Shropshire Star

Bringing farming to the classroom in Shropshire and beyond

School field trips. Those were the days.


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Armed with a packed lunch, we’d all race to get to the back seats of the coach ahead of our classmates before embarking on a grand day out.

Looking back, few days were as enjoyable or as sensory-rich as a first trip to a farm.

But now, it's not just a case of children paying a visit to a rural location.

Farmers are taking their message into schools too, dispelling myths about the agricultural industry and sharing views, with the next generation, on why farming is so important.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) currently has more than 40 staff members who speak in schools and more than 200 farmers and growers who all bring an array of skills, talent, expertise and experience as NFU Farmers for Schools ambassadors.

The innovative work of NFU Education also extends beyond traditional classrooms with live lessons, including Science Farm Live, Harvest Thali and The Lamb Diaries reaching more than 360,000 students across 5,000 classrooms last year.

Josh Payne: Picture by Simon Hadley.

Josh Payne, NFU Education manager, said: “More than 250 ambassadors have spearheaded the Farmers for Schools initiative since its inception, visiting primary and secondary schools across the country to help children learn about the vital work British farmers and growers do to produce safe, tasty and nutritious food, and how this goes hand in hand with caring for the land and environment.

“Last year was a landmark year for us as the programme ploughed new grounds in agricultural education, reaching more than 500,000 students across the nation – we are keen to extend our reach in 2024. The impact is evident, with the ambassadors having visited more than 70 schools from September 2023 to now and delivering assemblies on farming to more than 9,000 schoolchildren – that’s an increase of 180 per cent and 155 per cent respectively.

“Our ambassadors show passion and knowledge for British farming and, in teams of two, regularly deliver two 30 to 45 minute assemblies over the course of an academic year, but we do so much more through our on-farm work and online engagement.”

Here in Shropshire, Kate Mayne, who farms near Shrewsbury and is NFU Shropshire deputy chair, is a Farmers for Schools Ambassador who has loved paying a visit to schools in the county to share her views.

The NFU take farming into schools

She says Farmers for Schools appealed to her because she wanted to share her passion and experiences of farming in Shropshire.

“I was born and bred into farming,” she says. “It’s never gone away from me and it’s something that does get under your skin.

“For some of us, it’s in the blood and you can’t get away from it even if you wanted to.”

So, she says: “It is so important to encourage young people to take an interest in what we do to produce their food. We can engage kids in stuff they know and things they like – food, big tractors and the countryside they live around – but there are many more points we can share and talk about.”

Kate says she gets as much out of going into schools as anyone. Her visits so far have been to talk to children at the younger end of the secondary school age bracket.

And she reflects: “It can be quite surprising how much knowledge they have and how much interest they show in farming.

“They can be self conscious about sticking their hand up and asking questions.

“But then they will come up to me at the end. You suddenly have a queue of kids talking to you about what they know and it’s so heartening, it really is.

“There was one school where some of their questions really blew my mind. We had to wrap it up because they were asking so many questions and it was mad.

“But they were absolutely brilliant. They were asking me the most amazing questions such as: ‘How are interest rates impacting on farm businesses?’

“We had a big conversation about how much, for example, a combine costs and how borrowing is really important for the farming industry.

“We talked about interest rates and how they have this massive impact on investment in the industry.”

Much of the interest shown by inquisitive minds, Kate says, surrounds climate change and how it impacts on farming and the crops grown.

“The climate agenda can be quite negative,” Kate says. “You do see a lot of negative rhetoric around agriculture in the press.

“But there’s a way in which we can frame this and show we are changing so the future can be a better place.

“There’s a lot there we can work with to make the messaging a lot more positive and this is an opportunity to talk to the kids in a positive way.

“We have still got lots of stuff we need to do better in the industry, that’s a given.

“We still need to drive down emissions, whether its runoff water, carbon, methane or anything else but we are working really hard on this. We need bright minds in our industry who are going to drive this forward.

“We talk a lot about biodiversity loss too,” Kate explains. “Some of the rhetoric in GCSEs is quite old-fashioned.

“They talk about removing hedgerows. We haven’t been able to do that for decades so there’s a lot we can present.

“For example, we can say,’this is how much hedgerow we have been putting back in’.

“It is a chance to present our side of key issues and we are more likely to change the way we are off the back of positive messaging than negative.”

But, despite some serious issues being discussed. Kate adds: “We make it as fun as possible.

“We tend to do visits in pairs and bounce off each other, while bringing our own agricultural experience. So one of my colleagues told how milk from her farm is sent to Ben and Jerrys. The kids love hearing about that – a direct link to one of their favourite foods! It’s just a joy to be able to bring stories into the classroom and the kids lap it up, so it’s really nice.”

This year’s Meurig Raymond Award – named after the NFU’s former President – was presented to NFU Cymru Brecon & Radnor member, Sharon Hammond.

Kate isn’t the only champion of Farming for Schools. Sharon Hammond, a poultry and livestock farmer from Radnorshire, farms with her family at Llanyre near Llandrindod Wells and was recently handed this year’s Meurig Raymond Award – named after the NFU’s former president – for her work as a NFU Cymru Brecon & Radnor member. This included her work in schools.

Sharon, a former teacher, said her family had historically invited school children onto their farm – 40 or 50 years ago.

“We used to have a school group a week coming onto our farm in the summer,” she recalls. “It was extremely important for us, even back then, to be able to explain what we did and how we did it.

“More recently, the NFU has done a lot of work with schools and it’s an important part of the school curriculum.

“I work with primary and secondary schools and we can tailor what we are doing to what they want to know.

“We try to make things active and interactive, making what we do fun and informative and I do get pleasure in seeing children engage with what you are showing them. We do get a very good reaction.

“It’s important from my perspective that I can tell our story so people can understand about the farming industry and make their own, more informed judgements rather than just reading one person’s opinion. Nothing is ever completely black and white.”

Both Kate and Sharon believe that spreading the message on farming is vital, moving forward.

And Kate concludes: “I’m looking forward to doing more talks and spreading awareness about how important British farming is.

“Farmers who do future NFU training sessions for our work in schools will not regret it as speaking in classrooms about what we do is the absolute best.”

School teachers and farmers who want to know more about the work of NFU education can visit

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