In the lead up to school exams in the country, it was commonplace to hear someone scrunch a piece of paper, toss it at the bin and exhale “It’s fine, if I fail I’ll just go back on the farm.”
‘Ag’ was the ‘bludge subject’; the one kids usually took to spend a maximum amount of time outside and then be stunned when the biology and chemistry units rolled by. During my Public Relations degree at a university in Melbourne we covered politics, business, sport, hospitality, fashion, even the greyhound racing industry, but never agriculture. Somewhere along the line agriculture became the larrikin of Australian classrooms (except at a few largely rural universities), where it has far better academic potential.
Our food and fibre industry has done a fantastic job of positioning itself as one of Australia’s most multi-faceted and vital economic contributors. As of 2017, the gross value of Australia’s farm production sat at $59.1 billion, producing almost 93% of our daily domestic food supply (ABARES, National Farmers Federation). Every day industry processes become more advanced, with the inclusion of agtech and biotechnology and fantastic research and development from organisations like Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia, and Hort Innovation. Agriculture has made a remarkable effort towards sustainability, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 63% since 1996 (National Farmers Federation) and championing sustainability practices through structures such as the Beef and Dairy Sustainability Frameworks and the Citrus Biosecurity Program. The industry is current, complex and vibrant: so why isn’t this reflected in schools and universities?
I think a large part of the answer is the misconception amongst students that working in agriculture means following one of three career paths – farming, agribusiness/agri-banking or agronomy. For the length of my Bachelor’s degree, I believed I would have to make a choice between a successful career in PR, and my love for agriculture. Fortunately, I found Currie, and now I work in Melbourne’s CBD for a leading communications agency, where I focus on ag and sustainability every day.
Shaun Darmody, a friend of mine and a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management graduate from Wagga Wagga, NSW, told me he thinks there is more to agriculture than students realise.
“There are jobs in ag that I still haven’t discovered. For now, I think the best way to learn about them is to get involved with it, and then find out and keep learning,” he said.
If Shaun and I, born and bred in the industry, weren’t sure of the opportunities available to us, what hope do urban students have? Agriculture can provide an incredible space for our aspiring communicators, policy makers, politicians, engineers, scientists, educators, designers and more. They’ll be inspired to join it, when we spread the word.
It was great to see an article in the Financial Review about the University of Melbourne doing just that. I hope to see the trend catch on!