Saturday, April 20, 2024

For the love of ag

Neal Wallace
Latasha Hastie spent the first day of the latest covid-19-enforced lockdown shifting electric fences on her parents’ Southland farm. Sent home from Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate boarding school, the 17-year-old relished the opportunity to swap textbooks for getting out on the farm, part of a long-term goal of one day running it herself.
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For a sector feeling under constant attack, the optimism and confidence three teenage Otago school pupils have in farming, is nothing short of invigorating. Neal Wallace reports.

Latasha Hastie spent the first day of the latest covid-19-enforced lockdown shifting electric fences on her parents’ Southland farm.

Sent home from Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate boarding school, the 17-year-old relished the opportunity to swap textbooks for getting out on the farm, part of a long-term goal of one day running it herself.

Such an achievement will make her the fourth generation of the family to farm Mt Wendon Station, a 2000ha sheep and beef hill country property between Waikaka and Waikaia.

Latasha, a Year 13 pupil, recently won an innovation competition organised by city business advisors and accountants Polson Higgs, in which contestants had to outline their views on the future of farming.

While acknowledging the industry has challenges, Latasha is optimistic and enthused about a sector, of which she is proud to be a part of.

“If anything, I am really excited,” Latasha said.

“If you have got a challenge and can see an outcome, then it’s really exciting.”

A start to ensuring that future, is for farmers and Government to co-operate in confronting those challenges and an acknowledgment that farmers love and respect their land.

“When we come together with practical and realistic solutions – especially for the environment, once people see land is unique and different and every person is unique and different and what they do to produce the very best products, they will see farmers want their land to be in peak condition, they don’t want to destroy it, ” she said.

In her speech, she looked at New Zealand’s and the global farming scene, and then related that to her family farm.

She covered topics as diverse as the use of drones, genetic modification, robots and challenges such as climate change.

Latasha saw the challenges facing NZ as exporters providing products wanted by consumers, but also farmers and government finding what she called “practical and common sense solutions” to issues confronting the sector.

That included the environment, the role of forestry and resurrecting demand for wool, but also mental health, an issue she is particularly concerned about.

“I would like to see mental health among farmers normalised, that it is okay to speak out,” she said.

Farm succession in the next 20 years is a looming personal and family challenge, but she wants to show that females can fulfil their farm ownership dream.

While benefiting from the investment of earlier generations in livestock genetics, Hastie is enthused about continuing to improve those genetics.

“I love being able to watch and see a lamb grow and develop and know it is providing health to people around the world,” she said.

Next year, Hastie is heading to Lincoln University where she will study a Bachelor of Agriculture before gaining work experience and then heading home to the farm.

Second place in the contest was South Otago High School Year 13 pupil Isla Hastie (no relation).

Her parents farm sheep at Waitepeka south of Balclutha and her speech addressed the growth of regenerative farming, climate change and the use of DNA tracing as a marketing tool, allowing consumers to trace meat back to the farm from where it was bred.

The 17-year-old is also optimistic about the sector’s future, although she believes it will be vastly different to what it is now given challenges, such as water quality and climate change.

“I hope it’s not going to be too different but with all the policies that are happening, it has got to have a big impact,” Isla said.

That does not detract from her excitement about career prospects.

“I definitely want to be in the industry. I love the lifestyle, being outdoors and working with animals. I like farming and I like the people,” she said.

It will require some adjustment, such as dealing with less reliable seasons, something being youthful will help.

“We can’t carry on with the old practices, we have to be flexible and change with the times,” she said.

But change cannot be at the expense of family farms, which Isla says must remain at the nucleus of NZ farming.

“I do not want to see them die off. They are still crucial to rural communities and they have so much history,” she said.

Isla is also headed to Lincoln next year, intending to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce, after which she says she will see the direction the qualification will take her.

For Te Kahui Mariu-Boreham, it was an address to his agribusiness class that sparked his interest in wool.

The 18-year-old Kavanagh College Year 13 pupil’s fascination with wool draws from attributes he says are underrated and misunderstood.

Mariu-Boreham has no connection to farming, but at the prodding of teacher Jill Armstrong, is one of about 18 college pupils studying agribusiness, having been made aware of the sector’s many and varied career opportunities.

“There are quite a lot of jobs working in agribusiness, which could be me and it took my interest,” Mariu-Boreham said.

His classmates, all from urban backgrounds, similarly view agriculture as an important industry which offers an abundance of jobs and opportunity.

The course has taken them to visit farms and agricultural industries.

“It’s good to not just see the milk on the shelf, but to see it happening,” he said.

“It’s quite hard work.”

The college’s Young Enterprise Group has developed a door wedge, dubbed woolly wedge, which is being sold in a Dunedin hardware store.

Rubber is attached to one side of a piece of wedge-shaped recycled timber and wool on the other, providing both grip and protection for the door.

Mariu-Boreham regularly dresses up as a sheep to promote the woolly wedge, but also to show his newfound love and respect for wool.

Undecided about what he will do next year, Mariu-Boreham has a competing love for agriculture and music.

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