More young talent needed for NZ’s primary industries

14 July 2017

Jack Keeys
University of Waikato Bachelor of Management Studies (Hons) in Agribusiness and Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences student, Jack Keeys

Growing up, Jack Keeys couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be a scientist or accountant – so he’s forging a unique career path in New Zealand’s primary industries which combines both.

This week, Keeys joined an impressive line-up of speakers at the annual NZ Horticulture Conference taking place in Tauranga from 12-14 July. Keeys – who is completing a Bachelor of Management Studies (Hons) in Agribusiness and a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences conjoint at the University of Waikato whilst working at agricultural software company Farmax Ltd – will discuss the need to attract more young talent into the horticulture industry.

The former Paeroa College head boy has achieved over $50,000 of scholarships and is a previous HortNZ and Zespri scholar. After taking an agribusiness paper, with fellow conference speaker Jacqueline Rowarth, Jack could see the many opportunities on offer in the primary industries, both in New Zealand and across the world.

“The career opportunities are a brilliant incentive, but there was also a lot more to it. The strong integration of business and science, the demand for young people entering the industry and the ability to utilise my passions for innovation and sustainability to make a positive impact in the world are what attracted me to this field,” says Keeys.

Attracting more young talent in the horticulture industry is of immense importance, he says.

“Global food production uses a significant amount of the world’s resources and is Earth’s biggest challenge. The industry doesn’t just ‘want’ more talented young people, it ‘needs’ the next generation of young achievers to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the sector. This includes introducing genetic biotechnology, increasing the efficiency of our resource use, innovating our engineering technology, improving international trade and perhaps most importantly, enabling the public to make informed and educated decisions – as that is what ultimately will dictate the future of our food.”

Keeys is currently researching the modelling of dairy sheep systems in New Zealand to enable the opportunity for this expanding industry to have valuable tools as it continues to flourish.
“The research I am conducting at the moment is aimed at the animal agriculture industry, however may develop or highlight beneficial opportunities for a similar concept (software tool) to be developed for the horticulture industry. At this early stage, I am focusing on creating a foundation for leadership in the primary industries.”

Keeys began working at Farmax part-time as an assistant two years ago. He now manages the company’s UK business; the Farmax accreditation programme, and flies around New Zealand training the country’s top farmers and consultants in the company’s agricultural computer software system. He aims to encourage young people to consider agribusiness as a study path worth following.

Internships and work placements have been a major focus whilst studying. He has worked at Hamilton Organic, AgFirst Waikato, the University of Waikato, Rabobank and as a research scholar funded by the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre. A major role he undertook during his studies was the programme co-ordinator of the Rabobank Agri-Leadership Programme, an initiative he co-created with Alanah Vinson to attract more top quality students into the primary industries.

For more information on the Horticulture Conference 2017, visit: