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Experienced Southland farmers pave the way for young talent

Experienced Southland farmers pave the way for young talent

A group of leading Southland farmers have identified the pressing need to develop young farming talent in order to secure a sustainable future for the region’s agricultural industry, as well as New Zealand’s farming sector overall.

The issue of attracting and retaining young people in farming and agriculture has seen central Southland dairy farmer Anita de Wolde join with other local farmers to develop the ‘Ag Pathways’ network.

These farmers form Rabobank’s Southland Client Council, who collectively recognise that one of the most pressing needs for the region is drawing talented young people to the agricultural industry.

Mrs de Wolde says Ag Pathways provides young farmers with a network of like-minded and talented peers, along with more experienced farmers, to leverage advice and encouragement to benefit their career development in farming.

“Council members identified 10 young dairy, sheep and beef farmers with long term ambitions in the farming industry and invited them to participate in the program along with more experienced and established farmers in order to share knowledge and receive encouragement towards career development,” Mrs de Wolde said.

“The participants have met once a month for six months to learn from the council members’ experience running strong farming businesses, while also giving the younger farmers a chance to provide their experiences and perspectives. Everybody has been learning together.”

The group meetings, held at Rabobank Invercargill, included guest speakers who presented on a topical industry subject and engaged the participants and members in a discussion and networking activities. Sessions included workshops on succession business planning, work-life balance strategies, human resource management, a Myers Briggs personality profiling test, and environmental compliance.

Mrs de Wolde is based in central Southland north-west of Invercargill. She immigrated to New Zealand from Holland with her husband Abe in 1990 and now the pair run a large dairy farming operation milking 3,600 cows across five dairy farms and support blocks.

As chair of the Southland Client Council Mrs de Wolde said she is keen to see the knowledge gained by experienced farmers shared with younger ones to help guide, educate and coach them towards positive outcomes in their farm businesses.

“These young farmers have so much going for them. They just need a hand up or a bit of support – we’re cheering them on so they can forge their own pathways and grow their own businesses,” she said.

“It has been really productive – not just for the younger farmers, but the experienced ones have learnt a lot too. One of the highlights was the session where four couples were invited to tell their story of how they progressed to equity partnerships and even sole farm ownership. This showed real examples of what is possible.”

Mrs de Wolde said the Client Council concept essentially stems from the core values of Rabobank in the Netherlands centred on the empowerment of farming communities.

“It’s about enabling farmers to make and bring about changes – the sky is the limit – and I cannot speak highly enough about how positive this has been for those involved.”

Rabobank’s head of Sustainable Business Development Marc Oostdijk said the Ag Pathways initiative had been driven solely by local Rabobank clients who really want to make a positive, long-term difference for the industry.

“Through Rabobank’s Client Councils, we work with groups of clients who are passionate about attracting and retaining youth in the agricultural industry,” Mr Oostdijk said.

“The Ag Pathways network has been a great example of how on a small scale, big challenges can be tackled to make long-term differences. We see opportunities for this initiative to develop and roll-out across the wider farming community.”


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