Minister of Agriculture Damien O'Connor spoke warmly of South Otago farm institute Telford's future during a visit yesterday, describing the educational facility as a "potentially huge asset" for New Zealand farming.
Accompanied by Labour Party Taieri candidate Ingrid Leary, Mr O'Connor said it was his first extended tour of the 56-year-old Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) agricultural learning facility.
"I've visited a few times in the past, but the facilities and assets here are just amazing.
"It's a credit to the board, [staff], and SIT, who've stepped in as smart partners," O'Connor said.
He alluded to Telford's fraught recent history, following its near closure as a campus of Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, which went into liquidation at the end of 2018.
"Telford was caught in the crossfire of the chaos around Taratahi ... tertiary funding models of the past haven't served [it] well.
"It's now up to us to make it an institution for the future."
Although Telford had not been identified as a centre of vocational excellence under the Government's current restructuring of tertiary vocational education, it possessed the potential to become one, O'Connor said.
"Telford has a good reputation that needs to be turned into a brand of excellence. That's something the [Telford] board will need to explore as it looks to the future."
One element of that process was continual modernisation.
"We're no longer 'farmers', we're 'food producers'. All students should gain a full understanding of that, with full exposure to the value chain during their education."
Some of the $1.4billion funding earmarked for tertiary education during the recent Budget would be targeted towards bringing people into farming, he said.
"There are real job opportunities in farming today.
"[Post-Covid-19] we need to redeploy people from those sectors with big job losses across to agriculture, and Telford is well placed to help drive that forward."