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Primary ITO: Knowledge to grow

News & Features

Sharing experience and knowledge boosts Ryan’s performance

25 August 2020

Ryan Elser

Ryan Esler – Cleardale Station, Canterbury 
There is no rule book when it comes to farming, and everyone has their own tips and tricks on how to get the best out of their land. 

Mid-Canterbury sheep and beef farmer Ryan Esler counts himself lucky to have spoken with, and learned a considerable amount from, many of his peers during years of study with Primary ITO and by regularly attending industry field day events.

“Everybody looks at stuff differently,” he acknowledges. “Farmers are funny people; they all look across the fence at what their neighbour’s doing and think ‘nah I wouldn’t do it like that’. Everybody has a different perception of what a place looks like and what’s actually going on. It really is like a Ford versus Holden sort of thing.”

As Farm Manager at Cleardale Station alongside the Rakaia River, Ryan oversees 1400ha and 15,000 stock units spread across a mix of flat plains and steep foothills. “This farm is really quite diverse. We also look after crops – we do cereals like milling wheat and a little bit of speciality seed stuff like radishes. On top of that we do 55ha of winter feed in swede and another 40ha of fodder beet.” 

The 48 year-old has completed Primary ITO’s Level 5 Diploma in Agribusiness Management and is currently “doing things a little bit backwards” by undertaking his Level 4 Certificate in sheep and beef.

The opportunity to meet other farmers and exchange ideas during class sessions has been an invaluable part of his study experience, he says. 

“Alan, who was taking our Diploma course, lived nearby and we got to look at a couple of different farms around Culverden. We’d take an afternoon and go and look at one place, then the next time we had a course he’d have teed up to go and look at somebody else’s farm. That’s hugely beneficial looking at different places and getting new ideas. And you only need one great idea to make a difference on your own farm.” 

“The Primary ITO Level 4 sheep and beef stuff that I’m just trying to finish at the moment means I get to regularly sit down with seven or eight different farmers and share their knowledge and ideas. Everybody’s doing something different and you learn a bit off each other.” 

Ryan’s boss at Cleardale Station, Ben Todhunter, has previously judged South Island Farmer of the Year and invited his staff to tag along when visiting entrants’ properties. Ryan firmly believes the more ideas you can gather from others, the better farmer you will become.

“It is quite neat. Not all farmers are that open that you can go and just look around their farm, so taking those opportunities on offer when they’re there is really cool. If your employer is open to that sort of thing it makes a massive difference. My boss is happy for us to go to anything like that.”

His Diploma study took nearly three years to complete, and Ryan acknowledges it’s a big commitment. 

“You have to be quite disciplined to do it. When you’re busy you find yourself saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow night’, and then the next night you’re asleep on the couch. You’ve got to be quite determined to actually finish it.”

Ryan found having a ‘study buddy’ (in this case a shepherd working on Cleardale Station) was a big help. “She would ring me up and say ‘come on, we’re going to class tonight’ or tell me what study she was doing, so I’d be thinking ‘oh I’d better do that too’. It was awesome to have her support.”

The pair attended fortnightly tutorials and completed assignments with the guidance and encouragement of Primary ITO’s tutor plus their own boss.

“The Diploma is a very broad qualification. It covers a lot of topics and gives you a better appreciation of what’s going on behind the day-to-day stuff.”

Ryan particular enjoyed the benchmarking process, where he was able to compare what he was doing at Cleardale with other farm operations. Learning about health and safety, staff management, sustainability and different farm ownership structures was also useful.

“I was able to do some costings too. Looking at how much it costs to establish and grow certain crops versus their yield gave me the chance to look at our chemical use and re-evaluate things. We’re always trying to do things better at Cleardale so that was really helpful.”

Ryan believes gaining a broader knowledge certainly helped him secure his promotion to Farm Manager, having started at Cleardale as a tractor driver back in 2013.

While qualifications give employers confidence when hiring or promoting staff, Ryan says having the right attitude is also key.

“We’ve been interviewing shepherds on and off for the last 18 months, and having qualifications does help. But if you’ve got the right attitude towards your job and learning, Primary ITO is a terrific way to improve your knowledge and skills while on-the-job. You’re able to work and earn money at the same time which is a big plus.”

Ryan says his family and boss were all extremely proud to see him finish his Diploma, and Cleardale remains “a pretty cool place” to live and work.

“I’ve always enjoyed the farming lifestyle and it’s provided some great opportunities for my kids. We’re into boating, fishing and hunting – typical outdoors stuff. We’ve got a jet boat and live right beside the Rakaia River so on a nice evening if there’s salmon around, me and my son, Lachie, will go fishing.”

“I’m damn lucky where I work and live. I can’t fault it. My wife and I talk about it all the time and ask ourselves ‘what else would we be doing?’ At the moment we’d say ‘nothing else’.”

Primary ITO sheep, beef and deer qualifications can be found here and eligibility as part of the Free Trades Training is available here

Full details of the NZ Diploma in Agribusiness Management can be found here.

Contact your local Training Adviser on 0800 20 80 20 for more information on formal learning available throughout your career.