by Taryn Soderman, Rabobank FX Program
As featured in The Country Web 2016 Annual.
Ten city teenagers – from Muirfield High School in Sydney’s west – have been given a taste of ‘life on the land’, spending a week with five farming families in the Riverina last September.
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.”
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 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 local agribusinesses.
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.
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 has run programs in Rockhampton, Geraldton Narrogin, Albury and Kadina in 2015 and early 2016, with plans afoot for Moora and Albany in late 2016, 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 the challenge of retaining and attracting youth into agriculture is one of their four key objectives,” he said. “The FX Program is a great example of how big challenges can be tackled on a small scale to make real, long-lasting differences.”
FX National Program Coordinator
m: 0416 697 449