When school leavers think about careers in agriculture, it’s probably a safe bet that many of them don’t see past a lot of standing in a pit faced with cow udders!
But the multiple facets of the whole business of agriculture need a whole lot more young people to realise how many options there are out there. It’s not just working on farms, but everything from chemistry and biology, to food science, marketing and export. In fact, everything involved from ‘pasture to plate’.
When around 120 senior students turned up to Karapiro, having expressed some interest in agriculture, they were in for an interesting day. They were required to try to identify and match seeds to finished products, identify plants and appropriate fertilisers, estimate feed and pasture allocations, to work out prime lamb weights and relate them to market prices. Each task appealed to different kids, but demonstrated new ways to think about their skills.
They also had to work out which areas of a farm should be used for different purposes, including how to deal with streams, bush and wetlands, where to site effluent systems, and how to best utilise a variety of different animal species. Some kids were pretty knowledgeable, while others had never given it a thought before.
For farm problems with insects, fungi, and weeds and pests, the importance of what to use where, and how to read the labels on the containers intelligently was a whole new ballgame for some.
Breeding good stock, the complexities of choosing the right bulls for the right cows, and then exploring the intricacies of AI brought biology to the fore, and ‘Breed’nBetsy’, the artificial cow, must have been a revelation for some, given the hoots of laughter from the different groups.
Managing finances and making sensible decisions on best options was more complex than many students had previously thought.
Our export meat markets are many and various, and learning which countries take our different cuts, and what needs to be on the packaging to suit their market requirements also needs a lot of learning, and was obviously way beyond some, who needed to read a few more farming papers to find out where those valuable exports go to.
Getting our dairy products etc onto ships sailing at appropriate times, to get them to their destinations before they spoil, appealed to the maths whizzes in each group, but left others looking a bit stunned.
Those whose aim was vet school relished distinguishing the ‘things’ in jars of formalin, while others were definitely not impressed.
The afternoon was spent ‘speed dating’ where representatives from the variety of industries talked about their jobs.
Talking to some of the students at lunchtime, some were very decided on what they wanted to do next year, while others appeared blown away by the huge range of choices and the knowledge required for them.
There will be 10 of these sessions held this year, six in the North Island and four in the South, with the final ones being held in June.
Funded jointly by DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, the organisation of each experimental day has been handed over to Young Farmers members, who urged their teams on and made sure the shy ones participated too.