Australia’s agriculture will soon be worth A$100 million a year. This industry employs over 250,000 people and stewards 80% our land. It also drives the world-class agribusiness sector and food industries. Every new graduate in agriculture has six options for employment in an uncertain market.
Today’s agriculture is dynamic, global, diverse, and reliant upon high-end scientific discoveries. It also responds to consumer concerns about ethics, provenance, and health. Many of our brightest students still have a hard time grasping the wonders of agriculture.
Each year, around 300-400 students in Australia graduate with a degree in agriculture. This would be only 23 students per university, with 17 universities offering extensive agriculture studies. The numbers are decreasing.
Why is it not attractive to students as a growing sector that has many job opportunities? Is there a way to attract school-leavers who want to be farmers?
Social problems are part of the problem. Agriculture is not well-known unless Australia is on fire, covered with dust, flooded by water, or when its crops are starving. Students and parents associate agriculture with dry, rural landscapes and poor farmers, and not high-tech science or genetics to produce the best meat and crops.
What Should Students Agriculture Know?
Although it may begin in a small rural community far from Sydney Harbour’s CBD, the agricultural industry eventually finds its way to the commodities markets of London, Paris, and New York, where it is supported by some of the most successful businesses in the world. It does all this with the support of some of the most innovative scientists in the world.
It is essential that students are as diverse, exciting and challenging as possible in order to attract the best school leavers. To use a federal term, the future job-ready (agriculture), graduate must have experience in and knowledge of best-practice regional farming methods. This is agriculture that works with diverse landscapes and is resilient to climate change.
The many ways that agriculture can be practiced requires students to have a broad knowledge. These include organic and regenerative agriculture practices that aim to replicate natural processes. Technology-driven precision farming, and the rising trend of using local inputs in circular farming.
No more shipping and shearing. Provenance is now an integral part of the supply chain. We need to be able trace food from farm to table.
Strong skills in experimental design and statistical analysis will be required by graduates to manage the science and economy of agriculture. Graduates now need to have the right quantitative skills since precision agriculture has emerged. They will need to manage large data sets in order to make informed decisions and optimize farm production.
The curriculum must be expand beyond the historical emphasis on experimental design. It should also include spatial and temporal data, as well as ecological statistics. Farmers need real-time data that is map across their farms to optimize management and make spatially mapped yield forecasts.
An Increasing Awareness Of Ethics
Recent films Kiss the Ground, David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet Agriculture, and recent film Kiss the Ground are both highlighting the impact of food production.
Food producers are being ask to produce more. They are represent by groups that advocate for better nutrition and health, more varied diets, and differing ethical views.
This student group is also one of the most socially conscious we’ve seen in many decades. These students must equipped with the necessary tools through the new agriculture curriculum.
Digital agriculture will increase the use of technology and data to make decisions throughout the supply chain, from farmer to consumer. Digital technologies can use to decommoditise, presenting unique products that are closely link to sustainability priorities and adding value to farm outputs. Graduates should be familiar with how these technologies can be use. Producers will be able to profit from rapidly expanding global markets, especially in Asia.
Farmers are still trying to preserve the land. With calls for payments to ecosystem services that support biodiversity, this is being acknowledge.
Future graduates will have a better understanding of the characteristics that make a resilient landscape. They will be able draw on scientific evidence to support their on-farm management decisions, and to ensure that they receive ecosystem service payments. They will be able tailor each farm’s land-management strategy.