Saturday, April 13, 2024

LAND CHAMPION: Many strings in the Jones’ bow

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From humble beginnings 19 years ago Matt and Tracey Jones now do business worldwide to help Canterbury farmers staff their farms and have launched a world class learning environment in rural Mid Canterbury to provide elite education to strengthen New Zealand primary industries. Annette Scott caught up with the agribusiness entrepreneurs.
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Mid Canterbury couple Matt and Tracey Jones’ agricultural staffing businesses is going world-wide recruiting and training people to work across all sectors of New Zealand’s primary industries.

Starting out as Mid Canterbury Casual Employment Services in 2001 their recruitment and training business has evolved and expanded to meet agriculture’s increasing needs.

The initial business split to become AgStaff, an Ashburton-based firm now also established in Pukekohe and recruiting across all the primary industry sectors and CanStaff, recruiting predominantly construction, engineering and manufacturing staff. CanStaff operates out of six offices in NZ, one in Australia, one in the Philippines and one in London.

NZ Dairy Careers, another arm to the Jones’ stable of recruitment and training programmes, will bring 60 dairy industry workers from Ireland to Canterbury early next year with two-thirds of the intake already with jobs secured on Canterbury dairy farms. 

“Every agricultural college in Ireland now puts its students through this NZ Dairy Careers programme,” Matt said.

“It’s about pastoral care and support with the students here any time from 16 weeks to permanent.”

Students also come from Canada, England and South Africa.

“In 2020 we will have more than 200 coming into the NZ dairy industry with the majority coming to Canterbury.

“We work with them from scratch, pick them up from the airport, help then get bank accounts, get a car, get insurance, teach them to cook, give them lessons on groceries – it’s all about setting them up to be successful.”

Most people coming from overseas don’t have a preference where in NZ they go, they just want to come to NZ.

“Our finger is on the scale of where they live and where they will live for the rest of their life.

“When you bring someone from the other side of the world to Wakanui in the Ashburton District, that’s where they’ll tend to stay. 

“People don’t move a lot. Once they get here they stay, at least in the region,” Matt said.

Getting young people into jobs, into new training and upskilling them gives the couple much satisfaction.

“We do it because we love people, we love helping people and if we didn’t have people we wouldn’t have a business. 

“We have had the opportunity for a lot of travel and we’ve made a lot of friends.”

Now the couple is launching a new venture, Agri Training, at an open day on December 13. It will train staff for various farming jobs.

Agri Training will provide elite education to strengthen the primary industries.

“NZ has a world-class agriculture industry and a reputation to match and Agri Training will develop innovative thinkers who have the practical skills to be part of the solutions being carved out across the agricultural industry. 

“Our fundamental purpose is to lead primary industries qualification standards to an all-time high while preserving respected farming traditions.

“The learning and teaching belief structure at Agri Training is driven by a desire to create a stronger agriculture sector in NZ.  

“There’s a gap in the market for a better and higher level of training on a vocational basis and at Agri Training we aim to fill that gap.”

Training has been structured to fit with students in full-time work with studies covering diplomas in agriculture and business management.

The training centre has been a long time in the planning and key to it getting up and running was finding a suitable location.

AgResearch sold the Ashburton site earlier in the year. ending more than 70 years of NZ agriculture history.

Agri Training leases the buildings from the new property owner, a local farmer.

“So, after beginning its life as a leading agricultural research centre the research station is coming back to life again in the world of agricultural education.”   

With 20-years involvement in agribusiness recruitment Matt and Tracey believe they know what the industry needs and what employers want.  

“Having dealt with thousands of clients and potential candidates I can see from both sides the skills that are desperately needed by employers and in demand by candidates.”

This has been taken into account as the Agri Training programme has been developed covering specialist streams across dairy production, arable, sheep and beef and deer with the first intake of students in February.

Sheep milking is another string to the Jones’ bow, they will focus on breeding sheep that are hardy to suit the harsher southern climate.

“We started breeding eight years ago when we could see potential but for pastoral sheep milking to gain traction in Canterbury we needed a hardier breed of milking sheep.

“We brought in embryos from around the world, crossed the traditional milking breeds East Friesian and Lacaune with Coopworth, Border Leicester and Poll Dorset stud stock, the plan being to get a sheep hardy enough to handle the climate in the South Island.”

Milking began in September so the plan looks to be on track.

“We want to get production up now and we’re very happy with the result so far.

“The next plan is to establish a processing facility to process our own milk and that of others here in Canterbury where sheep milking is really taking off.”

In a sideline venture the Jones are also breeding Wagu cattle, predominately for their meat to the local restaurant market.

“Who knows, if they can produce meat we’re keen to see what potential they may have in the milk market.”

That could well be the next project.

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