Year seven student Laura Francis of Highlands Intermediate in New Plymouth had never considered a farming career as an option, however after a discovery day to MataRata Downs Taranaki sheep and beef farm with her Year seven and eight classmates, she feels excited about all the opportunities the agricultural industry offers.
“Being on the farm made me realise that I would love to be outdoors, feeding the young and working with animals as a future career. I always thought that being a farmer only involved cows and lots of cow muck but the trip to MataRata Downs changed that”.
The discovery day, funded and facilitated by the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP) in conjunction with New Zealand Young Farmers and CORE education, is part of a resource called “Bigger and Better” which has been developed for teachers to align with their Year 6-8 curriculum. Schools that complete the resource can be matched to a local farm so that students have an opportunity to go out and visit a farm first hand.
Highlands Intermediate teacher Tracey McCook says it’s this first-hand experience that really ignites the imagination of the kids. “When they physically experience a working farm, and understand all the different occupations involved with a productive farming business, they get really excited.”
“Sarah Coogan from MataRata Downs got the students to draw a mind map of all the jobs involved with running a farm, and they came up with over 15 separate roles. It definitely gets them thinking”.
Deb Kingma, project manager – primary at NZ Young Farmers, is delighted with the uptake of the Bigger and Better programme. ‘The number of schools that have committed to this initiative is increasing. The aim is to encourage and support the next generation of top talent into the red meat sector, and to help them to understand the wealth of career opportunities available, and to understand that almost any job you do, you can do in agriculture.”
Kingma says it’s the support of farmers hosting the schools involved that makes the programme viable. “Every farmer who has been approached to be involved in the programme is more than willing to help us. Without their support this wouldn’t be possible, we’re very lucky”.
Di Falconer, RMPP project manager, likewise sees the support of farmers to develop a pipeline of youth talent as vital to the future of farming in New Zealand. “These programmes are all about creating a sustainable sheep and beef sector where not just rural youth but kids in urban areas are exposed to the diverse career opportunities the industry offers”.
Tracey McCook believes the programme is working. “Our team leader Dean Hikaka came into class when we got back and asked how many students thought they might like a career in farming and about half of the class put their hands up. He then asked how many had already wanted to and only two students put their hands up, so it’s definitely having an impact!”
In the last six weeks, 32 schools have registered for the 2018 programme in term one which will see approximately 800 students having an opportunity to be involved.
Other RMPP initiatives are also being run in secondary and tertiary institutions to ensure a steady flow of talent is coming through to increase the number of people entering the industry.