But a critical skills shortage threatens our agricultural abilities to meet increasing global demand for food and fibre.
The message is not getting through to Gen Y that with a career in agriculture you can make a difference and a dollar.
Australia already exports 60 per cent of its produce, and ABARES says we could lift the value of agricultural exports by 140 per cent by 2050 – but we need a skilled, competent workforce.
Efforts to engage and address the shortage, identified by the Council of Deans of Agriculture in 2008, have been sporadic, with the number of universities offering agricultural-based courses in Australia halving between 2000 and 2010.
The Government must invest in agricultural-sector education and training so we can drive productivity gains and remain internationally competitive.
In the past fortnight, a Senate inquiry and Victorian Government report have gone out, extensively examining the industry’s need for a skilled workforce.
Both highlight issues of concern for agricultural education – issues of low enrolment levels, the sector’s image and remuneration, and the cost of delivering agricultural education.
It is not surprising that after a decade of drought followed by floods, and several agribusinesses closing their doors locally, a career in agriculture has not been encouraged by parents or schools.
Bright, articulate students who do want a career in the sector are being told not to waste a high tertiary-entrance score on agriculture – so it’s little wonder 30 agronomist vacancies went begging across northwest Victoria last year.
Throughout the inquiry it was clear the agriculture industry wants practically-trained graduates from all levels of the education process.
Funding agribusiness education is cost-intensive, and this is not acknowledged in current funding models.
Research tailored to our growing conditions, soil types and business practices is essential for future productivity gains.
In 2008-09, the Federal Government spent less than $160 million on its agricultural research and development. In 2005, China spent $2.7 billion, the bulk government-funded.
It’s time to invest in our future.
Both inquiries found academics and industry must practically engage with the teaching profession to promote agriculture in schools.
Turning student teachers on to agriculture, not only as a subject in its own right but also as an example for investigating wider concepts such as science, technology and history, may occur during their time studying at university.
The consequence of letting another review, like so many before it, languish as a talking point for vested interests will see us losing ground economically and socially.
The future of regional Australia has always been – and will continue to be – built on the back of thriving agricultural businesses.
There is enough talk about the problem. Action is what is needed now, because it takes time to train people and to change attitudes.
We have a great story to tell – exciting careers, in industries that are high-tech, internationally competitive and based in the regions.
The menu is written and the Government would do well to digest the reports’ contents.
It’s time to plate up.