Tuesday, 03 December 2019 09:55

On farm technology impresses teachers

Written by  Peter Burke
PICA chief executive Michelle Glogau. PICA chief executive Michelle Glogau.

They were ‘blown away’ by the amount of the technology on farm.

That’s how a group of secondary school teachers from the lower North Island described a day out in the country. 

They were on a trip to learn about employment opportunities available in the food and fibre sector for young people. 

The trip was organised by DairyNZ and the Primary Industry Capability Alliance (PICA), made up of various primary sector organisations. This is the sixth year the trip has been staged.

About 30 teachers visited Lewis Farms in Horowhenua, a major asparagus grower that also produces strawberries and runs a dairy farm. The teachers were shown the high-tech sorting and packing operation for the asparagus and they had a chance to see strawberries grown hydroponically in large tunnel houses. 

At Massey University’s Keeble Research farm they were briefed on a project looking at the meat quality of lambs fed on different forages such as chicory and red clover. Later, at the main campus, they heard about a study of the development of ‘hybrid meats’, a project which involves blending meat and plant proteins.

Finally, the group visited dairy farmer James Stewart’s property on the outskirts of Palmerston North. 

Here they saw the start of the afternoon milking – a first for many – and heard Stewart speak about his philosophy of farming, his people management and the massive amount of technology that he uses.

The chief executive of PICA, Michelle Glogau, says the perception remains that the agri sector is all about getting up early and milking cows, wearing gumboots and doing hard physical work. Though some jobs that are like that, many other roles involve science and technology, she says.

Working with teachers and taking them out in the country to see what is actually happening is pivotal to giving them the knowledge to pass on to their students about the career prospects in the sector, she says.

“Teachers are key influencers of young people’s career paths, but also we need to engage with parents which is challenging,” she told Rural News

Glogau says at Lewis Farms it was interesting to hear them talk about having a seasonal workforce, but also their huge need for people who have tertiary qualifications to run the property, such as agronomists and engineers.

Their eyes have been opened

John Bleakley, a physics and science teacher from Heretaunga College, Hutt Valley says it was great to see what is happening on farms.

“We have issues with a lot of kids being unsure about their future and we are trying to think about possible vocations for them,” he told Rural News

“So it was interesting at the Lewis Farm to see how there’s a whole lot of technology in farming these days that wasn’t there before and it’s going to grow. This is especially interesting for me because I have kids who are into robotics.” 

Shelly Pender, a careers advisor at Chanel College in Wairarapa and a former dairy farmer, says it was good to come and get an insight into the various farming operations. 

“We were able to see what people are doing not only for themselves and their own business, but for the future generations,” she said.  “It was good for teachers to see the career opportunities and to understand that there is more to farming than just putting cups on cows.” 

Pender says kids just don’t get the options that are on offer.

For Carl McIntyre, of the Cornerstone Christian School in Palmerston North, the day was outstanding. He says it highlighted the broad range of career opportunities within the agri sector.

“I personally never realised the breadth of jobs and this was born out, especially going down to Lewis Farms and seeing the range of mechanical, engineering, computer and animal science they have within their group,” he told Rural News

“It was quite amazing and encouraging that just about anyone can find a job in agriculture, contribute to the economy and feel satisfied at the same time.” 

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