Confidence is growing that vocational training will resume at the former Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, which was forced into liquidation in 2018.
Primary Industries Minister Damian O’Connor says his office and the Tertiary Education Commission are working with the liquidators “to find a long-term solution to secure sustainable agricultural education at Taratahi now and into the future”.
Community leaders in Wairarapa are equally confident, saying there is a potential buyer for the complex near Masterton.
O’Connor says he is committed to a solution that secures sustainable education at Taratahi and utilises the 294ha farm and adjacent buildings and teaching facilities.
Liquidators recently sought a High Court determination on whether the farm can be sold to pay creditors, with Justice Ellis ruling that it could with the approval of the Minister for Primary Industries.
This potentially opens the door for a new owner and training provider on the campus, but it has raised concerns from the descendants of those who gifted that land in 1918, who want it retained as an agricultural training campus.
Wairarapa farming leader William Beetham says he knows the Government has in the past few years been talking with local Iwi about having a future role at Taratahi, but they were reluctant to run it as a training provider.
He doubts that position has changed.
Farmers Weekly has approached Ngati Kahungunu for comment but none has been received.
Beetham says efforts to resume agricultural training to the Taratahi have been underway for several years and he welcomes any progress.
With the Government centralising the administration of polytechnics, any training offered at Taratahi would have to meet the national strategy while also ensuring the course meets the expectations of trainees and employers.
Beetham says descendants of the original donors need to be consulted to ensure that any change satisfies the wishes of their forebears that the land continues to be used for the training of people to work in the farming sector.
Carterton District Council Mayor Greg Lang says he is “extremely confident” a successful buyer will use the campus for educating young people in farming and rural related industries.
“I am aware that there is an interested party. I am very confident a buyer will emerge,” he says.
Negotiations were at a delicate phase, but Lang says the recent High Court decision was a significant development, allowing solutions to be considered.
Liquidators want to sell the land, the last substantial unsold asset, to release funds to repay Westpac $6.6m.
After WWI, Sir William and Lady Margaret Perry donated 131ha to help returning servicemen re-establish themselves and promote modern farming practices in the Wairarapa.
At the same time a neighbouring 163ha was bought off Mrs Ivelenah Rayner using funds raised from the Wairarapa community along with donated livestock.
The Government funded buildings, fences and equipment.
This led to the establishment of the Wairarapa Cadet Training Farm.
Up until 1969, the farm was controlled and managed by a committee appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, but the passing in 1969 of the Wairarapa Cadet Training Farm Act, vested the farm and land in a trust board to give governance a more certain legal footing and easier access to funding.
Taratahi reported financial losses in 2017 and 2018 with a further loss forecast for 2019.
Low enrolments at that time required the repayment of Tertiary Education Commission funds which pushed the trust into liquidation in December 2018.
Justice Ellis notes that at the time of liquidation, the board owed $11.9m and a further $12.5m to the Westpac.