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Study agriculture courses in Australia

Field of Study: Agriculture Course Information

Agriculture is a small but varied field. Perceptions that jobs in the field are scarce and poorly paid may have contributed to dwindling enrolment numbers, but the reality is that many students may not even know what these jobs actually are or what agriculture is all about. If this sounds like you — or you think it’s just a field for future farmers — read on.

Although agriculture is a highly specialised field of study, it actually offers some very diverse options. Not only does it cover the 'basics', such as crop and animal science, it also allows students to explore areas that show them how to create a profitable business. This means that agriculture and related courses often incorporate subject areas such as computing and IT, economics, engineering and marketing. Much falls under the broad banner of 'agriculture', and it can suit those with interests and skills that range from farming and production to business and science.

It is essentially a vocational field of study, so you should expect that most specialisations will prepare you for work in relevant jobs and industries. Workers in agriculture cultivate and manage natural resources, most commonly in primary industries such as forestry, dairy, cattle, aquaculture, livestock and crop management, as well as other niche industries such as horticulture and wine.

For more information about careers in the industry, visit the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology website. Other fields of study likely to appeal to someone interested in agriculture include environmental studies and sciences. If you are considering adding expertise in business and management, economics, accounting or education and training to your agriculture skill base, it may also be worth looking into these fields. Veterinary science is an option for those with interests in animals and medicine.

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VET study in agriculture

Courses, majors and specialisations in agriculture

The VET sector is well known for its ‘hands-on’ style of tuition. There are hundreds of courses — ranging from certificate through to advanced diploma level — across a wide range of agriculture and agriculture-related specialisations, including animal technology, aquaculture, dairy production, forestry and forest products, horticulture, irrigation, seafood processing, sheep and wool production, and viticulture.

The great range of subject areas in VET agriculture might make deciding on a course a daunting task. The best advice is to think carefully about your particular interests and what job you can see yourself doing at the end of your studies. It might be useful to try to talk to people working in the area that interests you and even to seek out recent graduates of courses you’re interested in to gain a sense of whether or not you think the area of study or work is right for you. Institution opens are a great source of this information.

Although various qualification levels are available, it will pay to do your research and carefully look into the outcomes of each of these course levels to see which you think might be most suited to your eventual career goals. For example, if you think you may wish to pursue further study at higher education level then perhaps a diploma or certificate IV course might be the way to go.

When researching courses, you should consider the practical aspects of your studies and whether the institution will cater to these. Be sure to browse course outlines for details about the time spent on field work and in work placements and internships. In addition to off-campus practical learning, many institutions have great facilities that simulate the industry environment or projects — anything from indoor riding arenas and abattoirs to swamps, farms and vineyards. You should also pay particular attention to the facilities relevant to your course and ensure they compare with those available at alternative institutions.

Where to study agriculture

VET courses in agriculture are widely available at TAFE institutes and private education providers throughout the country. Many of the institutions offering courses in this field are located in regional areas — this means that they can make good use of their surrounds and give students opportunities to gain strong practical skills and experience.

Entry requirements and prerequisites will vary depending on the institution, the specific course and the level of study. Entry to VET courses in agriculture will generally require successful completion of Year 12 or evidence of ability to complete the course. Lower levels of study (certificate I–IV) will generally not require any prerequisite studies beyond high school but, depending on the institution and course, may require success in an interview, demonstrated interest or experience, or satisfaction of selection criteria. Entry to diploma and advanced diploma courses may require successful completion of a prior VET qualification (such as a certificate II or III) in the same subject area.

Career opportunities in agriculture field

While the career options resulting from higher education study in agriculture span the breadth of professional roles available in a practical, managerial, research or consultancy capacity, career options resulting from VET study will likely be more vocational or ‘hands-on’ in nature. Practical paraprofessional roles are typically centred around primary industries such as forestry, dairy and cattle as well as other niche industries within the field.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Undergraduate study in agriculture

Courses, majors and specialisations in agriculture

The following are just some of the majors you can study in this field:

  • Agribusiness

  • Animal genetics

  • Crop and pasture science

  • Equine science

  • Fisheries management

  • Horticulture

  • Plant sciences

  • Tropical agriculture

  • Viticulture

  • Wool science

So, what should you study? Agriculture itself is concerned with the cultivation of land, but this is only one of a range of specialisations covered in this field. Winemaking is self-explanatory, as are horticulture, forestry and fishery, but arboriculture (the cultivation of trees and shrubs) and agronomy (the applied study of soil science) are less likely to be common vocabulary for those who are not already in the field. We recommend doing some careful research into different courses and the related careers before making your choice.

Some courses are more suitable if you’re good at science (such as plant genetics). Others are better for the business-minded, with a focus on applying management principles to various agricultural sub-sectors, such as rural management and forestry management, and preparing students for roles nearer to the commercial end of the agricultural industries (agribusiness, for instance. The variation in focus makes your choice of course very important. Look at both the title of the course and the course outline to make sure you get what you want. The best of them will usually balance a focus on basic science or business with the ‘nitty gritty’ of industry production, process and technology.

Climate change and the continually rising global population are projected to threaten the world’s food supply. As a result, agriculture and land management are set to become more relevant in the future, even though enrolment numbers in Australia seem to be dwindling.

In a bid to strengthen agricultural education, new national standards were released in 2015 following consultation with industry, academics and graduates. Part of the Agriculture Learning and Teaching Academic Standards (AgLTAS) project, the standards will help to raise the profile of agricultural education and ensure graduates leave university with the skills and knowledge needed by the industry.

Where to study agriculture

In most — if not all — specialisations related to agriculture, there should be a range of opportunities for practical work. Look through course outlines to find details about the time spent throughout the course on fieldwork and in work placements and internships. In addition to off-campus practical learning, many institutions boast facilities that simulate the industry environment or projects — expect to find anything from indoor riding arenas, abattoirs and swamps to farms and vineyards. Make sure the facilities suit your particular specialisation before making your choice. Courses in this field are scattered widely across the country — many are at regional universities or at rural campuses of metropolitan universities. Note that some specialisations will be better suited to study in particular parts of the country (tropical agriculture in the north, for instance).

Entry difficulty is not typically a deciding factor, as most courses are fairly accessible. Some will require or allow students to live on campus too. While some courses might not have formal prerequisites, others may require subjects like English, mathematics and various science disciplines.

See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in agriculture field

Graduates of this field can work in policy and advice, in research or in hands-on occupations ranging from quarantine officer, vineyard or farm manager and animal nutritionist to marketing officer, plant breeder and food processor. At university level, these small, specialised courses tend to attract enthusiasts who are generally very satisfied with the teaching and the skills they gain. In 2014, 30 per cent of graduates were still seeking full-time employment four months after completing their studies, an increase on the 2013 employment rate. The average starting salary for graduates was $51,665. In 2014, 26 per cent graduates went onto further study.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.

Postgraduate study in agriculture

Courses, majors and specialisations in agriculture

Postgraduate agriculture programs fall into two broad groups. The majority are coursework programs designed for those with a background in a relevant field. Although this is a relatively small field, it covers a lot, so courses cater to diverse interests. Only some will accommodate those without a relevant background (particularly winemaking and wine appreciation programs), so if you are new to the field you should be sure to enquire about entry requirements. You may also consider a lower-level program, such as a graduate certificate, before working your way up to a more advanced qualification.

The other group is made up of research-based programs. The proportion of research students is very high in this field, with close to 70 per cent of agriculture postgraduates completing a research degree. Many research degrees require an honours degree in a relevant field or substantial relevant work experience to qualify for entry.

While many postgraduate programs in the agriculture field are similar in that they target those with a relevant background, there is plenty of variety in the subject matter they cover. Some programs are more focused on scientific disciplines like agricultural science or animal science. Others, like agribusiness or wine marketing, focus on the business side of the industry. Plenty of other programs cover interesting niches such as fisheries, aquaculture and forest management.

Agricultural education in Australia began in a number of specialist colleges, most of which have now integrated with universities. Some say that many programs in the field are dominated by science, resulting in the exclusion of things that employers say are just as important — communication skills, interpersonal skills, flexibility, adaptability, problem-solving ability and leadership skills, not to mention practical experience.That said, program restructures have led to the emergence of more business-focused programs, which aim to address these ‘soft skills’ to ensure effective industry practice.

With a large number of postgraduate research students, research areas can vary widely, with discussion around GM laws and rising food costs providing hot topics for many. Such research has highlighted the need to make innovation in agriculture a priority.

Where to study agriculture

Although the field has fewer providers than most, distance education options have increased the options for prospective students. Courses are offered at universities and select private higher education providers.

If you are looking at coursework, some institutions may be better than others if your interests are at either the scientific or the practical end of the spectrum. You should also investigate the specialised facilities available in your area of interest — viticulture students will need a vastly different set-up from those studying animal science or seafood management. If you are considering a research degree, your choice of institution should depend on your own interests and the track record of any departments or supervisors you are considering.

To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.

Career opportunities in agriculture field

According to the national Course Experience Questionnaire survey, postgraduate coursework students in this field are moderately satisfied with the teaching quality of their courses, but not so satisfied the skills they gained. Graduate job prospects are above average, with 82 per cent of graduates finding work within four months of course completion. Salaries are above average, at $84,222 per year.

See the Career Search for more information about your career options.




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