Victorian teachers set up classroom on-farm, as part of innovative farm experience program

A busload of 25 teachers swapped the classroom for the paddock earlier this month, to learn first-hand from some of the state’s most tech-savvy farmers in a bid to see agriculture more readily incorporated into the school curriculum.

Held in the Goulburn Valley region on October 9 and 10, the initiative was part of the innovative Teacher Farm Experience (TeacherFX) Program developed by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank and its Client Council, in partnership with CQUniversity Australia (CQU), as a way of bridging the urban-rural divide.

Aiming to equip Victorian educators with an increased understanding and interest in food and fibre production – with a focus on how they can adopt the learnings into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and digital technology curriculums – the two-day program incorporated an overnight farm stay with local farming families and practical on-farm visits to demonstrate the technological uptake and sustainability and animal welfare practices adopted in the sector as well as the career opportunities in ag.

While the second day of the program included interactive classroom sessions on how to collect and analyse agricultural data, with the teachers equipped with interactive resources to take back to their classrooms.

Marking the first TeacherFX to be held in Victoria, the program was launched in the Northern Territory last month, as part of a national roll out of the scheme.

Feedback collated from those that participated in the Victorian program found that prior to attending TeacherFX, 41 per cent were not connected, or only distantly connected, to the agricultural industry, but that 86 per cent would like to increase the level of food and fibre concepts in their teaching programs.

However, on completing the program, 94 per cent said they would encourage their students to consider a career in agriculture, while a similar percentage (95 per cent) said their overall perception of the agricultural industry was positive.

For STEM teacher Brent McLaughlin, from St Thomas More Primary School Belgrave, east of Melbourne, attending TeacherFX was an “informative” and “hands-on” experience, providing firsthand insight into food production.

“I think from a primary school perspective, STEM is the right place to teach agriculture,” he said. “Especially things like knowing where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate – it’s the big question mark I think a lot of kids would have.”

Mr McLaughlin said one of the key learnings from the program came from the overnight farm stay with a local dairy farming family.

“That was a really eye-opening experience and I think that is probably one of the first things you need to do, as you can’t get it out of a textbook,” he said. “You need to experience it firsthand.”

Struck by the range of occupations available in the ag sector, Mr McLaughlin said he hadn’t really considered – prior to the program – all that is involved in the food production process and the role of technology.

“There is not a lot of people that realise that,” he said. “They would either need to go on an experience like this or have someone that could articulate it in some way.”

Program organiser and Rabobank Northern Victorian Client Council member Monique Bryant said the teachers who came from a range of schools in Melbourne and regional Victoria were “really engaged” with the program content, particularly around the ‘paddock to plate’ concept and the technological uptake in the sector.

“One of the teachers remarked on how blown away they were by the technological advancements in the dairy sector and how the data is utilised to make decisions, saying they thought farmers ‘just milked and did things manually’,” she said.

Mrs Bryant said one of the key objectives of the program was to showcase the range of careers available beyond the farmgate so teachers could encourage their students to pursue a career in the ag sector.

“This was really apparent at the fruit orchard we visited, with employees selected for their technological and computer skills rather than operational skills such as driving farm machinery,” she said. “This concept was also reinforced throughout the program by the host farmers who all touched on how they need people working in the tech space, whether it be inventors, engineers and nutritionists, to take their business to the next level.”

Rabobank regional manager for Riverina and Northern Victoria Sally Bull said the TeacherFX program was a direct initiative of Rabobank’s Client Council, groups of the bank’s farming clients who meet to discuss issues and implement ideas to contribute to the sustainability of the agricultural industry and rural communities.

“The Client Council framework gives our farming clients the platform to implement programs and initiatives to try and address some of the big challenges facing the ag sector, with the urban-rural divide and attracting young people to the sector two of the big issues identified by our local Client Council.”

With plans afoot to hold the program in Victoria again next year, Ms Bull said they were hoping to build on the momentum created by this year’s program and the networks formed with schools and teachers across the state.

“With all the teachers that participated in the program saying they had a positive TeacherFX experience, and the host farmers also enjoying the opportunity to promote their industry, we are hoping we can reach even more teachers next year and subsequently their students, as they will be the next generation working in ag,” she said.

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has 120 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 38 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.4 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is one of Australasia’s leading agricultural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 93 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.


Media contacts:

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

Skye Ward
Media Relations Manager
Rabobank Australia
Phone: 02 4855 1111 or 0418 216 103