Mark Fisher’s arrival at New England Girls’ School (NEGS) earlier this year heralded a rejuvenation of the teaching of Agriculture and Primary Industries at the school. We speak to the well-credentialed agriculturalist about his journey to NEGS and his vision for the future of agriculture at the school.
You’ve spent your whole life in and around the agricultural sector. Where did this start, and what did you do early in your career?
I’ve always been keen on anything to do with agriculture, right from an early age. I was raised on our family farm at Kulnura (Central Coast hinterland) and studied agriculture at school at Gosford. At university I studied Bachelor of Systems Agriculture, specialising in beef cattle marketing then proceeded to complete my teacher training and TAFE accreditation in primary industries.
My first appointment was at Brisbane Water Secondary College, at Umina. There I helped to develop a highly successful livestock team, which won, and continues to win, major prizes at Royal Show competitions at Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane and many other agricultural shows, including the Casino Beef Week, Quirindi Prime Stock Show, Scone Beef Bonanza and Dubbo National Steer Show.
During this time I also leased a property and ran my own small beef cattle business using Limousin and Limousin cross cattle. I have always had an interest in this breed.
Sounds like you had your hands full at Brisbane Water! When did you make the move to the New England region, and what did you do?
After seven years at Brisbane Water, my wife, Erin, and I moved to Armidale, so she could take up a position as a Dietician. I’d always liked the region and knew it well from visiting my brother and sister, who both completed Ag Science degrees at the University of New England.
I decided to take a year off and get away from teaching to become more familiar with livestock production in the New England. I worked on a successful beef and sheep property, ‘Pointsfield’, just out of Armidale and enjoyed my time there.
It also helped me re-discover my passion, not that it had waned too much, for teaching students about agriculture.
You’ve come to NEGS after some remarkable achievements, building up a comprehensive agriculture program at Walcha Central School, including further developing an operational school farm, stock stud and show steer feedlot. Tell us a little about this?
I was very pleased to be able to build agriculture at Walcha over the last four years – in the end it was known as a feature of the school and the community. At one stage, more than half of the students at Walcha Central were choosing to do agriculture.
With the help of a number of supportive parents, together with Walcha Council, I was able to establish a 200-acre school farm and add a new undercover powered cattle and sheep yard facility, outdoor learning area, three-bay machinery shed and a 12 tonne silo to the school’s existing buildings, which included a fully operational shearing shed.
I created a Limousin cattle stud and show steer feedlot, on top of managing the existing Border Leicester and Dohne sheep studs. Other school farm enterprises included poultry, pigs and vegetables.
It was a fantastic way for the students to learn about agriculture. I was very fortunate to have huge community support, as many locals had a strong involvement in the farm and therefore felt some ownership and responsibility for its good running.
So after such an industrious and successful four-year tenure at Walcha, what attracted you to NEGS, how have you found it so far, and what are your plans?
After four years at Walcha, I felt satisfied in what I’d been able to achieve there and was ready for a new challenge. NEGS has a great reputation as a school and for having enthusiastic students and staff.
I’m delighted to be here, as there’s a great culture of ‘can do’ students who want to do their best and achieve. I’m really keen to work with them and to help them achieve their potential.
I am certainly motivated to establish a successful agriculture department incorporating the already very active Livestock Team. I want to ensure that agriculture at NEGS is an attractive feature of the school and that it helps attract and retain students. So many students at NEGS are off the land or from regional communities and have a very keen interest in agriculture, so it’s a good base from which to work.
In addition, as a teacher of such an important subject, I want to offer students from all backgrounds the opportunity to experience agriculture and to show them what a wonderfully interesting, diverse, dynamic, successful and forward thinking industry it is.
You’ve seen the agricultural sector from the perspective of a teacher but also a practitioner with your own cattle. What do you see the future holding for this important sector?
It has been recently advertised that there is currently at least two or more (some say up to four) jobs for every young person completing an Agriculture related course at either TAFE, college or university level. There are so many opportunities for young people in agriculture!
I’m very keen to develop the students’ interest in this great industry with the hope to encourage them to pursue a career and seek out the opportunities on offer. There is a huge future in agriculture, as the world has a growing population that needs to be fed and clothed and no more land is being created.
And your own future?
I am blessed to be teaching agriculture at NEGS, as it is in a regional centre smothered with extremely capable farmers, agricultural industry professionals, consultants and researchers, breed societies, agri-business centres and of course, the leading agriculture tertiary education facility, UNE.
I’m not looking too far ahead at the moment – just enjoying what I do and trying to instil the passion that I have for the industry in the students I teach. I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing!
This article can be found in issue 71 of New England Focus