Beef and Lamb New Zealand is welcoming an increase in enrolments in agricultural courses at Massey and Lincoln universities as a sign that more school leavers are considering careers in the primary sector.
Massey University has had its biggest intake into agricultural courses for at least 25 years, with almost 190 first year students enrolling in the compulsory Plants in Agriculture class.
Lincoln University's Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Diploma in Agriculture programmes both attracted 20 percent more enrolments than last year, and enrolments have doubled for the new Bachelor of Agribusiness and Food Marketing and the Master of Science in Food Innovation programmes.
The lack of graduates going into the sector had been a nagging concern for organisations such as Beef and Lamb, whose chief executive, Scott Champion, says the significant lift in student numbers this year is overdue.
"The 'People Powered' report that the Ministry for Primary Industries, DairyNZ and us, amongst others, put together last year does point to this pretty significant gap in the skills that are needed and the number of people that are needed (an extra 50,000 by 2025) and we've all been trying to get increased numbers into all different sorts of tertiary education in agriculture and related things.
"It's starting to feel as though that's built momentum and there's a bit better understanding as to what the options are within the broader agricultral sector, so this is really good news from our point of view. "
Although he acknowledged that one point of data did not make a trend, he said there were signs of growing engagement in secondary school programmes.
"We run one jointly with Dairy NZ and Young Farmers called 'Get Ahead'. We're starting to get a sense from that that some of the understanding from students and also teachers is lifting around the on-farm opportunities in agriculture as well as the broader opportunities in the service sector."
Dr Champion says Beef and Lamb is promoting agriculture as a career by providing scholarships for about 20 students a year. It also gathers students together each year to help them build networks among themselves and with primary industry organisations.