Seven teenagers from the suburbs of Christchurch spent a week of their April school holidays getting a taste of farm life through a recently-launched Rabobank initiative.
The Rabobank Farm Experience aims to raise awareness of the many career opportunities in the primary sector and help bridge the urban-rural divide.
Based on a successful Australian programme that’s been running for three years, the Canterbury-based pilot is the first of its type in New Zealand and was an initiative of Rabobank’s Client Council – made up of 10 farming and supply-chain members.
It’s hoped the programme will be rolled out across the country to give senior students from towns and cities a “boots and all” look at the myriad of activities and opportunities both within and beyond the farm gate.
Rabobank’s South Island manager David Clarke says the programme is a step towards addressing the problem of long-term capability within the agricultural sector.
“Our clients are concerned about where the next generation of farmers and agribusiness professionals is coming from.”
The programme will open the door – or farm gate – for urban-based teenagers who would not otherwise get the opportunity to visit a farm and give them a taste of what agribusiness is all about.
Clarke says he hopes the week spent onfarm will paint a positive picture of farming and the agricultural industry.
The students – all in their senior years at high school – applied to be part of the programme through their schools and have a range of interests and academic and practical strengths.
Each student was matched with well-vetted dairy, sheep and beef or arable farming families, depending on their particular interests.
They weren’t just observers and got the chance to get their hands and gumboots dirty doing practical tasks on farm, questioning and learning as they went.
On the final day they visited different parts of the supply chain, including milk processors, and meeting professionals working in various agricultural support industries.
The visits spanned each of the farming sectors to help tell the arable, sheep and beef, dairy and wool stories.
The students’ visit to Synlait Milk walked them through the paddock to plate and paddock to baby bottle journey with the vast range of high-tech, science and laboratory, logistics and in particular environmental opportunities apparent.
The farmers’ view
South Canterbury dairy farmers Joe and Suz Wyborn were only too happy to say yes to hosting two city-based high school students on their farm during the recent school holidays.
Sharing the dairying story with the wider public is something they love to do and the concept of the Rabobank Farm Experience is one they’re right behind.
“Anything we can do to tell the good story has to be the right thing to do – it’s something we know we all need to be doing,” Joe says.
There’s already enough noise out in the wider community based on skewed views and it’s not good enough to leave that out there unanswered, the couple believes.
“It might be small steps with a few people at a time but it’s something and it’s definitely worthwhile,” Joe says.
But that’s just one of the reasons the Ballance Farm Environment Award-winning farmers have been keen to participate.
“We need good young people coming into our industry and into agriculture in a broader sense.
“We need to see more young Kiwis seeing the sector as an option for a career. There are some great jobs in so many areas of the industry, not just onfarm, although we need bright young people seeing farming and dairy farming as a great career option too,” Joe says.
He points to his own staff – one barely in her 20s who earns a good salary, has her own three-bedroom house as accommodation and has a widely varied working day.
“Where she’s at for her age is pretty fantastic and the opportunities for her to progress are huge.”
The couple say the girls they’re hosting – Emelia Cox and Jessica Lee from Cashmere High School – fitted in with their own family, daughter Molly and son Ben, who were also on school holidays at the time.
“I told the girls when they arrived first up that they didn’t have to do anything on the farm they didn’t feel comfortable with but they’ve been keen to get into everything. They’ve been kept very busy over the whole time.
“Down at the shed they didn’t want to just stand and watch – they got the gloves straight on and wanted to have a go at milking.”
The programme has been developed to ensure the students are also exposed to a wide range of agriculture-related career options, with the final day spent visiting businesses and people in the supply chain, but the farming families have ensured the students get to experience plenty more than what’s within the farm gate.
“We took the girls– Emelia and Jessica – along to the Fonterra factory at Clandeboye the other day and we did a tour. It really is something to hear about the processes there and what they do.
“That’s what’s very good about this programme – they get to see all these related industries as well and we need good young people coming into these sectors.”
The health and safety aspects of helping out onfarm are all well-covered by the host farmers with comprehensive support from the programme’s organisers.
A positive experience
Christchurch’s Cashmere High School student Emelia Cox wants to be a large animal vet and while she’s had experience with farm animals on a small scale, working for a children’s farm party company, she’d never ventured through the gate on a commercial farm.
That was until the last week of the recent school holidays when she got to spend time on the 235ha farm where Joe and Suz Wyborn 50:50 sharemilk 850 cows for the Pye Group.
It’s confirmed her aspirations, and getting up close and personal with hundreds of cows in the farm dairy and in the yards has been a fantastic experience, she says.
She particularly loved any animal health aspect of the work – helping treat lame cows, drenching and vaccinating young stock before they went onto their winter crop and even getting to see the heifers pregnancy tested.
They’ve not just got involved and carried out the tasks, they’ve learned why the tasks are carried out, and some of the science behind the actions onfarm in terms of animal husbandry, animal health and feed management.
She’d definitely recommend the Rabobank Farm Experience to other high school students especially if they have an inkling that they’d like to work in the rural sector.
But even if students hadn’t previously considered agriculture the programme is one, school mate Jessica Lee would recommend.
She has also had a little experience at a lifestyle scale and says it’s been a great way to find out what job opportunities exist not just on the farm but in the whole agricultural sector.
She’s thinking of heading to Lincoln University and has an interest in the environmental aspects of agriculture.
“That’s why it’s been really good to be here with the Wyborns as Ballance Farm Environment Award winners – seeing what they do to protect waterways and reduce nitrate leakage,” Jessica says.
Being able to visit both the Fonterra Clandeboye and Synlait Dunsandel plants has also allowed them to see what efforts go on at the processor level to protect the environment.
Jessica says it was fascinating to see the manufacturing process from milk arriving in tankers to the various finished products such as milk powder, infant formula, mozzarella cheese and protein powders that end up in sports bars and drinks.
Each day the girls and other students on other farms have made a video blog (vlog) of their day’s activities which has been posted to the Rabobank Farm Experience New Zealand facebook page so friends and family and others interested in the programme can see what it’s all about.
On the day Dairy Exporter caught up with Jessica and Emelia they were hard at it, working in the cattle yards on the Wyborn’s runoff vaccinating, drenching and weighing the rising two year olds.
The heifers were also being pregnancy scanned and the girls were intrigued to see the process and be able to see images of the foetal animals.
They both say they loved the whole experience and finished their week taking their positive view of the industry and aspirations for a future in it with them.
Take a look at the Rabobank Farm Experience Facebook page for photos and videos of all the students and their farm experiences.