Agribiz targets bright kids

St Paul's Collegiate School students Logan Spaans, Georgia Burke and Jaime King study beekeeping with teacher Chris ...

St Paul's Collegiate School students Logan Spaans, Georgia Burke and Jaime King study beekeeping with teacher Chris Foot, second from left.

Agribusiness studies are coming to secondary schools throughout the country with New Zealand's brightest senior college students being targeted to learn a raft of career skills from agriscience and agritechnology to agrimarketing and finance.

The genesis of the new curriculum, designed to plug a glaring gap in the secondary education system, is St Paul's Collegiate School in Hamilton, where 45, year 12 and 13 students have completed a pilot this year, and another 85 have signed up for next year. Another seven schools are now formally involved in the project and will offer the new subject in 2016. It is hoped agribusiness will become a Ministry of Education-approved NCEA qualification in 2017.

As a sign of its commitment to agribusiness study, St Paul's is also to build a $1.3 million centre of excellence for agriculture science and business on its campus.

The new building is funded by parents, ex-pupils involved in agribusiness, and the board of the private school.

While St Paul's kicked off the project, the new curriculum itself is the result of a $2m private- public partnership, with principal support from DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ, and is industry-driven.

St Paul's deputy headmaster Peter Hampton said the school and an industry advisory group had been working on the project for nearly two years. He said 55 per cent of St Paul's parents worked in agribusiness.

Waikato, Massey and Lincoln universities have been consulted. Other business partners include LIC, BNZ, Greenlea Premier Meats, Waikato Milking Systems and National Fieldays.

The new curriculum is the first structured programme that will encourage secondary students into, and prepare them for, tertiary study and agribusiness and agriscience careers.

Agriculture, forestry and food are responsible for 70 per cent of New Zealand export earnings.

But virtually no plant science, soil science, animal physiology or food science is taught in colleges, Hampton said.

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The agriculture industry employs about 11.4 per cent of the workforce and the number of university graduates in agriculture- related sectors has been falling.

DairyNZ says the dairy industry alone needs 1000 graduates a year but gets nowhere near this figure.

Hampton said a standout result of the pilot curriculum was that 15 students intended to study agribusiness at university next year. In the year before the pilot, only two went on to to agribusiness universities.

Hampton, a science teacher, said agriscience classes would cover such areas as food science and microbiology.

Another strand of the curriculum would be agrimarketing and agrifinance, including agribusiness accounting and operating structures in agribusinesses. Agribusiness marketing would cover marketing for big business events such as Fieldays. Agritechnology study would cover new technology and improving productivity. Also to be developed was the study of risk management. This would include biosecurity, biodiversity, animal welfare, climate change, managing sustainability and financial risk.

"We are formative still but we are pretty excited by it. These aren't NCEA courses yet, we are working with the Ministry of Education to develop this," Hampton said. The curriculum would target academic students, he said.

"There is a notion that doing agriculture or agriculture-related things at school are for students not capable of higher thinking.

"This is for highly academic students, tertiary-capable students." However the school would also provide a slightly lower level of agribusiness courses for students not quite at that level, he said.

Waikato University professor of agribusiness Jacqueline Rowarth welcomed the initiative but said it could not be a standalone curriculum. Agriculture and the importance of it had to infiltrate the whole school curriculum, she said.

"So that when they are doing economics they are thinking about trade and when they are doing chemistry they are looking at the dissolution of fertiliser. So everyone is understanding that the only thing that brings in money to New Zealand is agriculture."

Rowarth said it was important that the best and brightest students studied agriculture.

A student who studied chemistry, physics, maths and economics could be taught food technology and the "major curriculum for the world" was food security, she said.

Hampton said St Paul's was making sure agribusiness came through the whole curriculum.

"We are taking existing standards from other domains like business studies, geography and science and changing the context of those into an agribusiness context. We haven't changed the standard but the stuff students are learning will be from an agribusiness context."

St Paul's required year 7 students entering the new centre of excellence programme to be studying chemistry or biology and economics or accounting.

All centre students would have to study level three agriculture and horticulture science as well.

Hampton said the national curriculum would provide for smaller rural schools which did not have the resources of large or well- funded colleges.

"We are also setting up a lot of virtual online resources. The majority of that money ($2m) for delivery and rollout will go towards writing standards and putting a huge number of resources in place for schools so they can pick it up and run with it. We've also got a post-grad researching going to a longitudinal study on the programme."

The Ministers of Education and Primary Industries were aware of the curriculum, Hampton said.

"We are looking to say to the Government that this is being funded a lot by the private sector and education institutions are putting it together.

"What we would like you to do as part of the 'public' involvement is to train some more teachers in agriculture and agribusiness."

The seven schools offering agribusiness studies in 2016 are: Southland Boys; Southland Girls; John McGlashan College, Otago; Christchurch Boys; Feilding High; Lindisfarne College, Hawkes Bay; and Mt Albert Grammar, Auckland.

-NZ Farmer

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