Urban teens lack of knowledge about food production
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Survey of urban teens finds alarming lack of knowledge about farming and food production

Key findings:

  • 81 per cent of surveyed teens say they know only a little or nothing about farming and food production.
  • Eight per cent have never been on a farm, while a further 35 per cent have visited a farm three or less times in their life.
  • 72 per cent don’t know anything, or know just a little, about how food gets from farm to plate.
  • More than 90 per cent, however, perceive farming and food production as very important to New Zealand.
  • Just 10 per cent are interested in a career in farming, however this is still higher than law and a number of other professions.

A new survey of teenagers living in New Zealand's cities and regional towns has found an alarming lack of knowledge when it comes to farming and food production, with 81 per cent admitting they know only "a little" or "nothing at all" about these topics.

The research - commissioned by agricultural banking specialist Rabobank - also revealed eight per cent of urban teenagers surveyed had never been on a farm, while a further 35 per cent had only visited a farm three or less times in their life. However, most of the teens still perceived farming and food production as "extremely" or "very important" to the nation.

Just two per cent of teenagers surveyed considered themselves to know "a great deal" about farming and food production, with 17 per cent saying they knew "quite a bit".

Conducted by research consultancy Key Research, the Rabobank Farm Experience Urban Youth Research surveyed close to 600 students aged 16 to 18, from major New Zealand cities and regional towns – and currently attending public and private schools.

Rabobank New Zealand Analyst, Emma Higgins said the survey found a concerning knowledge gap among the younger generation when it came to agriculture and farming, and highlighted the disconnect between urban and rural New Zealand.

“The results were particularly surprising given the significance of agriculture in the country’s economy and also the relatively close proximity of rural regions to our major cities, where you would expect more engagement between city people in rural environments,” she said.

Ms Higgins said the research had been commissioned as the bank, and its network of six Client Councils across New Zealand, had a significant concern that the next generation of New Zealanders may not appreciate the importance of agriculture to the nation’s economy and future. “It is also vital that we help bridge the divide between urban and rural communities to attract young people to work in agriculture and support the sector’s future,” she said.

From paddock to plate
The Rabobank survey showed 20 per cent of surveyed teenagers “don’t really know anything” about “how food gets from the farm to my plate”, while 52 per cent said they knew only “a little”.

Ms Higgins said while there was generally low awareness of the food production process among the teenagers, the level of knowledge tailed off once produce and ingredients had left the farm.

“In terms of farm activity, 27 per cent said they ‘know nothing’ about what farmers needed to do to grow ingredients and produce, while 46 per cent said they knew ‘a little bit’ about it,” she said. “And when it comes to what happens to the ingredients and produce once they leave the farm, 33 per cent of respondents said they ‘don’t know anything’ about this and 48 per cent only knew ‘a little bit’.”

Unsurprisingly, knowledge and understanding of farming and food production was considerably higher among the students who had spent more time on farms, Ms Higgins said. “Those who had visited farms six or more times in their lives reported being considerably more knowledgeable about food production,” she said.

Perceptions of agriculture
Ms Higgins said while the research showed there were considerable knowledge gaps in relation to agriculture, it was encouraging that most urban teenagers surveyed perceived farming and food production as “extremely” or “very important” to New Zealand.

“53 per cent of respondents believed farming was ‘extremely important’ to New Zealand and a further 39 per cent said it was ‘very important’. Just under two thirds of respondents also felt that there would be a ’significant impact’ or ’quite a bit of impact’ on their lives if there was no farming in New Zealand,” she said.

The students were also asked about positive and negative associations relating to farming.

“Pleasingly, 96 per cent had positive associations with farming, primarily around the themes of fresh food and agriculture being good for the local economy,” Ms Higgins said.

“That said, 88 percent also had negative associations, focused around issues like animal welfare and the impact of farming on the environment.”

Agri education
Despite the perceived importance of farming and food production to New Zealand, only three per cent of respondents felt the topics were covered “in-depth” at school, with a further 16 per cent feeling they were was covered “reasonably”.

Ms Higgins said the survey found 17 per cent of the surveyed teenagers were “extremely” or “very” interested in finding out more about farming and food production, while a further 28 per cent were “somewhat interested”.

“Encouragingly, it was those more knowledgeable about farming who expressed further interest in finding out more about the industry; however those who had minimal knowledge were less interested,” she said.

Farming as a career
The survey also quizzed students on their future career plans and found 10 per cent were interested in a career in farming. This placed farming in the middle of the pack in comparison to other careers, behind medicine (19 per cent), engineering (17 per cent) and business (16 per cent), but ahead of law (eight per cent) social work (seven per cent) and government (six per cent).

Bridging the urban/rural divide
Ms Higgins said the Rabobank Farm Experience Urban Youth Research was one of a number of initiatives Rabobank was undertaking to help address bridging the urban-rural divide and encouraging young people into the agricultural sector as a career.

Early this year, in conjunction with its Waikato Client Council, the bank ran the Rabobank Agri Leadership Program, which saw 30 year 11 and 12 students from Waikato high schools attend a four-day live-in program at Waikato University to learn more about agricultural career opportunities. The program included visits to a number of leading farming operations and agribusiness companies as well as presentations from agribusiness leaders including Sir Henry van der Heyden and Professor Jacqueline Rowarth.

Ms Higgins said a further initiative, the Rabobank Farm Experience Program – to be piloted in April – will give urban teenagers the chance to spend a week on a farm, living with a farming family and learning about life on the land and food production. To be held in mid Canterbury, the pilot will see 10 year 12 students from Hillmorton High School hosted on farm.

Rabobank New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world's leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years' experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.8 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank New Zealand is one of New Zealand's leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to country's food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 33 branches throughout New Zealand. Rabobank also operates RaboDirect, New Zealand’s first internet-only bank specialising in savings and deposits.

Media contacts:

Denise Shaw
Head of Media Relations
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: +61 2 8115 2744 or +61 2 439 603 525 
Email: denise.shaw@rabobank.com

David Johnston
Marketing & Media Relations Manager
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: 04 819 2711 or 027 477 8153
Email: david.johnston@rabobank.com