beginning.

“Ten years on, these combined efforts are certainly cause for celebration. Thousands of students have benefited from this curriculum.”

It had aligned with university courses on agribusiness subjects and had resulted in growing diversity and capability in business across the sector as a direct result of this initiative, Egan said.

“We are going to need this talent to confront issues such as climate change and to raise our future potential as a nation.”

Former agriculture minister and Meat Industry Association chair Nathan Guy helped facilitate government backing for Agribusiness in Schools in 2017.

He recalled meeting with Lander and others who pitched the idea to him at the Fieldays. Guy said he realised they were onto something quite big.

While the Ministry for Primary Industries was supportive, the Ministry for Education was not, with many thinking the primary sector was only about shearing sheep and milking cows, he said.

Guy facilitated a meeting with then-education Minister Hekia Parata.

“At the end of the meeting, she turned to her officials and said, ‘We’re going to do this, we’re going to give it a go’ and their heads dropped to the ground and I sensed then that they weren’t necessarily supportive, but it was the start.”

Guy said the sector needs to keep rolling up its sleeves to ensure the programme keeps delivering.

“This is not driven out of Wellington, this is driven out of here and because of your contributions and connections it’s vitally important that you have a say in how you want this to run and operate.”

Westpac agribusiness analyst Kate Wilkins was one of the first students to study agribusiness in her final year at St Paul’s, in 2014.

Wilkins grew up on her parents’ kiwifruit orchard and said the programme highlighted the vast array of career options available within the primary sector.

She said the people and collaboration in the industry are what excite her about working in the sector.

“It’s shown in this room now where everyone’s working together towards the same goal. When you’re working in that sort of industry, it is pretty exciting.”