Rabobank Farm Experience Programme

October 2017

A rural experience for urban teenagers introduces new career options

Two city teenagers from a Christchurch high school got a taste of farming life when they spent a week with a farming family in Geraldine. 

The visit was part of a Farm Experience (FX) Programme, developed by Rabobank to provide farm experiences for urban students and connect them to the land-based sector and the career opportunities in the agricultural supply chain. The programme is based on a successful Australian programme that’s been running for 3 years. 

The idea was developed to give city teenagers the opportunity to spend a week on-farm, living with a farming family and learning about life on the land and food production. 

The programme resulted from a national survey undertaken by the bank in 2016. It revealed an “alarming” lack of knowledge about the agricultural sector amongst city teenagers. Many of those surveyed saying they knew little or nothing about farming or food production. 

Aside from the farm experience, all of the participating students were brought together on the last day of the programme for a field trip. The day included visits to a range of mid-Canterbury agricultural companies including Midland Seeds, Synlait Dairy and Merino New Zealand. 

It’s hoped the programme will be rolled out across the country to give senior students a look at the opportunities in the primary sector.

Students in their senior years at high school applied to be part of the programme through their schools. Thay had 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.

Once on their farms, they weren’t just observers but got the chance to get their hands and gumboots dirty doing practical tasks on farm, questioning and learning as they went.

Emelia Cox from Cashmere High School was one of the students who participated. She and fellow student Jessica Lee spent their week on Joe and Suz Wyborn’s dairy farm near Rangitata. The two were kept busy on the Wyborns’ dairy property assisting with a range of farm activities.

Suz Wyborn says she and Joe were only too happy to host city-based high school students on their farm. “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. “We need good young people coming into our industry and into agriculture in a broader sense.”

Joe and Suz Wyborn are 2016 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Award winners. They have been 50:50 sharemilking on a 253 hectare irrigated property near Geraldine since 2009. 

In 2016, the Wyborns calved 870 cows on the 220ha dairy platform, producing 401,747 kgs of milksolids using a system 3 (a farm that typically uses around 10% to 20% of imported feed to extend cow lactation or feed “dry” cows). 

Joe is originally from the UK. He moved to NZ in 1998. He and Suz went dairying in 2007. The couple use a fair bit of technology on farm. A camera is used in the shed to pick out cows on heat, and a Protrack drafter, which works in conjunction with the camera. Automatic calf feeders streamline calf-raising.

Suz says there need to be 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 on farm.

When Jessica and Emelia arrived at the Wyborn’s farm they were told they didn’t have to do anything on the farm they didn’t feel comfortable with, but Suz says they jumped into everything. Health and safety aspects of helping out onfarm are all well-covered by the host farmers with comprehensive support from the programme’s organisers.

The girls helped out with jobs like the daily milking as well as with moving fences, drenching, weighing, and tending to cows with injured hooves. Emelia said although she had some prior knowledge about farming life, the programme had cemented her desire to study to become a veterinarian. During the week they had the chance to observe the scanning of some of the dairy cows that were in calf. 

Farmers who agreed to host the students signed up to help challenge some of the perceptions of agriculture held by those based in the city. They say there’s a common attitude that agriculture is for students that don’t do well at the more academic subjects at school and there is a desire to show the students the level of planning that goes into running a farming operation and some of the hi-tech equipment that is utilised, like irrigation technology and weighing equipment.