Sector needs to attract talent

The global agriculture sector faces some significant challenges in keeping up with demand as 2050 approaches.

It is estimated that, by the middle of this century, agriculture will have to provide food and fibre for nearly 10 billion people.

According to the Gap Initiative report by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the US: consumers need more nutritious food that is affordable and safe; producers seek innovation to help them beat climate change and natural resource constraints; and the entire agrifood value chain must rapidly adopt new practices and tools that contribute to a healthy sustainable world.

A strategy is required that focuses on sustainable agricultural productivity growth to meet current and future demands, while protecting the environment and ensuring the productive sustainability of the agricultural sector for future generations.

Agricultural productivity increases when farmers implement technologies and production practices that produce more crops and livestock from fewer resources.

According to a position paper by the International Agri-Food Network, a key element to supporting increased agricultural productivity is to engage young agricultural leaders and equip them with the knowledge, resources, and access to markets needed to produce and distribute food to feed the world.

However, in Australia we seem to be missing the mark.

Since the early 2000s we have seen a decline in the availability of agricultural graduates in Australia, often due to perceptions that agricultural career paths were not attractive and that there were limited career opportunities available.

The 2016 Australian census highlights the difficulty the agricultural sector faces in attracting the brightest minds, with the bulk of the agricultural workforce holding no recognised non-school qualification.

Indeed, 55 per cent of the agricultural workforce comprised employees with no qualifications beyond the high school level, compared to 33 per cent within the broader Australian workforce.

Employees with certificate and advanced diploma levels of education were roughly similar between the agricultural industry and the broader Australian workplace.

However, employees holding bachelor’s degree qualifications were significantly lower in the agricultural sector (10 per cent) compared to those within the broader Australian workforce (22 per cent).

A similar disparity was seen at the postgraduate level: 2 per cent in the agricultural sector versus 7 per cent across the total workforce.

A 2017 study undertaken by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in Western Australia discovered that the benefits for agricultural graduates, such as job security, job variety, competitive salaries and an industry that embraces innovation, are not well-understood by school leavers.

The DPIRD study also listed the following reasons raised by youth against considering an agricultural career.

• Not being from a farming background.

• Reluctance to move to a regional area.

• Unaware of the jobs available in the agricultural industry.

• Can earn more money in a different industry.

• Agriculture sector lacks technology/ innovation.

A 2010 report from Pratley and Hay indicated there were at least six agricultural jobs for every agricultural graduate and that the shortfall in the availability of suitable was a threat to the sustainability of agricultural industries within Australia.

“[It is crucial to] reframe agriculture as a business choice that is intellectually, socially and financially rewarding, as well as one in which young people can have an incredible impact on issues such as climate change, hunger, displacement, poverty and more,” the International Agri-Food Network reported in 2018.

Currently, working within the agriculture sector is perceived by many school leavers as ‘just being a farmer’.

While it is understood, within the agricultural sector, that farming is a crucial aspect of the industry that underpins all the other non-farming agricultural job avenues, it is not the only role within agriculture. In order to attract our brightest minds, the agriculture sector needs to promote the broader range of interesting and varied career options that come under the agricultural industry banner.

• Matt Dalgleish is a manager of commodity market insights at Thomas Elder Markets (TEM)

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