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Coming soon . . . The National Trade Academy has announced plans to establish a dairy farm school at the Oamaru Airport, next to the New Zealand Airline Academy. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

Farmers have welcomed plans to establish a dairy farm school in North Otago to help fill skill shortages in the industry.

The National Trade Academy (NTA) has announced plans to establish the school at Oamaru Airport, next to the NTA-affiliated New Zealand Airline Academy.

The school, which was expected to become operational next March, would train 30 to 40 students a year, NTA managing director Craig Musson said.

They would be taught the basics of dairy farming during 12-week courses, preparing them to help fill labour shortages on farms in Canterbury and Otago.

The announcement was welcomed by North Otago Federated Farmers dairy chairman Alan Harvey.

“There is a shortage of skilled labour in the country and even the region,” Mr Harvey said.

“It is an ongoing issue on farms. Labour is one of the biggest frustrations for farmers.”

Migrant workers made an important contribution to the industry and a course to prepare them for New Zealand farms would be useful, Mr Harvey said.

The classes would be run from the airport, while surrounding farms would be used for practical aspects.

Mr Harvey expected local farmers to be accommodating of the school and its students.

“A lot of dairy farmers are realising that where the the industry is at, staffing-wise.

“All the farms are passionate about the industry and want it to move forward.”

The NTA runs a land-based training centre in Christchurch and it had reached capacity, Mr Musson said.

“We still have a lot of interest from overseas, and we have a still have a dairy skills labour shortage right throughout Canterbury and Otago,” he said.

Mr Musson said the school could inject up to $500,000 into the Waitaki economy each year.

Initially, the school would cater only for international students, as the academy had to apply for different funding to train domestic students.

Most of the students were expected to come from South America, the Philippines and Japan, and many would have some previous agricultural experience.

“What we are looking to do is put it into a New Zealand context and health and safety rules – by the time they finish the 12-week project they will be ready to start on a farm under supervision.

“We work in with farmers and pitch in and give them a hand when they need it – it is a win-win.

“They get to see our students, and if they are looking for new staff, they have people on hand to interview.”

Oamaru was chosen as a location for the school after Mr Musson visited the New Zealand Airline Academy and met a representative from the Waitaki District Council, who suggested the possibility.

Once operational, there could be up to 80 students – including Airline Academy students – travelling to and from the airport on a daily basis.

There was still some work to be done, but the academy was moving ahead with its plans.

“We are 95% sure it will go ahead. We are just working the council over some consent issues.

“We are moving ahead with the proposal and what else we need to do.”