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Sydney high school students say they have a greater appreciation for agriculture after farm excursion

Lara Webster, Friday December 6, 2019 - 19:05 EDT
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Year 10 students Felicity Whiteman and Tahlia Cowan say the excursion opens their eyes to farming, especially in drought. - ABC

City high school students say their visit to a working farm has given them a greater insight into the realities of agriculture, especially in times of drought.

After a 400-kilometre journey, 30 Sydney high school students set foot on the parched landscape of the Liverpool Plains in northern New South Wales.

The area is located on the north-west slopes, known for its rich black soils and agricultural production.

Right now though it is a region suffering through ongoing drought and recently farmers opened woolsheds, gates, and homes to the agricultural students from Galston High School.

It was a chance to teach the students about farming in the good and bad times and educate them about wool, livestock and cropping systems.

For some, it was described as an "eye-opening" experience.

Farmers share their stories

David and Clare Lee, the managers of Windy Station, owned by Romani Pastoral Company, take the students through the woolshed each year and share the story of Windy Station, past and present.

The 20,000-hectare property is now a cropping and beef operation and Mr Lee said it was a chance to open the farm to the public, to share their story and positive messages about agriculture.

He said it was important for the industry to be transparent and he was encouraged to see the students so engaged.

"I think we're doing lots and lots of good stuff and we don't always tell everyone that," he said.

"We think the industry is doing wonderful things.

"We have systems in place that are doing really good things but I don't think we send that message out enough."

Mrs Lee said the students she spoke to had many questions, not just about drought and farming but also career opportunities in the agricultural sector.

"They're wanting to be vets or they're wanting to have careers in on-farm production and a lot of them can't see how they can get there from growing up in the city," she said.

"They just presume we come from farms and we're lucky enough to work on farms but we had a conversation that it doesn't have to happen that way, so I hope they went away thinking a career in agriculture is doable."

The woolshed

Windy Station's woolshed near Quirindi is a historic site and it is opened to Galston High School every year.

The building is of state heritage significance for its historical role in the development of the fine wool industry of New South Wales, as well as its association with the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC).

It was built in 1901 with 44 stands shearing up to 5,000 sheep each day.

The school has been visiting Windy Station for more than 30 years and Year 10 student Tahlia Cowan said she found the history of the shed 'amazing'.

"Just to think how much went into this shed — 5,000 sheep being shorn in one day. You just feel like you're part of a greater picture," she said.

This is the second year Miss Cowan has taken part in the Liverpool Plains excursion and this time she said she had greater respect for agriculture, particularly for those farming in the ongoing drought.

"Last year we came and it was just an eye-opening experience but this year there is a greater appreciation, just learning about the drought," she said.

"In the past year, with the drought, my mum and I have started a charity and we've taken money and food and water to those affected. It just pulls at the heartstrings.

"Everybody needs to know agriculture is such a different way of life and not a lot of people think it involves them but it does and it affects everyone.

"I think it's great to learn as much as you can."

Teachers learn too

Galston High School agriculture teacher Debbie Bunn, who has chaperoned the excursion for the past five years said the Liverpool Plains district provided an important insight into a wide variety of farming systems and it was an opportunity for students to ask farmers questions.

"For those who are just in suburban blocks it is hugely important to see not just where your food comes from but to see where it fits into Australia's economy and employment," Ms Bunn said.

"It's important to see how connected it is to the weather, the seasons. We've all heard about the drought and making sense of that is important."

It was not just the students that learnt something, teachers did too.

"I learn something new every time," Ms Bunn said.

"Just the nature of what's grown each year and each season, the changes in technology, the things that cause change and how all that affects farmers on a season by season level."


© ABC 2019

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