By Brad Markham
A South Canterbury school principal is going the extra mile to ensure his students have opportunities to experience the agriculture sector.
Hamish Brown is the principal of Beaconsfield School near Timaru, which has a roll of 104 students from both rural and urban backgrounds.
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Last year almost 40 of the students visited the 380-hectare Cannington farm belonging to Bill and Shirley Wright.
The trip was part of a resource funded by the RMPP (Red Meat Profit Partnership) they were studying on boosting productivity in the red meat sector.
Brown was very surprised when he discovered one of the Year 8 students had not been on a farm before.
"I almost fell off my chair. That revelation surprised me. Our school is in a rural area surrounded by farms," he said.
It made him step up his efforts to ensure pupils were aware of the career opportunities in the agri-food sector.
The school is weaving teaching resources from the Agrication website, run by NZ Young Farmers, into its curriculum.
"We're planning another farm visit again soon as a key part of studying those learning modules, as well as a visit to a dairy farm through DairyNZ," he said.
"We had a fantastic time on the last farm visit. Students came back to the classroom with lots of questions."
Brown also runs a Rural Enrichment Group at the school, which includes the student who visited a farm for the first time last year.
The group is made up of 11 pupils who have had a range of rural experiences.
"It's a hands-on way for students to learn about job prospects and the business side of farming and food production," said Brown.
"We've been on a number of field trips, including watching veterinary technicians work with dairy heifers and comparing the benefits of kale, fodder beet and grass for cows."
"We've also attended practical field days which covered topics from beekeeping to wool, fencing and quad bike safety, and we've looked at the costs associated with crop farms."
The group's students are responsible for the wellbeing and feeding requirements of the school's chickens and its four sheep.
"When the sheep arrived, one of the students mentioned they needed a drench, and then told me the reason why based on his experience. So the group organised temporary yards and drench for the school and undertook the process," he said.
"They're learning about all aspects of farming. They know how much the sheep cost and what the associated costs are.
"They are monitoring livestock prices and if we get short of grass they will calculate the profit we could make by selling them," he said.
Brown hopes the school's efforts lead to more students considering careers in the primary industries.
NZ Young Farmers organises free visits to sheep and beef farms for primary schools using Agrication resources.
The trips are funded by the RMPP, a Primary Growth Partnership programme working to help the red meat sector increase productivity and profitability.
Brad Markham is a writer for New Zealand Young Farmers.