JAMES Paulet is part of a small minority of high school students who are thinking about studying agriculture.
The Tallangatta Secondary College year 11 student, who lives on his family’s beef property in the Tallangatta Valley, is doing a certificate II in agriculture as part of his studies.
He attended the recent soil carbon forum in Wodonga to get a broader picture of the career opportunities available in agriculture.
“In the long term I would like to be a farmer but I’m thinking about going to uni to do agricultural science at Wagga,” he said.
There’s plenty about a career in agriculture that appeals to James. “You’re not indoors all day and you can be your own boss,” he said.
But the majority of his peers don’t feel the same way and are not attracted by the diversity of the industry at all.
In fact, the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture reports that just 700 students in agriculture and related courses graduate each year in Australia, for the more than 4000 positions advertised. The
Senate education, employment and workplace relations references committee has spent the past seven months discussing the shortage of agricultural graduates, the decline in agricultural related educational facilities and the combined effect on Australia’s economy.
The committee tabled its report last Thursday, listing 11 recommendations to address the growing quandary for an industry valued at $44billion per year.
Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie, a former teacher, believes the trend can be turned around in primary schools.
“The evidence we heard was that many primary school students would make up their minds about what they wanted to do by grade four,” she said.
“It’s really important that we don’t leave it until year 10 to have this conversation, we need to be getting agriculture into the classroom.
“We really need to be at the teacher training coalface, letting them experience all that is good and great (about agriculture), to share that with their young charges.”
Ms McKenzie believes that everyone has a role to play in “talking this up in the community”.
“Agriculture has a great future — it’s forward looking, high-tech, there are internationally renowned careers, not to mention being able to live in the best parts of Australia,” she said.
“The onus is on us all.
“Expose kids to all that is exciting about agriculture and later on in secondary school, promote it as a career.”
The committee heard that Australia has 39 universities but well under a third provide agriculture-related courses.
In the 1980s, 23 campuses provided agriculture or agricultural science degrees. That number has since reduced to fewer than 10.
“That’s obviously a demand issue and that’s where getting into classrooms is important, for more kids to be turned on to agriculture,” Ms McKenzie said.
“There are such diverse careers but the evidence we received was that it depends on one person being passionate in a school about agriculture.
“If that person isn’t there, it’s not a conversation that is had.
“There are passionate people out there in education but it’s about being able to harness that passion.”
The government now is required to respond to each of the recommendations.
“My keenness is to keep the pressure on,” Ms McKenzie said, regarding the government’s response.
“They’ve been making the right noises but it’s time to get them to put their money where their mouth is.”