To find agriculture’s next generation we’ll need to look further than over the back fence

03.08.22

By Michael Beer, General Manager, Business Development, AgriFutures Australia

With labour shortages, more jobs than people, rapidly evolving technology, and an extensive range of skills required, the Australian agriculture sector is calling out for a new workforce of people that aren’t currently connected to our industry.

 

The sector’s needs have changed and the demand on agriculture to produce more with less means we have to start speaking to a completely new audience, in addition to keeping the capable people who are already engaged and passionate about food and fibre. Agriculture in 2022 in Australia is so much more than farming, and this is something we have to get better at communicating, particularly to young people who are deciding what career path to take.

2022 AgriFutures Horizon Scholar Tom McPherson is one of those people who is excited about a career in agriculture but he’s also up front about not looking to work on a farm. Studying a Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) at Sydney University and working at agritech company Farmbot Monitoring Solutions, Tom is following his passion for better understanding how technology can help producers. And in a sector where ideas and concepts that seemed crazy only 12 months ago are becoming a reality, harnessing people with an innovation mindset, like Tom, is crucial.

The use of space technology in agriculture and forestry is one of those realms that seemed far-fetched up until not long ago but now we are seeing satellites being used for high-definition mapping, scanning and surveillance.

The NSW Department of Education in collaboration with NASA even has an ‘Agriculture in space’ program as part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs in schools.

Speaking at a recent virtual event for students, parents and teachers on how to launch a career in AgSTEM, Pittwater High School Agriculture and Science Teacher Lara Griffin explained it best when she said, “The idea that agriculture is digging in the dirt is so far removed from reality now. We have so much automation and so many new technologies, that what we need is people who are creative and challenging and want to look at how to do things differently.”

For students interested in STEM subjects looking to a career in agriculture is a natural fit and provides a strong foundation for a huge variety of jobs in everything from research to agtech and bioengineering to data analytics and artificial intelligence. But, that said, STEM subjects are not the only ones that can be applied to agriculture.

There’s so much more. We need to support career advisors in our schools and equip them with the knowledge and resources to promote the agricultural industry and the myriad of exciting opportunities that lie within.

To attract capable people into the agricultural sector we have to change community perceptions about what it’s like to work in ag. It is in fact crucial for the future of our industry that we communicate effectively about the breadth and scope of the opportunities available and continue to make sure people know it can be about so much more than working on a farm.

It’s also important we help the workforce understand it’s not too late to commence a career in agriculture and that the opportunities to make a difference to the sector are seemingly endless. Careers in fields as diverse as finance, digital technology, science, marketing, trade and policy development, on farm and off – there is a career for everyone, where you can make a huge difference to the world.