Giving hill-country farmers a voice

Living the life ...Teagan Graham enjoyed being on a sheep and beef farm during the Covid-19...
Living the life ...Teagan Graham enjoyed being on a sheep and beef farm during the Covid-19 lockdown. She is pictured with Belle.PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Growing up in Rangiora, Teagan Graham never imagined what experiences lay ahead in the sheep and beef sector.

The University of Otago student gained a Silver Fern Farms scholarship last year and then landed a summer internship with Beef + Lamb New Zealand, assisting on a project studying the future of hill-country farming.

Ms Graham is in the final year of a degree in environmental management and ecology, but little did she know when attending Rangiora High School that she could make a career in agriculture, as she was not from a farm.

‘‘You definitely can have a career in agriculture. I one-hundred percent believe it now,’’ she said.

‘‘There’s a shortage of people in the agricultural world, so you’ve got to give everyone a go and I’ve been lucky enough to get some opportunities.’’

She learned a lot from the internship since joining the five-year project in November to examine the state of hill-country farming.

‘‘I was part of a small team interviewing hill-country farmers about the profile of the hill country and how they feel about the future, what they think the problems are and what should be done.

‘‘It’s about bringing together the voices of farmers to a level so those voices can be heard.’’

She has continued to help casually with coding to load the information into a database so it can be analysed, while back at university this semester.

In her presentation to last year’s Silver Fern Farms conference, Ms Graham discussed the benefits of regenerative farming to help farmers reduce their environmental impact, a system of farming principles, practices to transform the ecosystem, collaboration between stakeholders for ‘‘social learning’’ and traceability to provide proof to consumers and tell a story.

She also had an interest in ‘‘urban farming’’ and what role it could play in improving the environmental footprints of large towns and cities, as well as connecting urban people to their environment.

‘‘I’m quite interested in reducing the disconnect between urban and rural and giving urban people the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from.

‘‘For someone to care about the environment, you’ve got to experience the environment.’’

With just six months to go on her degree, it was just a matter of figuring what to do next, as the Covid-19 situation was creating some uncertainty, she said.

‘‘If you had asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said I was planning to go overseas for a while before figuring out what to do next.’’

Ms Graham is interested in doing postgraduate study, but had yet to choose a topic to research.

Alternatively, she was keen to gain some work experience with a regional council.

During lockdown, Ms Graham stayed with her boyfriend on a sheep and beef farm in Balclutha and enjoyed helping out.

University studies continued online, but she hoped to be back on campus for the start of the second semester in July.

‘‘It has definitely been harder to keep focused because you’re sitting down all day staring at your computer screen and you feel like you’re the only one.

‘‘But the university has been really good at supporting us and getting it to run smoothly, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the exams will run online.’’

- David Hill

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