Bridging the urban-country divide
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Bridging the urban-country divide – innovative program gives city teens chance to spend a week on farm in Murray Valley

September 16, 2015

Ten city teenagers – from Muirfield High School in Sydney’s west – last week got a taste of ‘life on the land’, spending a week with five farming families in the Riverina, near Finley.

The visit was part of an innovative Farm Experience (FX) Program, developed by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank to help bridge the ‘urban/rural divide’, giving 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 FX Program resulted from a national survey undertaken by the bank that showed for city kids, spending holidays on the farm with their country cousins is largely a thing of the past, with three-quarters of city-based teenagers knowing little or nothing about farming.

Year-10 students, Caitlin Pollitt and Kate Milne were two of the city teenagers who “jumped at the chance to spend a week on farm”, travelling over 700 kilometres to Bill and Simone Dudley’s 3000 hectare beef and cropping property, “Cornalla East”, between Deniliquin and Tocumwal.

Immersing themselves in country life, Caitlin and Kate spent the week mustering cattle, helping out with the shearing, marking lambs, vaccinating cows, monitoring the wheat crop and a myriad of other day-to-day tasks associated with running a farm.

“We couldn’t believe how ‘hands on’ we would get,” Caitlin said. “From herding the cattle from the passenger side of the truck, to working the stock in the yards and helping with the tail docking.”

Caitlin said the experience “definitely opened my eyes to how much advance planning farmers need to do, as what they do today will have a bearing on next year’s crop.”

Kate agreed, saying “a lot of people get the impression that farmers just ride a tractor, but it is so much more than that, with farmers constantly faced with decisions that have an impact on their whole livelihood”.

Farm host, Bill Dudley said the girls “really impressed him with how much they were willing to try” and how "involved they got in all facets of farm life”.

“They really got a taste of what we do, even attending the local school production that our two boys were involved in and meeting our local member for Farrer, Susan Ley who visited the farm to see the impact of the government’s decision to increase the environmental flows to the Murray Darling basin,” he said.

Mr Dudley said his family got involved in the FX Program to “challenge some of the perceptions held in the city.

“We wanted to show the sophistication of modern farming practices, and how we as young farmers, manage the complexities of running a farming business,” he said.

Mr Dudley said his family had also learnt a lot from the two girls and how, despite their different backgrounds, they were not too dissimilar from his own children, sharing an interest in sport and community participation.

Rabobank’s head of Sustainable Business Development Marc Oostdijk said the FX Program not only gave “city students the opportunity to discover first-hand where food and clothing comes from, but also opened their eyes to the range of exciting careers in agriculture”.

“We hope that by experiencing rural life, students will take back to their families, as well as their schools and communities an understanding of farming life. And that they will then take it one step further by considering a career in agriculture,” Mr Oostdijk said.

To give students an insight into the range of occupations outside the farmgate, they spent a day off-farm – touring Sunrice’s largest milling and packing facility at Deniliquin, speaking with an agronomist at IK Caldwell (a local chemical and farm input supplier), visiting a John Deere Machinery dealership in Finley, meeting with Rabobank staff from the Griffith branch and also watching an 80 head Rotary Dairy in full-swing at the Visscher’s dairy farm.

Both Caitlin and Kate said it opened their eyes to the range of “other professions you could have”.

“Even if I wasn’t involved like Bill is on the farm, it solidified my mindset to the many other opportunities in the industry,” said Kate.

“And I hope to come back as part of my primary industries subject, where we can spend a week on-farm for work experience.”

For Caitlin, the experience has also changed her mindset, giving her “a lot more confidence and independence”. “As I had to do things for myself and when you are working as a team you have others depending on you,” she said.

Mr Oostdijk said the FX initiative, which also held a program in Rockhampton in May, and in Western Australia near Geraldton last week, was a direct initiative of Rabobank’s Client Councils, groups of the bank’s farming clients around Australia who meet to discuss issues and implement ideas to contribute to the sustainability of rural communities.

“Our Client Councils give our farming clients the opportunity to canvas the big issues facing the sector, and with our help we are starting to address some of these issues,” he said.

“The challenge of retaining and attracting youth into agriculture is one of the four key objectives of the councils, and the FX Program is a great example of how big challenges can be tackled on a small scale to make real, long-lasting differences.”

The FX Program will run in Western Australia in Kadina from the 12 to 18 October, and there are plans afoot for a program to be held in Narrogin later in the year.

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Media contacts:
Denise Shaw
Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 
Jess Webb
Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 07 3115 1832 or 0418 216 103