Southland farmers are struggling with the pressure as staffing shortages and climate change weigh heavy on their shoulders.

Industry professionals met face-to-face to discuss issues within the community at the Southland Federated Farmers annual meeting this week, hosted at the Invercargill Working Men's Club.

Representatives from both sides of the fence addressed the issues farmers were facing and what primary industry organisations were doing to work through them.

NZ First MP Mark Patterson spoke on behalf of the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, who could not be there due to health reasons.

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One attendee said he could not turn on the TV or radio without facing backlash from the public who blamed farmers for climate change.

Patterson said the farming industry contributed a significant amount to the economy, and he "took on board" farmers' feelings about poor treatment from the public.

Federated Farmers member Stuart Collie said it seemed as though Parliament was encouraging the public to "attack" the farming and agricultural industries for the state of the environment.

The audience applauded his statement.

NZ First MP Mark Patterson, of Lawrence, spoke on behalf of Minister of Education Chris Hipkins at the Southland Federated Farmers annual meeting in Invercargill. Photo / Abbey Palmer
NZ First MP Mark Patterson, of Lawrence, spoke on behalf of Minister of Education Chris Hipkins at the Southland Federated Farmers annual meeting in Invercargill. Photo / Abbey Palmer

Collie said "urbanisation" had changed the connection between urban and rural communities.

"It used to be fairly common with a lot of engagement between the two, but now we've evolved into the larger cities, most of the commentary around farming tends to go to them [urban residents] in a negative fashion."

With farming "resources scarce", the need to attract more young people into the primary industries was also raised.

Patterson said the minister noted in his speech that top-class training and education within the range of primary industries were vital contributors to the education sector.

He said 70 per cent of New Zealand's merchandise exports came from farming, with an expectation the industry would generate $45.6billion in revenue for exports by June this year.

However, he acknowledged there were some challenges in the workforce.

"We need to have a strong, healthy vocational education system to support our regional economic development strategies and we look to progress that."

In 2012, 22,500 students were enrolled in agriculture and environment-based courses, but in 2017 those numbers had shrunk to 16,500, he said.

"This is happening at a time where demand is far outstripping supply, [and] the ability to attract people into our sector is being challenged".

An attendee said she was struggling to find local staff to work on her farm and the process of hiring immigrants who were suitable for the job was taking "too long".

Patterson also noted the minister said the funding system needed to change.

"The minister references going to Telford watching an exhibition of students learning to shear - there is no equivalence in teaching a room full of accountancy students compared to teaching all those practical skills that are needed on our farms, and the funding model absolutely needs to reflect that."

The minister also wrote of a primary industries COVE - a "centre of vocational excellence" - being under consideration, with Telford being a potential candidate, he said.

The minister said he hoped to have a decision made by the end of the year.

The Government had allocated $1.8 million to support SIT to support Telford over 2019 .

"It is only for one year at this stage to allow for time to look at other options," he said.

Southern Rural Life



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