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NZ schools visit farm to learn about irrigation without leaving the classroom

Sheffield farmer Damon Summerfield with some of the crops he grows using irrigation – wheat, barley and chrysanthemum seed.
Sheffield farmer Damon Summerfield with some of the crops he grows using irrigation – wheat, barley and chrysanthemum seed.

Primary school students from across New Zealand had the opportunity to learn more about the role of irrigation in food production through a virtual field trip which brought the farm to their classroom.

Over 128 primary school classes participated in a Virtual Field Trip designed for students in years five to eight which ran from 19-21 March and visited a number of locations in Selwyn district in Canterbury. The field trip was organised by CORE Education and IrrigationNZ.

The trip allowed classes to take part in three live web conferences where children could ask a range of experts questions, and view 11 short online videos explaining more about water and irrigation.

On day one of the field trip the children had the opportunity to find out more about how the recently opened Central Plains Water scheme provides water to farms, and how decisions about who can use water and how much water can be taken are decided.

Day two of the trip involved a visit to Sheffield farmer Damon Summerfield’s property. Damon grows a range of arable crops, and also uses irrigation to help finishing lambs on his farm. He exports seeds worldwide and produces wheat for local mills which produce bread.

Damon demonstrated how his irrigation system worked and talked about how it enables him to farm differently. “Having irrigation allows me to grow crops quicker, and to get contracts from a variety of companies for different crops only available to irrigators,” he explained.

Since adding irrigation, Damon has started growing chrysanthemum seed for export to Asia and mustard seed, and also improved his crop yields.

Day three of the field trip visited IZONE, one of New Zealand’s largest business parks. The Rolleston industrial park is home to many agricultural businesses and Selwyn Mayor Sam Broughton discussed how water was important to Selwyn from an environmental perspective as well as for recreation and to the economy by supporting farming activity and jobs in places like IZONE.

The day also included a visit to the Selwyn River to hear about a planned project to recharge the river using alpine water from the Central Plains Water scheme so that it will have improved flows over summer in the future.

“The virtual field trip is fantastic. It enables children to learn about a range of concepts and subject areas in a really meaningful way. This technology enables us to engage with a huge number of schools about water, irrigation, and issues like climate change in interactive and exciting way. It can be difficult reaching people in urban areas located a long way from farms, but this concept allows us to bring the farm right into the classroom,” says Elizabeth Soal, Chief Executive of Irrigation New Zealand.

Children had the opportunity to ask over 30 questions to expert panels during three live web conferences. Questions they wanted to know included: how is water made, when did irrigation start being used, why do some countries have more water than others and how do we clean our waterways?

“It was cool to hear about the cultural values of waterways in this field trip. We have learned about Mahinga kai but hadn’t made the link to this content so that was awesome,” said a participating class from Mount Hutt College in Methven.

A class from Our Lady of Assumption School in Christchurch said that the trip, “broadened our knowledge about the future of water in Canterbury. It also created lots of discussion with the students – as one student said: “water is liquid gold.”

In addition to the 128 classes registered to be part of the trip, many more unregistered classes joined the web conference and have accessed the online resources.

Schools and children who didn’t view the Virtual Field Trip live can still participate in the field trip by viewing the trip videos online.

Source: IrrigationNZ

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