Gippsland producers welcome students onto farms, with support from CQUni

Published:06 November 2019

CQUniversity academics Dr Amy Cosby (left) and Dr Kym Patison above a image taken during the Industry Immersion Program in the Gippsland region.

CQUniversity academics Dr Amy Cosby and Dr Kym Patison have helped facilitate industry immersion days, enabling Gippsland region producers to welcome over 50 secondary school students onto their farms.

The school students recently participated in a two-day Industry Immersion Program, involving a range of food producers.

From a large-scale vegetable grower in Middle Tarwin and a big dairy business in Leongatha that milks 1100 cows daily, to an organic enterprise in Ellinbank that’s been farmed by the same family for 150 years and a third-generation apple orchard in Drouin, producers welcomed the students with open arms.

A common reaction from the students, as they witnessed various aspects of the vegetable growing business, was that they had no idea there was so much more science involved, beyond the actual physical practice of planting seeds.

In learning that, they were able to better understand the broad cross-section of potential jobs and career opportunities in the sector, from skilled labour through to scientists and people with PhDs.

“I’m pretty sure that when these students next see a bunch of celery or spinach at their supermarket, they’re going to give a lot more thought into the effort and planning that has gone into growing it and getting it to their plate," says Dr Patison.

The immersion experience took a very hands-on turn when the students arrived at Jelbart Dairy – a second-generation family business in Leongatha that milks 1100 cows every day of the week.

As well as allowing the students the fun of interacting with a large enclosure of playful calves, owner Tim Jelbart, who took over the farm business from his parents, gave the students a new appreciation of what it takes to produce a litre of milk, walking them through the feed process and the labour involved in milking a large herd across split shifts that start at around 2:30 am every day and finish at 9 pm each night.

Dr Patison said the information shared is likely to have an ongoing impact on the milk choices that the students may make, and that it certainly altered some negative perceptions of the industry that students had prior to their immersion experience at Jelbart Dairy.

The tradition of Gippsland farms being family-owned and operated was an important model for the students to observe. By talking to the generation currently running the business, they got a good understanding of the value of what has been built on over many decades, with years of trial and error, knowledge of the land, process creation and tireless effort, resulting in the successful operations that they are inheriting and running today.

There was a significant benefit for teachers who attended this program, through access to a lot of hands-on and in-the-field information that will be a significant help in explaining concepts and the industry to students.

Food & Fibre Gippsland Acting CEO, Dr Nicola Watts was delighted to see so many students getting access to an on-farm experience.

“Whilst one day is not going to change the world – these industry immersion days put together by our GIPPYAg Project Manager Dr Amy Cosby and her colleague Dr Kym Patison from CQUniversity have certainly created a new level of awareness amongst these students," Dr Watts says.

“It’s definitely triggered a deeper appreciation for how and where their food is produced, and being able to talk to the producers face-to-face about the diverse number of opportunities that are available across the industry is a great start to attracting the next generation to consider a career in the food and fibre sector."

An initiative of Food & Fibre Gippsland in partnership with CQUniversity Australia, the program was made possible via the Victorian Government-funded GIPPYAg Project.