Teaching wrong subjects

February 22, 2012

A shortage of people with agricultural skills is good for graduates seeking work.

But it’s not good for the country when the shortage of agriculture skills is reaching crisis point:

Incoming Waikato University agribusiness professor Jacqueline Rowarth is calling on the Government to help solve the problem, saying Prime Minister John Key and other political leaders should use public speaking opportunities to promote agriculture and science as a smart career choice.

“The minute John Key starts saying agriculture is our most important industry, we will see a shift back to students training in these vital subjects. All political leaders should be saying it. It should be apolitical,” she says.

A shortage of young people training in agriculture at university level is reaching crisis levels, with not enough graduates available to fill jobs, Rowarth says. With more farmers reaching retirement age, the situation will only get worse if New Zealand does not focus on this important area, given that agriculture is the backbone of our economy.

It’s not only politicians, teachers should be encouraging pupils into the subjects which prepare them for careers in agriculture.

Rowarth says the trend away from agricultural studies started with Prime Minister Helen Clark’s high-profile promotion of the creative and performing arts as a career choice in the 1990s.

“We had scholarships, the Peter Jackson effect and the knowledge wave, so we had a whole lot of young people going into the creative and performing arts.

“The problem is that only 100 tertiary students graduated in agriculture last year, compared with more than 2000 creative and performing arts students.”

How many of those 2000 creative and performing arts students got jobs in the field they were trained for and how many got any job at all?

Not having enough agriculture graduates to fill available jobs has seen the Government add agricultural science to the skilled migrant list, while graduates from other degrees struggle to find employment related to their studies.

Competition for our relatively few graduates won’t just come from employers here, Australia is also facing a skills shortage.

The Australians are going bananas, saying their agriculture skills shortage needs to be treated seriously. They need 4000 people for jobs in agriculture but are producing only 300 graduates, so guess where they’re going to get them from?

“The New Zealand Government needs to drop the fees for agriculture study and introduce scholarships, like Helen Clark did for the performing arts,” Rowarth says.

“If you have 50 to 100 of our best and brightest getting government agriculture scholarships, we will get the cohort effect – if the head boy gets the starry scholarship, his mates will follow him.”

I’m not sure about dropping fees but would support a bonding system similar to that National introduced for health professionals and vets under which a proportion of student loans is written off each year a new graduate works here.

Rowarth said agriculture must be promoted as a career choice to young children.

“The importance of the science of food production should be right throughout the school curriculum, not called `agriculture’ but using agricultural examples so it becomes second nature thinking for our young people.

“In studying history, we could consider the green revolution; in science we could consider grains and the action of chlorophyll; in economics we could discuss the economics of the potato famine.

“We have bred a whole generation of people who want to save the world, but right now it’s easier to teach pollution than production. We could rename the study of agriculture `natural resource management’ or `sustainable food production’.

“We should also be teaching our young people to consider where the jobs are. One of the greatest problems facing the world in the future is feeding the world. If you want to save the world and make a difference to your country, you should be studying agriculture.” That’s the way our politicians should be talking, Rowarth says.

It’s not just agriculture which doesn’t get the promotion it should as a career choice. Most science-based careers and trades are also facing a lack of new entrants while school pupils are diverted to other more popular but less useful subjects.

Andrei makes this point in what are we educating our children to be?

Hat tip: Quote Unquote


More food less carbon

October 8, 2009

One of the criticisms of carbon emissions’ policy is the impact on agriculture and the need to increase food production.

Trade and Associate Climate Change Minister Tim Groser discusses this in an article published in the Wall Street Journal.

Reducing agricultural emissions cannot be at the expense of food production, however. To feed the world, food production will need to double by 2050. This is the same time frame in which the science tells us global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be halved if we are to limit global warming to two degrees centigrade. Already the food system is struggling to feed the world’s population, and food security will always take priority over climate-change considerations.

Groser says there are commercial reasons for reducing emissions and that the Global Alliance which New Zealand is promoting could find the answer to growing food without growing emissions.

If it doesn’t any attempts to reduce emissions will have to exclude agriculture because the need for food today will always win against the good of the environment tomorrow.


NZ aims for global alliance on ag emissions

September 23, 2009

Remember when non-smoking regulations first came in?

Half a room would be reserved for smokers and the other half for non-smokers.

It was a nonsense because even if smokers stuck to their side of the room their smoke didn’t.

Trying to tackle carbon emissions in some countries but not others is similarly stupid. If there’s a problem with emissions it’s a global one and reduction policies and remedies must take a global approach.

John Key recognises this and is using his time in New York to promote a Global Alliance on agricultural emissions.

“To feed the world’s growing population, we must find ways to produce more food without growing emissions,” says Mr Key.

“It will be agriculture that will have to meet the expected dramatic increase in global food demand over the coming decades, but this presents the world with the twin challenge of ensuring food security while reducing emissions.

“To meet this challenge, there is an urgent need for more international research and investment into new technologies and practices to help reduce agriculture-related emissions, and for greater co-ordination of existing efforts.

“New Zealand considers a Global Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation research could meet this need and welcomes partners in this initiative.

Former Environment Minister Simon Upton has been appointed as a special envoy to work with other countries on this concept.

Agriculture Minister David Carter says New Zealand is well placed to make a significant contribution to the alliance.

“Our unique profile for a developed country, with almost half of all emissions coming from agriculture, has given us a firm foothold in understanding pastoral livestock emissions.

“Through a Global Alliance, we can find solutions faster, make better use of the money that is being spent around the world and encourage other countries and companies to do more,” says Mr Carter.

Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues Tim Groser said that food security is paramount and must not be compromised.


Penno & Rowath Feds Agribusiness winners

July 4, 2009

Dr John Penno, chief executive of Synlait is the winner of Federated Farmers’ inaugural Agribusiness Person of the Year Award.

The inaugural Agribusiness Personality of the Year title went to Professor Jacqueline Rowath of Massey University.

Feederated Farmers president Don Nicolson said:

“Dr Penno has been described as a ‘milk maverick’ but is Federated Farmers kind of maverick.  Synlait’s business model is revolutionary as it controls supply from the grass right through to finished product.

“Just as impressive is Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, Federated Farmers first Agricultural Personality of the Year. If you could bottle intellect, passion, dedication and charm, Massey University’s Professor Rowarth has it all and much more beside.

“As Director of Agriculture, Professor Rowarth is an inspiration to students and to farmers.  Quite simply put, she ought to be on television with her upbeat and positive conviction that agriculture is an overwhelming force for good,” Mr Nicolson concluded.

The Agribusiness Person of the Year was sponsored by gen-I and the Personality title was sponsored by Ravensdown.

Recognising agribusiness achievement and personality in this way is a great idea from Feds.

This is Penno’s second award in a week. He was one of seven people awarded Sir Peter Blake leadership awards. The Bull Pen has more on that here.


Dairy subsidies to cost NZ $122m

June 27, 2009

Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson got a lot of attention for his piece in the Wall Street Journal on milking trade subsidies.

Perhaps he should follow that up with an invoice because the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has calculated that the subsidies on dairy products introduced by the EU and USA will cost the New Zealand economy $122 million.

New Zealand’s dairy output may fall by around 5% and the value of milk, butter and cheese exports could decline some 8% as American and European subsidies create an oversupply of product, according to the NZIER’s latest Insight newsletter. The think-tank predicts the global economy will be worse off by around US$41 million, although countries such as Japan and Korean would benefit from lower world prices.

The prospect of lower dairy prices “will cause kiwi farmers’ incomes to fall below where they would otherwise have been, through no fault of their own,” said the institute’s deputy chief executive John Ballingall. “The risk of ongoing retaliation between the U.S. and EU, and potentially others, could lead to larger increases in subsidies, tariffs and other trade barriers over time.”

The immediate impact of the subsidies was partially responsible for the decrease in Fonterra’s forecast payout for the new season.

The threat of ongoing retaliation, bigger subsidies, tariffs and other trade barriers is even more concerning. It will hinder the recovery and hamper progress towards freer trade.

The NZIER Dairy Insight newsletter is here.


Feds to recognise Cream of the Crop

June 20, 2009

Federated Farmers plans to recognise the best of New Zealand Agriculture with the Cream of the Crop awards at its annual conference.

The Agribusiness Person of the Year and Agribusiness Personality of the Year will be judged by farmer and former All Black Sir Colin Meads, business woman Anna Stretton, Auckland Mayor John Banks and David Walker from Geni.

President Don Nicolson said other agribusiness award winners would also be honoured, including: the winners of the Ballance Farm Environment Awards; The National Bank Young Farmer of the Year; The Ahuwhenua Trophy – BNZ Maori Excellence in Farming Award; Lincoln University Foundation South Island Farmer of the Year; Rural Women New Zealand Enterprising Rural Woman Award winners; New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Sharemilkers of the Year; New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Farm Manager of the Year  and New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards Dairy Trainee of the Year.

The awards ceremony will take place in Auckland on July 1.


Who wants to be a subsidy millionaire?

June 3, 2009

A website dedicated to shining daylight on subsidies, farmsubsidy.org,  has published a list of the agrimillionaires from 2008,  the 710 businesses or individuals who received more than 1 million euros from the European common agriculture policy.

An Italian sugar company received the most – nearly 140, million euro. The smallest subsidy millionaire was an Austrian cheese company which received a relatively modest million euro.

These are large sums of money. However, Phil’s Business Blog  reckons that demonising companies and individuals receiving large payments is misdirected.

For a start, it’s little surprise that sugar processors currently top the CAP payments league table, since they are involved in a major restructuring scheme designed to cut EU production and comply with WTO rules.

And at farm level, there has never been any logic to subsidy caps. Since decoupling, direct payments to farmers are supposed to be about the delivery of public goods, and it is often large farmers that are doing the most.

It is also the case that large farmers tend to employ more people, both directly and indirectly. Furthermore, restricting subsidy according to farm size can only act as a disincentive to efficiency.

That may be right but it still doesn’t justify taking money from taxpayers, giving it to producers and manufacturers who then compete unfairly with other more efficient producers elsewhere and increase costs for consumers, most of whom are taxpayers who funded the subsidies.

It’s just a giant money-go-round supporting a giant bureaucracy and handicapping free trade initiatives.

New Zealand farmers were forced into the real world when subsidies were taken away more than 20 years ago. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but it’s made us much better at what we do and much more attuned to the market than we ever were when farm incomes went up and down by government whim.

Free trade is better for consumers and, while the transition from subsidies to standing on your own feet isn’t easy, it’s also better for producers.


%d bloggers like this: