Passionate about rural youth Senior Territory Manager of New Zealand Young Farmers , Casey A Huffstutler is passionate about fighting back against poor New Zealand youth employment rates in agriculture. Casey has devoted her adult life to encouraging and offering support to the nation’s young so that they see the vast opportunities of a fast paced changing sector.
Where once agriculture was an industry every family could relate to having someone employed in, today there are few keen on entering, yet alone making agriculture their primary career. Casey was one of those young woman. Raised in Invercargill - the rural heartland of Southland Casey had very little contact with rural industries. Instead, she set her sights on becoming an automotive electrician – not your usual choice for a female back in 1999. As the only girl in a class of two dozen boys, she completed her certificate in Automotive Engineering and very quickly worked her way around various dealerships buying parts and managing service components of the businesses.
Although a hands on type of character, Casey never considered working on a farm - it was not mentioned as a career option at secondary school, and it was only through a relationship with a Te Anau basin farmer that she got her first taste of the land. Just one weekend was all it took for Casey to decide farming was her calling and so she began relief milking at Hedgehope every second weekend while retaining her job, in Queenstown as Assistant Parts Manager. That first job and the wonderful experience she encountered at the hands of a very kind couple sealed her fate and she applied for a position as a farm assistant at Robert and Anna Kempthorne’s Te Anau dairy farm. Robert had not long won the FMG Young Farmer of the Year and he and his wife were in the process of conversion. It was a perfect opportunity and one that Casey was thrilled to accept.
Although tough, Casey thrived and soon attended her first Young Farmer’s club meeting at Nightcaps where she promptly took on the role of secretary. The club offered Casey social interaction in what is sometimes seen as an isolated environment. Surprised at what New Zealand Young Farmers had to offer and the fact that she knew so little about the organisation or the young rural members, Casey was soon engaging in all sorts of activities. This included the National fencing and Smallbore Rifle Competitions and before long had worked her way to being the Otago Southland regional vice chairperson.
A brief stint as a herd manager resulted in a broken collarbone and temporarily ended her agricultural career but soon she was offered a position that would see her undertake the role that would define her as the Young Farmer’s Upper North Island regional field officer. It was a big decision that encompassed her moving to the opposite end of the country but it was one that would saw her engage in her passion to work with young people and share her experience of working in the primary industry. The majority of Casey’s job is around school engagement and youth development. She visits schools in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty region and talks to teachers about the programmes New Zealand Young Farmers now offers youth - and career pathways in agriculture.
Casey’s job has been part of a re-definition of NZ Young Farmers. Once a mainly social organisation, dwindling membership saw it re-define itself to a strong professionally focused brand that gives youth a pathway into agriculture as well as professional avenues to develop themselves. The organisation now offers vital TeenAg clubs throughout secondary schools as well as various initiatives in partnership with others to bring youth into the industry and keep them there. That has been no mean feat. Five years ago when Casey began working in the field for the organisation there were no Teen Ag clubs in her region and no engagement with urban schools about career pathways into the primary industry.
Funded by DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb New Zealand , the Get Ahead programme is perhaps the single most important primary industry initiative to get youth engaged in a conversation around agriculture and is a fun part of Casey’s everyday job. Herself a former city girl, Casey has found urban schools have been the most likely to embrace the Young Farmer programmes and that has sometimes been reflected in club demographics up North. One club she was involved in had fifty members, of which only four were on farm. In her beloved Waikato/Bay of Plenty region she has grown the Teen Ag clubs.
For now, the work she is doing may-be slow and steady but is making a huge difference, and coupled with the New Zealand Young Farmers recently announced acquisition of an Auckland farm, Casey is excited about prospects of the future. She is devoted to rural youth and this has been reflected in her many roles including volunteering at the National Fieldays since 2011 and being elected onto the events committee of the same organisation for two years. The Fieldays committee identified her potential when she was awarded a Future Leaders Programme scholarship to give her the capabilities to go into governance roles within the primary sector.
This led on to Casey completing the Kellogg Rural Leadership programmein 2016 from where she put forward a plan through her studies to develop a cross industry online portal in the primary industry to provide a leadership pathway.
“It’s something I’m deeply passionate about. I get to see some incredible young people in the field I work in, who volunteer for leadership roles but there is no specific information to provide a pathway to enable them to take the next step.”
As if that didn’t keep her busy enough, Casey is currently the Mid Northern Youth Council Chairperson of the Royal Agricultural Society and actively encourages youth to get involved in the showing livestock movement through activities such as stock-judging and handling. She is also the Dairy Womens Network Conference committee secretary this year but her priority remains with the nation’s youth.
“For me the greatest pleasure comes from seeing New Zealand youth fired up and excited about agriculture. To see our young develop and then go on to future leadership roles is the most fulfilling part of my current role because I see every day the wide and varied opportunities this sector is demanding and it’s where our future lies.”
Wow Casey, you are go go go. We love that you are so passionate about providing employment oppourtunites to the youth of New Zealand and we think agriculture is such an exciting place for them to be. Hats off to you for all you do. It sounds like you are a massive success!