Having a field day

29th July 2011 at 01:00
A schools event on a farm gave S2s and S3s a taste of careers in the countryside, writes Jean McLeish

Fourteen-year-old Paul Mavor wants to follow in his mum's footsteps - driving tractors. The third-year Alford Academy boy joined more than 300 pupils from throughout the north east for Dunecht Estate Day, a schools event to give S2s and S3s a taste of careers in the countryside.

Paul's group is being shown how farmers can use GPS on tractors to help target fertiliser accurately on fields. "The tractor my mum works with has got it," Paul says.

He drives a tractor himself - it's legal to drive in fields once you're 14 - but he does not have sat nav like his mum, Phyllis.

"When she was younger she used to do the ploughing with my grandad - her dad," says Paul.

Now Phyllis is much in demand driving tractors to sow crops in Aberdeenshire. "There's lots of people we do contracting for and they'll ask for Mum to do it. She does it all the time, so they're used to her doing it. I think they think that she does a better job," Paul smiles.

Paul has strong connections with the land and works on a farm, where his mum works, after school and in the holidays. "I just do anything really - spreading muck, rolling, power harrowing, feeding coos."

He is interested in the machinery side of things and knows his schoolwork will help later on: "You need to do lots of science to ken the pH for barley and stuff," he says.

His friend Edward Morris, 13, is also from farming stock and knows his current place in the food chain. When asked what he does on the farm, he says simply: "What I'm told."

He is aware that farming is a sophisticated, high-tech industry and that what he learns in school will help him do his job effectively. "You need a bit of mechanicking, you need to know about cattle, you need to know about crops - so there's biology in there - and you need maths for your tonnage to the acre," says Edward.

The Royal Northern Agricultural Society and the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative are running this event and there is a vast array of activity and machinery on display on the estate for visiting pupils.

"This event brings together a wide variety of activities to demonstrate the workings of a busy country estate for the benefit and education of young people," says RNCI chairman Robert Bellfield.

"Farm livestock, machinery, crop production, butchery, equestrian, forestry, fishing, game and a unique chance to visit Craigenlow Quarry are combined into this pilot one-day event.

"We aim to generate enough interest to inspire some of these young adults to perhaps consider a countryside career and hope that we have something to interest each and every one."

Alford Academy's headteacher, Moira Milne, is on today's visit with pupils from ACES (Alford Countryside and Environment Society), a club for children from a farming background or with an interest in their rural culture and heritage.

"We have cross-age working in this group, so we have different age groups bonding together, learning from each other. And we're keen to engage with the local communities to look at job prospects for youngsters and actually for the employers to see the youngsters," says Mrs Milne. "So they can actually see them in school, know that they are grafters and look at the potential there."

The school is an enthusiastic promoter of Doric and the pupils use the language naturally in their conversation. To encourage this, the school focuses on three words every week at school. Put on the spot about this week's words, Mrs Milne laughs and says probably "affa caul".


Young people don't need to have a farming background to find employment in agriculture.

Agricultural adviser Brian Chalmers is showing a field of wheat to young school visitors and describing the range of employment opportunities available.

"Don't think if you're not from farming that there isn't the possibility of a career in it. You could get into research, advisory work; you could become a farm manager," says Mr Chalmers, from Allathan Associates, farm managers and consultancy.

It's not just pupils from rural schools who are getting the chance to see what the countryside can offer. There are pupils here from Northfield Academy in Aberdeen, as well as from schools in Moray and Aberdeenshire.

They have been able to visit livestock areas, watch sheepdog trials and see sheep-shearing races. They've also learnt about the equestrian, forestry, fishing, game and estates management opportunities the working countryside can offer.

The pilot schools event follows a family day at Dunecht for the public, which was held yesterday. "We've targeted S2 and S3 because we thought that age group might be a good age group to engage and inspire them," says Sheila Stuart, project officer with the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative.

One of the volunteer stewards today is Peter Robertson, who has beef cattle, forestry, crops and new wind turbines on his farm at Peterhead. "It's not a traditional thing, but it will help provide extra income on the farm," Mr Robertson explains.

The pupils also get a chance to see some of the amazing high-tech machinery that is used in contemporary agriculture.

"We're looking for people with quite a high standard of education, because these machines cost pound;100,000 and we need people who can operate them with good mathematics and good science, who understand technology," Mr Robertson adds.


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