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Future of ag industry in good hands

Isabella Jennings (left) and Courtney Barron lucked out with one of the quieter members of the cattle team.
Isabella Jennings (left) and Courtney Barron lucked out with one of the quieter members of the cattle team. Megan Masters

YOU might not think it as you look at Wilsonton State High School from busy North St that it boasts an ag plot bigger than many primary producing enterprises in Toowoomba's surrounds.

But tucked away in the suburb of Wilsonton is a 50-hectare plot that, until recently, lay a little more dormant than usual.

Wilsonton State High School head of department for agriculture James Pitt said the valuable parcel of land serviced a range of Toowoomba high schools, with about 600 students passing through the gates each week.

The school's own cattle judging and showing teams fell by the wayside for a number of years, but with a change in school name and principal, it was decided that the department was in need of revival.

The Wilsonton State High School has plenty of up-and-coming juniors to work the show teams in coming years.
The Wilsonton State High School has plenty of up-and-coming juniors to work the show teams in coming years. Megan Masters

Mr Pitt said it might be some time before the school's show team started seeing the big results thanks to the relative inexperience of many of its members, but it was working hard to prepare for the Ekka.

He said before the show team was retired about 2008, the school had earned plenty of accolades and churned out a number of talented judges and he hoped to work back up to a similar standard in the coming few years.

"We're getting there, but having those years out of it, it's a bit of a slow start,” Mr Pitt said.

"The older girls are going really well and the younger boys are starting to talk well.

"They're getting more confident now they have done a few shows already with paraders and judges.

"It's been good to see.

"They have started to see the work that is needed to get up to the next level.”

Preparing the Wilsonton State High School cattle for Ekka are (from left) Gracie Gadsby, Eric Cassells, Connor Reed, Dennis Petersen, Wyatt Wilson and Grace Campbell.
Preparing the Wilsonton State High School cattle for Ekka are (from left) Gracie Gadsby, Eric Cassells, Connor Reed, Dennis Petersen, Wyatt Wilson and Grace Campbell. Megan Masters

He said the team was currently working with some centre polls from Dr Gary Porter's Silverleigh stud, some blonde d'aquitaines from Wayne Hess and led steers from Darren Hartwig.

The plot was nicely complemented by a welding and fabrication shed, which Mr Pitt said enabled them to churn out students with a wide range of farming industry skills despite most of the students being city-raised.

The ag plot was home to pigs, sheep and chooks as well as the cattle and a range of cropping and horticulture projects.

"It's great because a lot of them are city kids without ties to the country,” he said.

"We also have pretty close industry ties, so it's a great opportunity for the kids to meet people working in the industry, especially the junior judges, who have to speak in public and hold themselves around adults.”

Tessa Will and Colby Samuelsen work on their cattle handling skills.
Tessa Will and Colby Samuelsen work on their cattle handling skills. Megan Masters

Students displaying enough talent often ended up with work on farms thanks to those ties.

He said they also had to learn on their feet about managing animals a lot bigger than themselves.

"They've got to think a bit, because they can't out-muscle them,” Mr Pitt said.

As an ag teacher he felt proud to be raising what was potentially the next generation of stud breeders, agronomists and farm hands and said people from non-farming backgrounds were a valuable addition to the industry.

"I think one of the biggest challenges for agriculture at the moment is getting people from outside the industry into it,” he said.

Taia Hall enjoys an afternoon in the Wilsonton State High School ag plot.
Taia Hall enjoys an afternoon in the Wilsonton State High School ag plot. Megan Masters

"For instance one of my friends won rural woman of the year and she's a city girl, but it's really tough to get in.

"We can't even keep our own in.

"But for the past 20 or 30 years they've been talking about agriculture being the next big boom industry.”

He said the Darling Downs was well placed to make use of a good influx of talented young ag professionals with the opportunities opened up by Wellcamp Airport and the planned inland rail project, making the ag plots in the region's schools more valuable than ever before.

Justin Vickers out in the ag plot with his classmates.
Justin Vickers out in the ag plot with his classmates. Megan Masters

Other vocational skills were also on offer at the school in the hopes of producing young people with all the skills needed to succeed in the industry, not just how to groom a stud heifer.

The next big challenge for the team was Ekka, followed by the North Coast Nationals in Lismore.

In the meantime he said it was business as usual while scores of youngsters got a taste of life on a farm.

"We've got animals, kids on tractors, kids with grinders and axes,” Mr Pitt said.

"They learn very quickly to use their peripheral vision.”


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