There are increasing concerns Australia’s agriculture sector won’t be able to recruit the graduates it needs to meet growing demand for farm produce.
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Michael Spence, says agricultural graduates are crucial to Australia’s ability to feed itself and the rest of the world.
“Long-term we think this is a real problem for Australia, the big issue for the coming century is food,” Dr Spence says.
“When you talk to the leaders of our region, for example to the Chinese, they say the issue that concerns them is food, food and food, in that order, both it’s steady supply and also its safety, particularly in an environment of changing climate.
But he says education institutes haven’t been quick enough to encourage more students into agricultural degrees.
“We are failing to catch the imagination of young people and failing to attract people into agricultural education. And (we’re) also not necessarily offering a range of skills in an integrated way that graduates are going to need for the future of the agricultural industries.”
In the intensive horticulture industry the impact of fewer graduates is already being felt.
Simon Coburn, of vegetable industry group Ausveg, says he knows of several companies that haven’t been able to fill roles for educated professionals.
Mr Coburn says positions in agronomy are the hardest to fill and it means growers aren’t getting the information they need.
“That information that’s passed onto them is essential to make sure that the crops are managed in the best method possible, making sure that we control pests and disease, making sure that correct quantities of crop protectants are used, and general on-farm practice advice is necessary for growers to produce the best quality crops, as well as the highest capacity crops.”
There’s also a looming shortage of scientists, plant breeders and agronomists in the pulse industry which produces the country’s chickpeas, legumes and lentils.
“It’s a concern for the industry, given that we are focussing on Australia being a potential food bowl for Asia,” says Tim Edgecombe, CEO of Pulse Australia.
“We need to make sure we have a following crop of young, talented and passionate graduates coming through the system, so that in five, ten, 15 years time we can make sure that Australia stays at the forefront of some of these very important aspects of agriculture which includes basic research, plant breeding, agronomy and the like.”