An impressive new crop of emerging leaders

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Rebekah Ash

More than 30 AgriFutures Horizon Scholars took part in a focus group to help bring together Westpac’s latest intergenerational farming report.

The Westpac Agribusiness report, titled: ‘Regional champions and changemakers’ shares insights on the increasingly diverse generation of Australians joining the dynamic agricultural industry. The report reveals how these new faces of Australian agriculture will embrace science and technology to sustain the growing local and global population.

The most impressive data from the report highlights a significant increase in females choosing careers in professional agriculture roles – a 42 per cent increase in the last 15 years.

The number of workers employed in agriculture has remained relatively stable as the sector has continued to grow its output. However, the demographic profile of the workforce has been anything but stable, as the infographic below reveals.

Evolution or revolution: Australia’s next generation

In collaboration with AgriFutures Australia, Westpac surveyed a group of more than 30 past and present participants in the Horizon Scholarship Program to better understand the current opportunities and challenges from the industry’s emerging leaders.

Many of the scholars highlighted the need for more opportunities to expand their networks and relationships to help them move towards industry and community leadership roles.

Rebekah Ash (pictured above), PhD Candidate at Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, and AgriFutures Horizon Scholar Alumni said she stumbled across an agricultural course that sought to tackle the ultimate challenge; how are we going to feed our growing population sustainably and nutritionally?

“As soon as I read that, it just aligned with exactly something I could see myself working in and ticking other boxes in terms of not just being an office job, but being able to get outdoors, get hands-on, but still be innovative,” said Rebekah.

She now works directly with landholders on greenhouse gas emissions mitigation and carbon sequestration initiatives, while also completing her PhD on socially and economically responsible trajectories for farms to target net-zero emissions.

Rebekah says the best way to encourage more young people to pursue a career in agriculture is for us all to be better storytellers and elevate our community champions.

“I think all this comes back to storytelling, as well. On how we talk about our industry and how we share our industry because there are so many champions out there. Whether they’re championing the fact you don’t have to be from a farm, or they’re championing women, or they’re championing sustainability. There are so many people doing amazing things. And as an industry we need to grab a hold of those people, and those stories and really elevate them.”

What’s on their mind?

In a survey run by Westpac, more than half of the respondents’ listed Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues as the number one challenge that the agriculture industry will face over the course of their careers.

A significant number also listed ESG issues as the biggest opportunity. This wary yet optimistic perspective is vital as their generation will lead the industry’s response to debates surrounding ESG and ultimately determine the side on which the coin will fall.

Also front of mind for this group are challenges such as the industry’s ability to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events while maintaining production, rapidly changing communities and their expectations of agriculture and natural resource degradation.

Westpac’s Regional & Agribusiness General Manager, Peta Ward, says insights from the latest Westpac Champions and Changemakers report tell us that Australian agriculture is again embarking on another period of transformative change.

“Great things will be expected of the next generation as the future demands on agriculture will only become more intense and varied,” Ms Ward said.

You can read the full report on the Westpac Agribusiness website.

 

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