NZ AgITO Trainer of the Year

October 2013
Greenfield's Kevin Smith has won the AgITO sheep industry trainer of the year award. Kevin has trained more than 40 young people in the last 17 or 18 years, a steady stream of graduates from Telford, Taratahi, Lincoln University and AgITO programmes.

Originally from mid Canterbury, when Kevin left school he was a farm cadet for three years. He left farming for a few years, and then came back to it in his mid twenties. He did a farm business management course through AgITO, and worked around Canterbury on different jobs including at Mt Peel as stock manager. It was there he started employing staff, mainly young shepherds. Training them was just a natural progression, he says.

"We have all been where these young guys are. Somebody has trained us, and let us make mistakes. Everybody has to go through that. There's a shortage of staff on sheep and beef farms and training staff is a wee bit of an obligation. Without quality staff, sheep and beef farming is looking a bit sad."

Kevin has been managing the 6400ha Huntleigh for four years. Huntleigh is a combination of three different adjacent farms, purchased by Greenfield in 2007 and 2008. At that stage the combined farms ran 14,700 stock units. Now it is running 36,000 stock units.

It has 2700ha of lucerne and lucerne pasture mixes and 1000ha of grass and other developed pastures. About 1000ha of the station are oversown gullies. The whole focus at Huntleigh is on finishing sheep and cattle - 80,000 lambs a year and 2500 cattle. There is also grazing stock on the farm and about 2mkgDM of lucerne is made into chopped silage each year. Once a year about 30% of the paddocks are cut for silage.

There are four permanent staff on the farm.

"At Greenfield we do a lot of basic stock work - about 90% of our work is with stock. They learn about welfare and management, as well as pasture management - that's a big part of the job. Pasture is king."

"Farming work is not like factory work. You can't teach someone to do it in 10 minutes. It does take time to learn stock husbandry."

"Our staff get a bit more experience here and move on. I like to see them leave here and go forward and carry on. It doesn't matter what it is in, as long as they are moving forward. A lot have gone onto farm management jobs and to own their own farms. A lot of them are really successful."

"I like to work alongside the guys. It's important for them to figure out what they want and what their goals are, and where their strengths are. We work towards that. It is easier to train someone to do what they want to do - they have to be interested in it."

All Kevin's staff at Huntleigh are doing AgITO study, including two new young people, one of whom is Angel Wood, a shepherd who went through Taratahi and has a year's experience. She started work in early September at Huntleigh.

Kevin says the key to training staff is putting time into them, and giving them time to learn. "You know it is going to cost you time. You have to be willing to invest that to get something out. You know that they are not going to get it right the first time. There will be mistakes made. You don't learn if things are going well. You have to be willing to put up with that, and realise that everyone has been in that situation."

The ITO courses are usually day-long courses held every month.

Kevin's AgITO trainer Rebecca Williamson-Kavanaugh put his name forward for the competition and he beat two other finalists: Telford, which is part of Lincoln University, and Gisborne's Waipaoa Station Farm Cadet Training Trust.

Kevin's wife Justine is a big help to him on the farm as he is training young staff too. She works part time in the office at the Middlemarch School.

Kevin says Justine fields calls from the mothers of the young staff, gives them a wind-up about cleaning the house, and cooks them one meal a week. "It's good communication time and we make sure they are eating vegetables at least once a week. Its a team approach," he says.

Rebecca says Kevin's strengths are that he is prepared to give young people a chance and he is patient.

"Farming is a very practical industry. AgITO has learning pathways which take this into account, and this means the trainees are learning as they are working on farm. Learn while you earn is an amazing chance to get ahead without huge debt."

"Kevin teaches these young guys how to run a set of dogs, and how to move a mob of sheep. He gives these guys a chance."

He also takes Telford students for a week of practical work.

Rebecca nominated him for the prize, choosing him out of 170 farmer trainers throughout her Central Otago area.

"He takes these trainees and gives them a chance to get their foot in the door so they can step up to be employable."

She says he's made a huge contribution to training New Zealand's youth. "He's pretty special."

Rebecca says for every great farmer somewhere someone like Kevin believed in them when they were 17. "We need more Kevins."

Primary ITO now has a mentoring system in place were farmers and top industry leaders volunteer their time to young people in the farming industry.

This scheme is free and offers a huge range of expertise to young people starting out in the sheep and dairy industries. Rebecca hopes as many trainees as possible take up the opportunity.