School's farm proving a drawcard

Waitaki Boys' High School's farm has been transformed in the past two years. It has gone from eyesore to asset, once again helping to attract boarders to the historic institution.

The school showcased the 16ha of land, called Fraser Farm, at an open day on April 17. Visitors were shown around by rector Paul Jackson, deputy rector Tony van der Sluis, senior staff and Fraser Farm committee chairman Graham Butler.

The committee is made up of local farmers and agriculture service industry leaders who advise on the best use of the land as a commercial sheep and beef operation.

It has become an extension of the classroom for agriculture students, who can learn skills and contribute to practical research.

Developments include new stockyards and covered pens, where pupils will be able to work with local vets on procedures such as faecal egg counts and castrating calves.

Beyond the school hostel, land previously leased to nearby Lean Meats has been reclaimed by the school and turned back into the farm it first used in education in 1907.

A mess of old stumps was cleared and the site landscaped, thanks to Blair Hamilton and Plateau Works.

Paddocks have been fenced off and a fixed-grid irrigation system installed by Grant Kitto, of WaterForce.

Mr Kitto said it was ideal for the school, requiring little labour input, meaning it could be kept running while the school was closed for the holidays.

The irrigation could be used in trials with grasses, cereals and stock, and also apply fertilisers. Water was dispersed with a very high percentage of uniformity and efficiency, Mr Kitto said.

The water came from the end of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company's scheme, where it had been flowing out to sea.

Mr Jackson said Fonterra wanted to be involved with Waitaki Boys' agriculture programmes and the number of offers from

individuals through to big companies showed there was ''a lot of help available''.

The school, which was losing ground to coastal erosion, was looking to expand by buying more land, he said.

Waitaki Boys' was one of only five schools in New Zealand to be set up by an Act of Parliament. The 1878 Act was still on the statute books and gave the school the ability largely to decide its own fate, Mr Jackson said.

The farm was now an important facet in the school's efforts to market itself and seek fee-paying boarders from overseas as well as more from further afield in New Zealand. The number of boarders had grown in the past two years from fewer than 70 to more than 100.

Mr Butler said there was a huge list of sponsors who had given time, materials or money towards the farm development.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand had contributed $5000 so all schools in the area could use the farm as a teaching resource. Central South Island farmer-elected director Anne Munro said the upgrade was ''so exciting'' and Beef and Lamb was ''delighted to be part of it''.

- by Sally Brooker