SHARE
In the field .. Year 13 pupils from Waitaki Girls' and Waitaki Boys' High Schools, with teacher Jen Howden (rear centre), visited a North Otago hill country property to see how it is farmed by Blair and Jane Smith (right). PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

Oamaru secondary school pupils are learning first hand from some of the district’s top farmers.

A combined year 13 agriculture class from Waitaki Girls’ and Waitaki Boys’ High Schools last week visited a farm run by Jane and Blair Smith. The Smiths are among a small group of farmers enlisted by Federated Farmers to host pupils.

After planting about 150 trees in a steep gully in the morning, the class went back to the Smiths’ house to watch footage of their win in the 2012 Ballance Farm Environment Awards and a Country Calendar episode about them.

They run Newhaven Farms Ltd, a sheep, beef, forestry and dairy support operation spanning three family-owned properties.

The Smiths told the pupils about their own paths to farming. Mrs Smith studied at Lincoln University then entered the fertiliser industry, while Mr Smith went straight into the workforce and became manager of a transport business. Their decision to move from Southland to Mrs Smith’s family farm was not made lightly.

“There are so many opportunities in the primary industries,” she said. “The practical and the theory are equally important.”

Waitaki Girls’ teacher Jen Howden said some of the year 13 pupils were aiming for agricultural careers. Others might not have enjoyed the farm work experience and would reject it.

“You don’t know what you want until you meet it.”

She had hosted the class at her own orchard for their practical investigation into apples, and was keen to arrange a visit to a robotic dairy farm.

The pupils would also study production processes from pasture to plate, and environmental factors.

All the sciences were useful for primary industry careers, along with accounting, economics and marketing, Mrs Howden said.

Co-operation between the two schools involved girls going to Waitaki Boys’ Fraser Farm for practical activities and boys going to their sister school to study agri-science with her.

The Smiths give Perendale ewes to Fraser Farm each year, and have a pupil working on their farm on Thursdays as part of the schools’ Gateway programme.

With an extra 50,000 people needed for primary sector jobs by the year 2025, some would have to come from urban populations, Mrs Smith said.