Leading the ag way

Sea Lake Tyrrell College may be a small school, but they are striving to become the centre of excellence for agricultural learning in Victoria.

Offering a nationally recognised agriculture program in one of Victoria's major cropping regions, the prep to year 12 school has a vision to become even bigger and better.

Year 11 VET students showed Mr Richardson around the school's workshop. Picture: GEORGIE MORTON

Year 11 VET students showed Mr Richardson around the school's workshop. Picture: GEORGIE MORTON

Last month, the Victorian Parliamentary Secretary of Schools Tim Richardson visited Sea Lake to learn about the program.

Mr Richardson said he was "thoroughly impressed" by what Tyrrell College had to offer within the agriculture domain.

"There is a big theme for agriculture within the school and the benefit to the students is immense," he said.

"They've got a tried and true education program with a clear vision, especially for getting kids to come back to the communities they have grown up in."

School principal Mark Corrie said agriculture has long played an important part at Tyrrell College.

"We're based in a broad-acre farming community, but we're now facing issues where farms are getting bigger and people are starting to leave communities," Mr Corrie said.

"Today, our whole focus is what do we need to do in order to become sustainable?" he said.

Mr Corrie said the importance of offering young people opportunities in small towns is imperative to their survival.

"When numbers drop, jobs go, kids go and it has a complete snow ball effect," he said.

"We need resources and we need opportunities to keep the community together."

Since 2009, Tyrrell College has run on-school farming programs to educate students and give them practical hands-on learning experiences.

"In 2009, we had eight children doing agriculture; now we have 82 per cent of our students studying ag from prep right through to year 12," agriculture teacher John Wright said.

Mr Wright said "developing partnerships" within the community had allowed the school to expand.

"We've gone from farming three hectares to now having more than 60 hectares," he said.

"A lot of farmers got on board and started helping us out - this allowed us to see, teach and train kids using other people's equipment."

In addition to running their own cropping program, Tyrrell College now has a machinery shed, vegetable garden, aquaponics system, workshop and livestock handling.

In 2010, they applied for the NAB Schools First award in search of more investment as the agriculture program continued to expand.

"We were unsuccessful but we had another crack the following year and got seed funding for $50,000 which was amazing," Mr Wright said.

The school went on to collect the state trophy before winning the national award in 2011 and receiving a cheque for $400,000.

"We had half-a-million dollars injected into our program which began to lead to recognition," Mr Wright said.

"We now have our own state-of-the-art equipment and we want to continue to show students what they can do and what we have."

But in order to continue to progress, schools such as Tyrrell College deserve better attention, according to agriculture teacher Fiona Best.

"We hit a bit of a speed bump where we were required to do soil testing to farm more land which was going to cost us $30,000," Ms Best said.

"We can't progress until we overcome some barriers, and ongoing support and advice on who to talk to within the education department is really important."

Ms Best said Tyrrell College is inspired by existing education models and the aim is to develop a statewide "agriculture niche" at Sea Lake.

"Distance is prohibitive but we do it regularly," she said.

"We want other schools to be able to come to Tyrrell College to see what they can do in the world of agriculture."

Ms Best and Mr Wright said investing in agriculture would lead to a "bigger bang for your buck".

"We've got to start getting people to have a greater understanding in agriculture full stop," Mr Wright said.

"The job opportunities are endless and it's all about bringing kids back to our communities."

Mr Richardson said a further developed agriculture program at Tyrrell College would benefit the Mallee and beyond.

"It's really exciting to see what they can do," he said.