Passion for growing agribusiness education

Passion for growing agribusiness education Kerry Allen is passionate about the introduction of agribusiness to New Zealand's secondary school curriculum.

19 November 2021

Written by Kate Taylor – Farming First

The introduction of agribusiness to New Zealand’s secondary school curriculum was a team effort, but continues to be driven by the enthusiasm of Waikato teacher Kerry Allen.

Kerry grew up near Rotorua on a dry-stock farm that has been in her family for more than 100 years. She worked in a plant nursery at weekends, did a horticulture degree at Lincoln University and then teacher training in Christchurch. After teaching horticulture and then science at Hillcrest High School for 18 years, Kerry took a new curriculum and resource writing position with St Paul’s Collegiate School in 2014.

The idea of an agribusiness curriculum grew from parent feedback that general education wasn’t meeting the needs of the primary sector. St Paul’s introduced agricultural and horticultural science classes, then expanded into agribusiness by using standards from other subjects, re-contextualised in a primary sector context. That worked, but they wanted to take it further as its own subject. They started getting other schools on board and began the process of asking the Ministry of Education to introduce it as a new subject.

“Usually the Ministry tells industry want it wants,” she says.

“They didn’t really have any rules for how it should be done the other way round. We needed some schools to help trial it; it was ground breaking in many ways because the rules got made up as we went along. We had lots of extra hoops to jump through. Psychology has done this too now, but they were already a subject with unit standards and not achievement standards. We weren’t a subject at all; we started from scratch.”

Now called Agribusiness in Schools, the programme is based at St Paul’s under the governance umbrella of the Waikato Anglican College Trust, and employs a fulltime agribusiness advisor to roll it out across the country.

“It started with us in 2014, had 10 lead schools helping to trial the programme in 2018, and last year we had 97 schools doing some form of agribusiness assessment.

We have some big Auckland schools on board right through to small rural schools; some are offering one or two standards within other courses and some are offering the whole course at Level 2 and 3. Here, we’re the biggest non-compulsory subject in the school; about a third of the senior students are doing agribusiness.”

Many schools have agricultural and horticultural science classes, but Kerry says agribusiness is focused on the primary industry beyond the farm gate.

“It focuses on the rest of the value chain. We don’t overlap with ag-hort, which is on-farm, on-orchard or on-boat.

Agribusiness is a multidisciplinary subject, so you’re looking at some business studies, accounting, economics, the science behind what’s happening and why, adding value to our products, problem solving and innovation, governance structures and why you’d have them; overall human and resource management.”

It is improving the overall bucket of primary industry workforce by educating students about the primary sector who have a focus on accounting or marketing, for example.

“It’s hard to be an accountant if you don’t understand cash flow forecasting; we’re the only industry that really does that. We’re growing a product two years prior to being paid for it, so you have to be able to understand those little industry nuances and know how many opportunities are out there.

“I’ve just had two students who have gone to work for Zespri in marketing, and that’s solely because of this programme. They were urban students and didn’t know anything about the primary industry. It’s trying to get students who have an interest in all those other fields, not necessarily on-farm, on-orchard or on boat, but who might be able to see a future in the primary industry.”

Kerry is secretary-treasurer of the Horticulture Agriculture Teachers Association, and as a part-owner of a dairy farm and consultancy firm AgFirst – with husband James – she has witnessed the primary industry skills shortage first-hand.

“Even if they don’t go straight into the industry they have a better understanding of the industry, breaking down those stereotypes and understanding that dairying isn’t just milking cows at certain times of the day; but also broadening their horizons so they know more about kiwifruit or equine or aquaculture… but also understanding all the issues because we’re a complex industry.”

It’s also always changing.

“Twenty years ago we didn’t know or care about methane. Now we do. You’ll never be bored in the primary sector. There’s always something different; always some new challenge, usually external influences, creating change.”

Kerry was a finalist in the industry champion award of the Primary Industries New Zealand Awards in Christchurch earlier this year for her work with the agribusiness curriculum. Under her guidance, St Paul’s agribusiness students have won the Young Innovator of the Year award at the National Fieldays for six of the past seven years.

“I love the primary industry, and primary industry education is my thing. I really enjoy it and the education industry is in a huge state of flux with five reviews happening at the moment, including for achievement standards, and the ITOs (industry training organisations) are all changing too. But I’m passionate about it, and I’m here for the long haul.”

(Source: Kate Taylor - Farming First)