Collaboration gives Otago learners new on-farm learning opportunities

4 July 2023

Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga and Beef + Lamb New Zealand are working together in the Otago region to provide new learning opportunities for those entering the sheep and beef farming industry and those looking to progress their careers.

The organisations have worked together since the early 2000’s to support learners (farm staff in training) and have recently developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to continue the collaboration now and into the future.

As part of this MOU, Beef + Lamb New Zealand are hosting Delivery Ready Workshops such as WormWise, Body Condition Scoring and Growing Great Lambs to coincide with Primary ITO block courses.

“This formalises our relationship and means both organisations are bringing what we can to the table to help grow people and connect learners with others in the industry,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand Extension Manager for Central South Island, Dean Sinnamon.

Primary ITO Otago Training Adviser Jo Watherston says the MOU is a positive development for learners and is already increasing opportunities for them to gain skills and on-farm experience.

“We all have the same goals for people in the agriculture industry and that’s to give learners the best experience possible, the opportunity to become better farmers, and build knowledge and skills in the wider industry.”

Block courses around the region successful

In Otago Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga is offering a new series of block courses in different locations for learners enrolled in the Level 3 and 4 New Zealand Certificate in Agriculture or an Apprenticeship. The block courses include on-farm workshops where learners come together for a couple of days each quarter.

The practical workshops cover a range of topics and are run by Jo and experienced Primary ITO tutor, Sam Stevens, a Poolburn farmer who is also Chair of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Central South Island Farmer Council.

An example is a recent body condition scoring workshop at Sam’s Poolburn sheep stud, where learners got both theory and hands-on experience. Other workshop topics are fencing, dog training, genetics, birthing, and sessions by industry experts.

“Having all these skills come together to support learners is fantastic and has allowed us to build very strong industry training,” says Jo.

Training strengthens farm businesses

Sam says having staff learning and upskilling on-the-job is very valuable for farm businesses. “The staff learn the reasons behind the tasks they’re doing and develop the skills to grow into a more complete farm worker who can take on more responsibility.”

“I’m a big believer in work life balance. Being able to take a break from the farm is important for farmers, so developing staff to step in and take responsibility is helpful and creates a good workplace culture.”

And for those farmers nervous about the commitment of training staff, Sam says farmers can rest assured they will be well supported by their Primary ITO training adviser who guides the process and keeps in regular contact with each learner.

Jo Watherston’s role is to support both employers and learners on their journey to achieving qualifications.

Primary ITO provides learning support

She says she loves her work because Primary ITO programmes suit all types of learners. “I just love how we cater for people who have thought they can’t achieve.”

“We have so many people who can achieve and we offer support through study nights, mentors and learning resources.”

Jo has first-hand experience of what it is like to struggle with learning. “I am dyslexic so my experience at school wasn’t great.”

At 30 Jo realised she had much life experience, but no qualifications so began adult learning and qualified in animal care, vet nursing and as a large animal technician. This led to roles in the veterinary industry for 15 years. “I absolutely loved it because it was the first time I had achieved anything in the way of formal education.”

Her job now combines her passions for the agriculture industry and helping others to learn and progress. “Seeing their faces when they start actually achieving stuff is pretty cool.”

Click here to see the range of sheep and programmes available, or use the form below to get in touch.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s workshops can be viewed here. We encourage you to sign up for B+LNZ’s e-Diary, a weekly newsletter that includes future workshops available. Visit to register.