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Saskatoon Elementary School Students Get “The Real Dirt on Farming“

by 5m Editor
12 May 2007, at 8:41am

CANADA - Approximate 75 Saskatoon elementary school students had the opportunity last week to get a first hand look at agriculture at the primary production level and learn more about the vast array of career opportunities available to them as they consider post secondary education.

First 2007 Tour Conducted Last Week

“The Real Dirt on Farming” is a series of school tours in which grades seven and eight students visit Saskatchewan farms to learn more about where their food comes from and about possible careers in agriculture. The first of three tours slated for 2007 was held last week.

“What we’re trying to do is reach urban schools as well as rural schools, but mostly the urban students, to give them a taste of what agriculture really is now-a-days,” explains Saskatchewan Pork Development Board (Sask Pork) agriculture education Jessica Podhordeski.

“The purpose is mainly to show students where their food comes from, from a production level, as well as introduce them to possible careers in agriculture.”

Tours Visit Four Commodities

The tour includes four different agricultural commodities, including Saskview Farms which is a dairy farm just south of Saskatoon, Grestch Holdings Ltd which is a mixed grain and beef cattle operation, the Pork Interpretive Gallery which is located above the Prairie Swine Centre’s Elstow swine research barn and Raffard Farms which grows table potatoes.

Podhordeski says the level of interest among the students appears high. “Of course, when we’re going to farms where there are animals, they seem to enjoy the babies the most but that kind of goes without saying.”

Ben Vander Kooi agrees, “I think the students like the little calves probably the biggest.”

Vander Kooi operates Saskview Farms and has hosted several tours of his farm in the past. “I think its great to educate people that don’t know. We’re proud of what we do and we want them to understand what it’s all about.”

Students Surprised by Volumes of Production

Podhordeski observes, “I think some of the students were fascinated at the amount of production that the different farms produced. For one instance, the amount of milk that the dairy farm of 360 milking cows produced in one day was 13 thousand litres. The one student I spoke to was just amazed that they would be able to produce that much milk in one day.”

“Another instance would be just the grain farming. We were standing on an area that was about four acres and then we mentioned that that particular farmer had 65 hundred acres of cropland.”

Wide Ranging Job Opportunities Available in Agriculture

“The job prospects are phenomenal right now,” states Jon Treloar, the community liaison coordinator with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources with the University of Saskatchewan.

“The industry is crying out for students. [Employers] are waking up to the fact that they need to start working on replacing the retiring work force. In the last five years our college has had over 97 percent employment rate. There’s easily more jobs than students.”

Podhordeski believes it’s important for these kids to be introduced to the farm and agriculture in Saskatchewan as it is a basis of what the province works off of. She notes the Pork Interpretive Gallery has a new display which highlights careers in animal agriculture and outlines the type of education that would be required for a variety of jobs.

Opportunities Extend Beyond Primary Production

Treloar explains, “It’s important to show students the entire realm of agriculture from managing our renewable and non renewable resources through various production chains, whether that's with plants or animals or trees to produce goods and services for a high quality life. That might be functional foods and healthy foods and nutraceuticals, it might be biofuels, it could be fibres.”

He admits, “My biggest challenge in promoting the college continues to be the view of agriculture as limited to primary production.”

“You will not be fighting for jobs and pouring coffee with your ag degree. It’s probably one of the most versatile science educations you can get right now and I think its only going to get better as we move forward in the bioeconomy.”

He’s convinced, “We’re going to rely more on biobased products to fulfill our needs for goods and services opposed to less. As we get more reliant on bioproducts opposed to petrochemicals for our goods, we're just going to see more people that have to know about soils, about plants, about animals, about marketing and sales. Right now I think the sky is the limit for jobs.”

Podhordeski notes, “One student said he was interested in doing engineering so I took the opportunity to mention to him that there’s a lot of engineers working in the agriculture industry as well.”

Careers Available in Agricultural Science

“The amount of opportunities to have a career in science is phenomenal here,” Treloar adds. “Saskatoon is world famous for its agriculture and bioresources sciences. Not just the university but our partners in private industry and in government that are in town.”

As well, he says, “We get into marketing commodities and developing international markets for some of the Canadian goods, jobs that take you around the world.”

He notes Canada has some of the best dairy genetics in the world and these genetics are found all over Asia and South America. “How great would that be to have a job where you can actually go overseas and work with these communities,” he asks.

Rural Economy Depends on Vibrant Agricultural Work Force

Treloar believes it’s critical to make young people aware of the opportunities that exist in agriculture.

He asks, “Without a sharp, a smart, enthusiastic generation coming into the industry where’s it going to go? Who’s going to make the decisions to establish ethanol and biodiesel plants in this province or secondary and tercery processing without a concerted effort between educators and government and private industry attracting people into the work force in agriculture.”

“Without that educated work force, without that sharp and smart educated work force in agriculture bioresources the provincial economy might stand to lose out,” he says.

The first of this year’s three tours took place early this month and additional tours are slated for June and September.

Podhordeski notes all three tours were booked quickly and there is a waiting list. She says tours are already being planned for next year.

5m Editor