Billabong kids have farming in their sights

“The future of farming is in safe hands”. That was the title to Billabong High School’s National Agriculture Day photo competition entry and it’s a good call.

A combination of enthusiastic staff, eager students and an inspiring agricultural program, means this 390-student strong high school in Culcairn, NSW, will be helping make sure Australian families have the food and fibre they need for generations to come.

Passionate agriculture teacher and farmer Donna Parker said the school’s agriculture curriculum starts in year 8 and celebrating Ag Day was something the kids really wanted to get around.

“In year 8 the attention is on connecting paddock to plate, where they end up making a hamburger or other food from what they’ve grown or learnt about in ag,” Donna said.

In years 9 and 10 students go deeper, looking at plant and animal enterprises, sustainability, safety in ag, tractor driving – a lot of hands-on skills – then might finish off with a focus on bees, ecology or feral animals and they might have a debate on a controversial topic like muesling or sows in pens.

We try and bring a whole range of things in to give them a taste of different things in agriculture.

“When we get into seniors, we offer a primary industries Tafe course aimed at getting into farm management and we’ve had a lot of success with students going onto bigger and better things, managing cattle studs and even shearing and employed as farm hands.

“I think it’s important to offer all ends of the spectrum in education that covers the hands-on side and we also offer correspondence for those who want to do it at uni.”

For someone so passionate about agriculture, it’s surprising to learn Donna didn’t grow up on a farm.

I grew up in Sydney. As a kid, my grandmother in Sydney had a double block and on the spare block she had two sheep, three ducks and about four or five chooks.

“I spent a lot of time staring at them and getting the eggs and having that little touch of ag in suburbia I was fascinated by all of them, especially the sheep.”

It shows how small things can have a big impact. Donna successfully applied to an agricultural high school in Sydney where her ag teacher inspired her to follow the same path into education. After completing her ag science degree and getting a job as an ag teacher, she met a farmer – her future husband – and was able to not only make agriculture her career, but live and breathe it in her personal life.

There’s no doubt, Donna is inspiring future generations of farmers and agricultural workers, an important role to fill the yawning workforce gap.

We need the kids that have an interest to come into the industry as the job vacancies in ag are not being filled, so we need to guide the kids into it.

Clearly the cohort at Billabong is on the right path. They were keen to support Ag Day this year with an ag-themed casual clothes day, barbecue and the whole-school photo (pictured above), and they are already making plans for the next celebration to be even bigger.

Stacey Davidson

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