Educating teachers in the paddock
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Educating teachers in the paddock

Category Events

The modern Australian farming story is one of sophisticated technology, complex decision making and professional skills, facilitating an abundance of exciting career opportunities. 

As an industry, sharing this story – particularly with urban students – has remained a challenge. 

However a Rabo Client Council initiative recently held in Western Australia’s Moora region is going straight to the source, arming school teachers with agricultural knowledge and enthusiasm they can share in the classroom.

Over two days, 28 teachers from across Western Australia visited beef and cropping enterprises, enjoyed an overnight farm stay and heard from industry professionals pre and post farm gate. 

The Teacher Farm Experience Program, which has been running since 2018, aims to increase the knowledge and confidence of STEM, HASS and agriculture educators to allow them to incorporate food and fibre production into their teaching programs.

Western Australian grain grower and Rabo Client Council Deputy Chair Megan McDowall of “Laurina Farms” Wittenoom Hills, attended, and said it was a practical, meaningful – and not to mention exciting – initiative.

“As farmers, we like to think we’re doing something useful, and it matters to people where their food comes from, so it’s extremely rewarding to have this opportunity to throw the doors open and see others get excited by our industry also.”   

She said the program aimed to help teachers gain a richer understanding of food and fibre production so they can talk to ag with real life context in the classroom. 

“I spent the two days on the bus with the group, and it was rewarding to see their level of engagement increase exponentially – their enthusiasm, the sophistication of their questions, the dots being joined. "

A program promoting grassroots learning

Day one commenced with a visit to Dandaragan Organic Beef, the Cook family’s fifth generation organic beef operation, with a fully resolved supply chain, wholesaling to retailers and delivering directly to the consumer through boxed branded beef.

Megan said it was a terrific example of a carefully stewarded organic enterprise that had captured the retail upside, as well as showcasing the paddock to plate journey.

“We had one teacher who was astonished by the care and effort that goes into the production systems implemented, purely to create an enjoyable consumer experience – she’d never made the connection between on-farm practices contributing to the eating quality of her steak.”

The group also visited John and Ruth Young’s Wyening Mission Farm at Calingiri; a cutting-edge broadacre cropping operation showcasing the latest innovations and technology, including variable rate fertiliser application utilising yield data for targeted input application.

 “The teachers were particularly interested in the use of data and technology in the day-to-day decision making, as well as creating efficiency and sustainability gains through carefully targeted input applications.”

“We also spoke with the farm’s Operations Manager, a former Defence mechanic from England, who presented passionately about his career on the farm, the diversity of challenges and skills required and his overall love of working in agriculture.”

After a shared dinner, the teachers were billeted overnight on local farms, helping encourage further connection and insights into life on a working farm.

Day two consisted of a visit to Wongan Hills, McIntosh & Son Machinery, a local family dealership exploring innovative ideas around recruiting, training and retaining skilled staff, as well as talks by ag professionals such as an independent farm consultant, CSBP fertiliser research agronomist and an Elders Branch Manager about career opportunities.

Rabobank’s Graduate Program participant Milly Watson also spoke on her career journey so far within the agri banking sector. 

“It was really important that the teachers could make those pre-farm gate connections, as the reality is, this is where many of the opportunities for careers in agriculture are,” Megan said. 

With the teaching group buoyed and energized, Megan said one of the challenges now was conveying that enthusiasm in a classroom setting. 

Strengthening ag curriculum collaboratively 

This itinerary and the content of this particular Teacher Farm Experience Program, she explained,  was developed in collaboration with Western Australian Department of Education’s ‘PRIMED’ initiative.

PRIMED is a program unique to the Western Australian education system, whereby food and fibre curriculum content is woven into the mainstream syllabus of years 7-10 Technologies, Science and HASS, so every student is exposed to the industry.

As such, Megan said the WA Rabo Client Council felt that the Teacher Farm Experience Program could provide rich real world context and connections for teachers delivering this content.

“There are so many synergies between PRIMED and the Teacher Farm Experience Program, and the challenge the department has is that there are few teachers internally who have a deep understanding of agriculture.”

With school career advisors also taking part, Megan said the Teacher Farm Experience Program would further facilitate the promotion of agricultural careers, with these advisors now enjoying a greater understanding of the industry’s career pathways to share with students.

“It’s always rewarding to see others get excited about the industry you’re working in, and to see the considerable sentiment shift amongst these teachers was gratifying.”

“I think over time we could build a strong base of teachers with a deeper understanding and connection to agriculture, and we hope that this will have genuinely positive long-term outcomes for our students, and industry.”