A Rangitikei farmer is disappointed the training school Lincoln University was to run on his family's Westoe farm will not happen. "That's a great disappointment, because the initial vision for the folk we dealt with at Lincoln was a tremendous vision," he said. He and wife Diana handed over half the $8.5 million Westoe farm to Lincoln University in August 2014. The Lincoln-Westoe Trust was formed to run it, with Mr Howard one of the trustees.
"The system was such that it encouraged bodies doing agricultural training to go for 'bums on seats' and not to be too concerned about the quality of the result."At the trust's September 1 meeting Lincoln withdrew from the venture. Trust chairman Dave Yardley said the university was no longer undertaking training at that level, and the trust would be dissolved. "There will be some papers to sign in the next week or two but after that she's all over." The property, with all its assets and liabilities, will be handed back. But Mr Howard said it cannot be handed back to the family. "According to the deed of trust with Lincoln, the assets and liabilities have to be transferred to a trust with similar charitable purposes - to deliver agricultural training in the Rangitikei District." He and remaining trustee David Marshall will now look for another organisation to take it on, and he said there were a range of choices. Westoe cannot be handed over until a new trust is ready to take it. When the farm was handed over everyone knew it would take a while to get a training school established, so the 480ha was leased to Duncan Land Ltd until September 2018. Students at Charlie Duncan's Otiwhiti Station Land Based Training Agricultural School have been working there in the meantime, and thousands of dollars' worth of improvements have been made. Mr Howard's hope was that Westoe would become a place where young people learned sheep and beef farming. Then farm training schools, including Lincoln's Telford, got into trouble over their use of government education funding. Several were investigated, including Taratahi and Telford, and Telford split off from Lincoln. It was no longer available to take charge of Westoe. Mr Howard said agricultural education was inadequately funded by government. "The system was such that it encouraged bodies doing agricultural training to go for 'bums on seats' and not to be too concerned about the quality of the result." Training schools could skew the system and did, to stay viable. The situation indicated a lack of government commitment to agricultural training, Mr Howard said. He and Mr Marshall will now talk to other parties interested in taking the project on.