Pirongia School called in a couple of trailblazers for last week’s second running of the school’s Young Farmer Competition.
Principal Kelly Bicknell invited 2023 Young Farmer of the Year winner Emma Poole and her husband Chris, to set up the competition.
Emma made history in July when she became the first female champion in the contest’s 55 years. Chris was runner-up in the 2022 FMG Young Farmer final – pipped by Emma’s brother, Tim Dangen.
The trio have an impressive suite of farming credentials between them, and Emma is keen to use her historic win to encourage the next generation into the industry.
It was through family ties to Pirongia School that Emma heard about principal Kelly Bicknell’s interest in encouraging students to learn about agriculture and horticulture. Inviting Emma and Chris, who farm in Waipā, to help with the competition was a master stroke, especially as 2023 marks the school’s 150th anniversary.
Kelly, who was formerly principal at Galatea School, also has a farming background and said she introduced the Pirongia School Young Farmer Competition last year because so many of the almost 400 youngsters on the roll showed a real interest in things agricultural.
In its first iteration, competition students rotated through challenges that included sorting and naming national trees, categorising wool fleeces, and naming seven different parts of a tractor.
Last week’s competition saw 16 teams of three battle it out over a similar set of challenges, with Dexter Kurtin, Nixon Taukiri and Padden Mylchreest named as overall winners.
“While it’s primarily about competition,” Kelly explained, “it’s also about children having a go, working as a team and having fun while doing tasks or activities related to horticulture or agriculture. Emma has a real passion for it … we are very lucky to have them with us.”
Pirongia wants to turn its silver Enviroschools ranking to gold in 2024, something that adds even more impetus to growing things. Interest in learning about agriculture is so high that Kelly has had to restrict entry to the competition to youngsters in years 6, 7 and 8.
Emma said the contest is about giving the kids a taster. “Agriculture is not part of the national school curriculum at present, yet it serves as the backbone of the New Zealand economy. We were fortunate to be able to work with Kelly to deliver this experience inside the school gates.”
Students enjoyed the day, she said, as did a number of adult volunteers, including those from the farm advisory service Reco, Farm Source, Fonterra, and Te Kawa West Young Farmer’s Club. Tractors were supplied by New Holland.
Emma would like to see the move take off.
“I would strongly encourage other rural communities to see if they can deliver a similar experience at their local primary school. The earlier kids understand the importance of the food and fibre sector, and the raft of opportunities available to them as career choices, the better their chance of identifying a place for themselves in this great industry.”