BY KERRY ANDERSON
“AGRICULTURE is the most important profession in the world,” Jay Jackman from the United States reminded delegates attending the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference in Canberra. “Nothing is more basic to survival of mankind as food, clothing and shelter.”
And yet in subsequent conversations with 160 delegates and presenters it emerged that there are two major impediments when it comes to educating the wider community about the importance of agriculture here in Australia.
The first is a negative perception of primary industries in general, and the second is a huge disconnect between schools and industry.
Farming advocate Lynne Strong didn’t hold back any punches on what needs to be done.
“We need to get the agriculture image right for starters,” she says. “Farmers are the experts at selling despair and sending negative images.”
It’s hard not to agree with her. Australian agriculture is at the forefront of innovation and yet it continues to have this crusty old farmer image that only appears in the media, or when there is bad news – Murray Goulburn case in point!
Far from the widely shared myth, research by demographic expert Neil Barr shows that Australia enjoys the second youngest average age of farmers worldwide. 93 percent of food eaten in Australia is produced in Australia. Only 18 percent of those working in the agricultural industry are involved directly on farms while 82 percent work in the supply chain of agribusiness.
Think scientists, engineers and skilled food and fibre producers engaged in highly technical challenges day in and day out. Hmmm. It’s hard to get past those old, sad, drought stricken farmer images though. But push on we must!
With my rural entrepreneur hat on I was invited to present a business and education perspective at the Food & Fibre Matters Conference. In my 5 WAYS TO BETTER ENGAGE STUDENTS IN RURAL CAREERS presentation I spoke about the need for schools to engage with industry and community. Educators can't be expected to do it alone.
When sharing the project outcomes at another forum I Skyped Gareth Webb from O’Connor’s Birchip into a room full of educators in Bendigo and he surprised everyone with how much has changed in the industry.
Even during his short career Gareth has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and remain competitive in a global market.
“While we previously took young people and put them through an apprenticeship, now we are looking for employees with degrees,” Gareth said.
It’s exciting times world-wide. At the Food & Fibre Matters conference we learned how New Zealand with its far smaller population has just launched a new colourful GROW NZ brand. In line with the NZ government’s objective to double the value of primary industries over the next decade, it is anticipated that while less people will be required to work on farms, thousands of new jobs will be created. They just hope they can get the people to fill the roles!
With all this in mind, Australian producers are being challenged to become better advocates by OPENING DOORS, the topic of my next blog.
Business and primary industries have got exactly the same challenges and opportunities. So, together let’s start destroying those myths!
If you were admiring Tinker and her master, Glenden Watts in the photo above you can read more CLICK HERE
For more information about the PIEFA Food & Fibre Matters Conference CLICK HERE
For free business resources for the classroom CLICK HERE
To read about Neil Barr's research for RIRDC CLICK HERE
KERRY ANDERSON: A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia. She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.