Perry Smith’s agribusiness students lead busy lives often dictated by the seasons. So when the likes of calving and lambing come around, he knows their studies will take a back seat and that’s fine by him.
Perry, a primary industries tutor at Ara Institute of Canterbury, is used to adapting his programme to suit the seasonal demands on his students, many of whom are farm owners or managers. He is about as responsive as any tutor can be.
The National Diploma in Agribusiness Management at Ara is comprehensive, and Perry makes sure every one of his 60 students (90 are enrolled altogether) get the most practical business skills they need for the sector - now and into the future.
“We might not see students for four to six weeks at this time of year, but we make allowances for that in the timetable because we know it’s coming. And if there are any unexpected developments in the region, then we adapt to that too,” he says.
During these times there are no set classes, but students book one-to-one sessions to suit their schedule and continue with both online and work-based aspects of their learning and assessment when time allows. “You’ve got to be flexible to meet their daily work requirements,” Perry says. He travels between regional centres in Ashburton, Christchurch and Culverden to meet his students, while his colleague covers Dunedin, Oamaru and Timaru.
Changes in farming drive learning application, which includes human resources management, financial management, sustainability and business planning. “The students, who range from farm owners and managers to share milkers; across dairy, beef and lamb and cropping, develop their skills to match the business requirements of farming. Rather than the family farm model, agribusiness today involves more company farms. In Canterbury there is a mix - there are farms that are 220,000 acres and smaller copping farms of 130 hectares.”
“We’re not running a model farm to work on; we’re assessing students on the farm they work on. If the topic crosses over their actual work, they complete a portfolio to show they’ve applied the knowledge. If not, they can complete a class exercise to demonstrate relevant skills. It’s about applying management contextually to the primary industries.”
The human resources module covers the employment process from job description and interviewing to induction and performance appraisals. Financial management runs the gauntlet of budgeting, monitoring, variation reports and depreciation, with students writing PAYE and GST reports.
Sustainability requires students to write an environmental plan including soil composition, irrigation allowances, effluent management, nitrogen, aquifer health and succession planning. “It’s about handing the farm over in better shape than you found it – that stewardship of the land,” Perry says.
In business planning, students write a business plan acceptable to a bank, with long term objectives, a monitoring process, management structure, financial projections, marketing and so on.
Students’ portfolios become working documents, which they can refer to in entirety or in part depending on their current role, in their daily planning and work where it is really needed - on the farm.