Agriculture course boosts school

Waitaki Boys' High School rector Paul Jackson contemplates a major redevelopment of the school's farm for education and as a commercial venture, including irrigation from the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company's by-wash race (right), levelling of fields and new pasture (background), all next to the school grounds (left background). Photo by David Bruce.
Waitaki Boys' High School rector Paul Jackson contemplates a major redevelopment of the school's farm for education and as a commercial venture, including irrigation from the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company's by-wash race (right), levelling of fields and new pasture (background), all next to the school grounds (left background). Photo by David Bruce.
Waitaki Boys' High School is returning to its roots with a major investment to boost its agricultural courses.

Rector Paul Jackson sees it as one of the keys to increasing the school roll.

''I want Waitaki Boys' to again be a school of farming excellence,'' he said.

The school last week began the first stage with an investment of about $60,000, virtually all raised through donations and in-kind contributions, to irrigate its farm - about 16ha of paddocks north and south of the school.

That will also have spin-offs for the rest of the school grounds as, with further investment of up to $100,000, irrigation water will be used on the school's sports grounds, saving the expense of paying for filtered and treated water from the Oamaru town supply.

In the past, Waitaki Boys' High was nationally recognised for its agricultural curriculum, attracting boys from farming families throughout the South Island. Part of that was because of hands-on education on its own farm. In recent times, while agriculture was part of its curriculum, it had waned.

Mr Jackson's background was in agriculture when he left school and he said that and tourism were the key to New Zealand's economy.

When he arrived last December, he identified agriculture as one of the keys to the school's growth. He believes that has already happened, there being 100 boarders this year compared with 68 last year, and he puts some of that down to boosting the agricultural curriculum.

''Our catchment is Oamaru, but to increase pupil numbers we need to look outside that area. We are now getting pupils again from our traditional areas, such as Southland, Central Otago and as far away as North Canterbury,'' he said.

As the changes in the agricultural curriculum came into effect - greater use of the farm and the appointment of an agricultural science teacher - Mr Jackson predicted further increases. The hostels are capable of taking up to 145 boarders. The school has a roll of about 500.

Changes in the school's approach to agriculture started with the decision last year by the board of trustees to set up a farm subcommittee, made up of farmers.

That was followed by appointing retired North Otago farmer Trevor Meikle as farm manager.

The decision was also made to take back land leased to Lean Meats and to run the farm as a profitable operation.

The new irrigation uses water flowing out to sea at the end of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company's scheme, pumping and piping it to paddocks on both sides of the school and installing a hi-tech spray irrigation system.

Land has been levelled ready for sowing in pasture and for fencing, and covered stock pens have been built.

One paddock will not be irrigated to demonstrate dryland farming.

The farm will run sheep and cattle for fattening, and produce baleage - already it has a store from land before it was levelled. The school also has access to a dairy farm near Oamaru.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz