Stock switch a step up

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Jana Flynn learns how a diploma and new niche can push you up the career ladder.

Juan Theron at work at Highlands Station, Rotorua. Theron switched to sheep and beef farming after developing an allergy to dairy cows.
Juan Theron at work at Highlands Station, Rotorua. Theron switched to sheep and beef farming after developing an allergy to dairy cows.

An allergy to dairy cows and a determination to upskill are just two of the reasons Juan-Paul Theron is excelling in the sheep and beef industry.

The 30-year-old New Zealand resident, originally from Cape Town in South Africa, had zig-zagged through various farming options early in his career, but he's found his niche with a move to dry stock and a National Diploma in Agribusiness Management under his belt.

"I'm currently in Rotorua and have been here five years. It's the second dry-stock job I've taken on and I've been farm manager for 12 months," says Theron.

He lives and works on Highlands Station - a 920ha property owned by John and Catherine Ford - with his wife Raezel and their 3-year-old son Adrian.

The elevated property, which Juan describes as "steep and rolling", is an all-grass system supporting sheep - from replacement hoggets to terminal ewes - and a few steers and Friesian bulls.

Juan started work there in 2008 as a shepherd general. In the past two years, as he's completed his diploma studies, he's moved from being stock manager to farm manager.

He's responsible for the day-to-day running of the farm and manages a staff of two permanents and two contractors, but hopes to get more involved in the financial planning side of the business.

His career about-turn into high-country sheep farming happened in 2006. When Theron and his wife shifted to New Zealand nearly a decade ago, his intention was to have a career in the dairy industry.

Unfortunately, after two-and-a-half years on the job, he developed a severe case of cow dander - an allergic reaction to cow hair and dust.

The condition caused a debilitating rash on his arms and face, which forced him to wear protective clothing when dealing with the stock.

"I came halfway across the world to do what I wanted to do and of all the jobs I could have picked, dairying was the one I couldn't end up doing," he laughs.

With an ultimatum from a medical specialist, Theron needed to consider an alternative career. Where others may have been disillusioned about the time and effort put into study, Theron's training adviser Rose helped put him back on track.

"Rose was my training adviser when I first started studying with AgITO. She said, 'Why don't you try dry stock?' I had no experience of sheep or working dogs but I gave it a go."

Theron was also able to cross-credit some of his dairy-related study towards a national certificate, and then a diploma, in agribusiness management.

The diploma is made up of professional development training modules targeting key areas of farm business management. Farmers use their own business as a case study and the training is facilitated by highly experienced agribusiness practitioners. Courses are taught locally and are run to fit the farming work day.

"I've done courses through AgITO and learned things that I never would have picked up for myself," says Juan. "Training is a big thing. The diploma was probably the hardest as I started it just after my son was born, so it was quite challenging [juggling everything] but it's given me all I needed to know to manage a property."

Juan has gained a lot from completing the diploma: "I can teach other people what I have learned. And how to plan ahead - I didn't realise how important this was until I had to do it for myself. Plans are made to be changed but without them I wouldn't be able to manage a business and lead a team of people."

Farmers can enrol now for the diploma and classes will start soon throughout the country. Some modules will be delivered using a blend of in-class learning and online learning at home, making study even more flexible.

Modules in October include business and finance, taxation and investment, resource management and planning, and human resource management. Limited spaces available.

Having completed the diploma, Theron shows no signs of slowing down: "I really want to move forward. My goal is to go equity partnership at some stage, probably owning stock.

"It's my personality, I tend to move forward quite quickly. I've still got quite a few years ahead of me, but why wait?"

If you're in a decision-making role on a farm or looking to take that next step up, your local training adviser can help you decide whether the diploma is right for you. To chat to an adviser or to secure your place, call 0800 691 11 or visit www.farmingsmarter.co.nz

National Diploma in Agribusiness Management

The National Diploma in Agribusiness Management is the focus of a new initiative involving key industry organisations DairyNZ, AgITO, Wintec and Dairy Training.

The organisations have joined forces to help the farming industry build the human-capability skills it needs to create a productive and sustainable future.

The diploma is made up of five professional development training modules:
*Business and finance.
*Taxation and investment.
*Ownership and risk.
*Resource management and planning.
*Human resource management.

The modules are:

*Facilitated by highly experienced agribusiness practitioners.
*Interactive, discussion-based tutorials - learn from your peers.
*Relevant learning - use your farm as a case study.
*Locally run tutorials - flexible to fit the work day.
*Nationally recognised and supported by industry bodies.

Farmers can complete the modules separately to update skills in specific areas, or can combine them to gain a National Certificate or Diploma in Agribusiness Management.

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