Once upon a time, a career in agriculture was fairly limited. Reserved primarily for people that grew up in rural and remote areas, it encompassed general farming practices and required no qualifications. However, times have changed. High school graduates from the inner city are taking up agriculture degrees and there is more scope to study in the metropolitan area, rather than making the trek to a rural campus several hours away.
Cattle farming is a specific area that has and will continue to benefit from new technologies, including virtual fencing, drones and remote monitoring of body conditions. The CSIRO has even created its own app, Soilmapp, which allows farmers to understand more about the soil on their property.
As exciting as these advances are, implementing them will be a gradual process for several reasons. The availability of technology is an obvious factor, as some are on the market now whereas others are speculative. Cost will also have an impact, dependent not only on affordability but whether the product is providing a worthwhile return and the attitudes of farmers who have been using the same techniques and technology for long periods of time may prove a struggle.
Education is key to equipping future generations of farmers with the skillsets required to prosper in the sector and take full advantage of innovation, yet between 2001 and 2016, enrolments in agriculture and environmental studies dropped by 13 per cent. This is a concerning decline for a field that now more than ever needs employees with their fingers on the pulse.
For those who have made the decision to hit the books, like Shaun Martin, it has been a good one. After years of traditional farm work, Shaun decided to pursue a tertiary qualification at the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus. Twelve months later, he returned to work with a Diploma of General Studies (Agriculture), and the benefits were immediately evident.
“It was a broad subject but very relevant, and the science behind the basic things such as plant growth through to long-term climate change adaptations all have significance to the agriculture industry,” he said.
“It helped enormously having the knowledge behind me of how and why things were done. On top of this, you become able to explain to the client the reasoning behind your decision-making and provide input for programs.”
Despite the benefits of studying agriculture, many workers in the industry are not taking advantage of the educational opportunities, which is good news for those taking the initiative.
“The hidden science in agriculture is enormous and I always felt it would be hugely beneficial to study agriculture. In an industry where a lot of people don’t study to progress their career, it puts you at a huge advantage to have the knowledge behind you,” said Shaun.
“Next year I’m planning on studying environmental sustainability and engineering. The agriculture study has laid the groundwork for this.”
Whether enrolments in agriculture courses will boost in the near future remains to be seen but in the interim, those that choose to conduct further study will be doing their job prospects no harm at all.