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Steer-ing Agriculture students to the Royal Melbourne Show

02 Nov 2015

The annual Royal Melbourne Show means, for most people, lots of fun: showbags, rides, baby animals, baking competitions, woodchopping competitions, food and drink, music, and much more, topped off with very tired legs at the end of the day.

However, there is another side to the Show – the very serious business of agricultural competitions, which showcase our rural industry including livestock and produce, and allow everyone in this industry to network.

Traditionally, these competitions were the main reason for the Show, and they are still very much a focus, so much so that some of Melbourne Polytechnic’s Agriculture and Agronomy students participate as part of their formal training.

At Melbourne Polytechnic’s Epping campus, students studying Certificate III in Agriculture learn about beef production and part of that is the preparation of steers for competition at the Royal Melbourne Show each year.

The steers are selected during weaning each year at the institute’s farm in Yan Yean, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. They are selected for showing over the course of many months based on muscling and temperament.

‘The steers are nervous and given their size can cause quite a bit of damage if they decide to act up, so obviously we want to select steers that will be calm, with the appropriate temperament,’ says Kate Norris. ‘However we also need to teach the students how to respect the steers and their flight zones, and how to use these to their advantage in handling the steers. Occupational health and safety is a compulsory part of the course.’

The competitions at the Show are also an opportunity for the students to show themselves to potential employers in preparation for their careers, so all students show steers in the handler class. However for the carcase category only one student can show each steer, which makes for a nail-biting lead-up to the final selection prior to the Show.

Students come from all walks of life, but they all share a dream: to work in Australia’s agriculture industry. Currently there are fourteen students in the show steers unit, and not all of them come from a farming background, so the course aims to give them a solid, hands-on background in farm practices.

“Even if they don’t become farmers, they can work in agriculture and deal with farmers from a basis of understanding the industry,” says teacher Kate Norris. “This enables them to gain the respect of the people in the industry because they know exactly what farmers are dealing with, they know where they’re coming from.”

Students can work in a wide variety of roles in the agricultural field, which is currently experiencing a shortage in skilled workers. They can work as a farmhand, farm manager, consultant, or in sales.

Two of the current students provide great examples of how diverse the new generation of farmers will be.

David, a South Sudanese student, is currently completing his Certificate III and Double Diploma in Agriculture and Agronomy. His dream is to eventually return to South Sudan and become an Agronomy consultant, where he will likely be one of very few in this profession and much sought after.

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‘I would like to be my own boss and to give something back to my country of birth,’ says David.

David has always wanted to be an Agronomist and is passionate about the land. He came to Australia from South Sudan in 2006 and worked in a factory with other South Sudanese while he got to know a bit about Australia, learnt the language and made a life in Melbourne. Agriculture however, was never far from his mind.

In 2012, David was Googling ‘agriculture short courses’ when he came across Melbourne Polytechnic’s website displaying a picture of the farm at Yan Yean and, more importantly, featuring a South Sudanese student like himself. He tracked down the man in the picture within his community networks, found out more about the course and before he knew it, he was signing up.

David loves the hands on, practical approach to studying at Melbourne Polytechnic. ‘You don’t just learn about things, you work in the fields and raise steers and grow things and get your hands stuck into the right soil for corn, or wheat or canola… every day,’ he says.

Sukhchain Singh Brar, a student who hails from the Punjab region in India, comes from a long line of farmers. His father, grandfather and great grandfather lived on the land, and Sukhchain’s goal is to own his own farm in Australia, perhaps working on his own and other farms as he hones his craft and becomes self-sufficient. He hopes to farm both cattle and grain.

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Sukhchain believes his course is the best at Melbourne Polytechnic – it’s nice and warm, and has a great team vibe. Everyone works together to explore ideas, discuss problems, and ultimately learn how to work the land successfully.

'It was nervewracking before going out into the arena, but once I was out there it was fine,' he says. 'Yoda didn’t behave himself but I just focussed on the judge, didn’t pull on the nose ring, all the things I’d been taught in the course.'

For Dylan, from Kilmore, farming runs in the family, and he hopes to run a cattle or sheep farm in the future, but in the short term plans to work on a property and get lots of experience.

And as far as results from the Royal Melbourne Show go, Dylan McCabe was the most successful, placing sixth in the handler category with his steer, Yoda, in his first ever competition.

The Melbourne Polytechnic students competed in the School Handlers competition and the Beef Carcase Judging at the 2015 Royal Melbourne Show.

INTERVIEW/PHOTO OPPORTUNITY

Media enquiries should be directed to Melbourne Polytechnic Communications Officer, Anita Coia, on 03 9269 1251 or ua.ud1481352678e.cin1481352678hcety1481352678lopen1481352678ruobl1481352678em@sn1481352678oitac1481352678inumm1481352678oC1481352678

Melbourne Polytechnic operates across six campuses and five specialist training centres throughout Melbourne. The institute delivers high quality vocational education in industry-standard facilities.