Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Encouraging young people into Farming-how do we do it?

Young People into Farming- How do we do it?

I have read a few articles lately around new and renewed initiatives to encourage young people into the farming industry.   
It is a major problem for farming whether it’s dairy, beef, sheep or cropping etc: the average age of a famer is right in the target demographic of a Winston Peters rally (grey power).
Any initiative is good, but I am of the view that most come too late as they focus only on kids about to leave or have left school, or in the early teens or the young unemployed.
We have a major disconnect today between farmers and what we call townies.  Increasingly the majority of people living in cities have very little or indeed no contact with a farm or farmers.   In the past it seemed most  city children had an uncle aunty grandfather etc that were farming  whom they would visit regularly, stay with or indeed spend much of their school holidays on the farm.  It is from such experiences that a city child catches the bug, the passion to want to be farmer.   Without such an experience a child is unlikely to enter the industry, as farming like all professions, is about your passion for it (if you are to be good at it);  yes you need to make a living and hopefully a good one, but if you don’t have a passion for it, money alone won’t keep you in the industry.
This brings to me an idea I have had for a while and would like to see developed: namely a competition that is split into two age groups (if a success, perhaps more).  One group being primary school Kids, the other Secondary School Kids.  The competition is around raising a pet ewe lamb from say a week old to weaning (90 to 100 days), these lambs are taken to compete against others at what would be a designated regional show (for example Leeston Show in Canterbury, needs to be an early spring show), some thought needs to be given on how they are judged, primarily on conformation (you obviously keep the conversation away from carcasses and death etc).  A designated number of place  getters at regional shows could then go forward into an island or national competition at a bigger show, e.g. Canterbury A and P show.
The lambs could be either bought outright at a week old for say $120 or for $30 at the beginning and then returned to the farmer after the competition (hence the need for ewe lambs as there is a chance of being kept as a replacement)  This arrangement in itself would require two visits to a farm.
These lambs would primarily be raised on milk and some sort of pellets at their homes in the city (information packs would be given to all children who want to enter on how to do it, getting lambs raising them and returning them etc.)
The key to this working in my view is substantial sponsorship and therefore prize money: for secondary school student winners there should be something like a S5000 a year scholarship (perhaps more) for 3 years towards a University degree with an agricultural focus of some sort.  Primary school category; again some sort of significant relevant prize.  It needs to be significant to encourage parents to get on board with what would require significant effort on their part.   If there is a major carrot at the end of it with little cost to them (need sponsorship of the milk powder and pellets to grow the lamb) parents would get behind it.
You market it through the schools and I believe (with a significant prize that appeals to children and/or their parents) you would get a significant uptake of Kids who want to do this.  Out of this participation (going to the farm, raising the lamb, attending the show) there would be a number of children who would catch the bug and the passion to want to be a farmer or be involved in the agricultural industry and an improvement in the relationship between the rural and city community.
This is just an idea that I would love someone or some entity to take, develop and implement.