A Canterbury high school has heard the voice of its community, including Federated Farmers, and decided to keep animals on its school farm.
“Are animals staying on the farm? Absolutely they are,” Rangiora High School Board of Trustees chair Simon Green said.
That decision comes after Rangiora High School was reported by RNZ (Radio New Zealand) in October to be considering moving away from animal agriculture as they explored ways to make their farm more relevant in the 21st century.
“The world is shifting to be more sustainable and shifting away from meat, so we need to prepare our students for a changing world,” principal Bruce Kearney was quoted at the time.
Federated Farmers North Canterbury provincial president Karl Dean wrote to the school calling strongly for a rethink and requesting a meeting.
“The board responded within minutes to say they wanted to meet,” Dean says.
“I met with Simon and David (Newsham-West, Head of Faculty for Science) and it went really well. I expressed our deep concerns that the school might think traditional farming isn’t relevant or that the farm isn’t of value to its students.
“They told me they’re keeping animals on the farm, and that they’re very keen to get help from Federated Farmers and others in the community so they can run it in the best way possible.”
As a result of that meeting, the school board has invited Federated Farmers to offer advice and expertise to the school on a formal basis.
“We’re going to form a subcommittee and we’ve invited Federated Farmers to be part of that, alongside a whole bunch of externals, like MPI, so we can get together and maximise the use of that land,” Green said.
“For us to partner with Federated Farmers and have something cutting-edge that people from across the country can come and look at, we’re pretty excited by that.”
Green said the school received a strong response from both inside and outside the school to the RNZ story, and says the school’s comments in that story have been taken out of context.
“We said we were reviewing everything, but the line about us reviewing the future of animals has been picked up.
“The good thing about that article is it’s brought out all the people we want to connect with. We’re saying, ‘thanks for coming forward – can you get around the table with us and share your expertise?’”
Whether the school was misrepresented in earlier articles, or whether a strong response from the community and Federated Farmers prompted a rethink, the outcome is a good one, Dean said.
“We’re really pleased with where things have landed, and now it’s about helping the school run that farm in way that gives as many students as possible an experience of the primary sector.
“It’s currently being under-utilised. There’s huge potential to bring more students and staff onto the farm, whereas at the moment it’s really limited. I see a lot of potential for something special.”
Dean said the 31ha farm currently has about 80 ewes with lambs at foot, about 20 mixed-age Lowline Angus, a horticulture section, and an equine section with an arena.
“But you can see the horticulture section is very under-utilised, and if all the students are being exposed to is the cattle and sheep, they’re missing out on a lot of things happening in the primary sector.
“There’s a lot more to farming than just cows and sheep. For example, is there the ability to do some grains? Do more in terms of the science side of the plants?”
Dean says he’s queried whether it’s the best choice to have lambing and calving on the farm.
“That requires intense management. I asked if the students visit the farm more when it’s calving and lambing time, and they said, ‘not really’. So, you could buy in 100kg calves and finish them, and still get all the learnings without the risk or complexity.
“Those are the kind of recommendations we can make as part of the subcommittee.”
Green said only about 300 of the school’s 1600 students are currently using the farm in any one year.
“Kids are getting bored, like, ‘we’re herding the sheep into the pen again?’ We want to do some really rich stuff, looking at wool types, maybe processing the meat.
“We’ve been running an old drystock farm with a very limited number of students involved. We want to tap into something broader.”
He said having animals on the land is “a no-brainer”, but the way they farm and what we do with the animals needs to be reviewed.
“We can’t keep using the same model. We want to future-proof the farm because we want this place to still be here in 200 years for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.”
Federated Farmers, New Zealand’s leading independent rural advocacy organisation, has established a news and insights partnership with AgriHQ, the country’s leading rural publisher, to give the farmers of New Zealand a more informed, united and stronger voice. Feds news and commentary appears each week in its own section of the Farmers Weekly print edition and online.