Agricultural training and development

Right now, Australia’s agricultural sector is booming and primed for further growth. However, if we’re to realise our potential as a premium food-producing nation and help feed a projected global population of 9.5 billion by 2050, it’s crucial that more young Australians pursue careers in this diverse, dynamic and profitable area.

“It’s a really exciting time for the agriculture industry in Australia,” says Liz Tudor, Associate Professor and Associate Dean, Curriculum Strategy at University of Melbourne (UoM), which revamped its Bachelor of Agriculture course last year to ensure graduates are industry-ready. “There’s enormous interest … and tremendous investment in agriculture,” she says. “And with that investment … comes the need for highly trained, skilled individuals.”

So where do the next generation of Australian farmers and agribusiness leaders go to expand their knowledge, gain qualifications, seek funding, find mentors, and forge successful careers?

Tertiary study

Studying agriculture or a related discipline at a tertiary institution is the best way to gain comprehensive, current industry knowledge and an armoury of skills.

Several Australian universities have world-class credentials in ag-related fields, along with state-of-the-art farm facilities, cutting-edge technology centres and renowned research hubs.

The University of Sydney has the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, while University of Tasmania researchers are at the forefront of sensor technology. The University of New England’s facilities for ag students include a cotton-research hub and the high-tech SMART Farm.

Agribusiness is the focus at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong, while the University of Adelaide’s Waite Research Precinct claims to have “the largest concentration of expertise in the Southern Hemisphere” on plant biotechnology, cereal breeding, sustainable agriculture, wine, horticulture and land management.

University of Melbourne’s upgraded Bachelor of Agriculture degree aims to equip graduates for careers in 21st-century farming. At the university’s Dookie Campus—the Southern Hemisphere’s largest educational farm facility—students get hands-on experience with the latest technology, equipment and systems, including an automated dairy.

Agribusiness recruitment expert Nigel Crawley of Rimfire Resources is confident UoM’s new Bachelor degree will turn out industry-ready graduates who “connect to the workforce in a range of different sectors.” Enrolment in the course in 2016 saw the largest growth of any agricultural educational program in Australia.

Upskilling & career development

Government and industry bodies, private corporations, research organisations and educational institutions offer various incentives for young people wanting to further their careers in primary industries, including professional development and training programs, webinars, workshops, conferences and forums, trade delegations and field days.

Seek and you’ll find hundreds of grants, scholarships, challenges, awards and assistance programs for up-and-comers in ag-related fields that, along with funding, provide opportunities for invaluable real-world learning via networking, sponsorship, mentoring, business coaching, industry placements and career-focused travel.

Find support: eight of the best

1. Nuffield scholarships

Many young primary producers have found their callings—and lifelong friendships—through the global Nuffield organisation.

Fifth-generation Victorian orchardist Mitchell McNab used his bursary to investigate horticultural robotics and labour-saving tech in 2016. Tania Chapman, a 2014 Nuffield Scholar from Mildura, used hers to research citrus varieties.

Nuffield is the leading program for primary producers in Australia, identifying new leaders … and continuing to drive excellence in our agricultural industry,” says Nuffield Australia CEO Jodie Dean.

In 2017, Nuffield Australia is offering a record 30 industry-sponsored scholarships.

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2. ABARES National Science & Innovation awards

ABARES’ annual Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry recognise the next generation of ag-industry leaders with substantial bursaries and the chance to realise their visions. Fourth-generation farmer, ag-economics graduate and Farm Apps start-up founder Jock Graham, winner of this year’s Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA)-sponsored award, used the $22,000 bursary to build on his Nuffield Scholarship findings and continue his work with farm-friendly digital technology.

3. RIRDC Horizon program

The Rural Industries R&D Corporation’s Horizon program has helped hundreds of tertiary students forge successful careers

in agriculture. Each Horizon Scholar gets $5,000 a year in education-related funding, an assigned mentor, work placements and connections to farmers and agriculture experts across Australia.

Horizon Scholar Kate Johnston says help with course fees was the drawcard but the scholarship delivered more than expected. “I haven’t found a better program,” she says. Johnston’s first industry placement, at Gundamain Feedlot, gave her a real-world education not just in animal health and nutrition but in technology, team dynamics and business.

Horizon Scholar Jack Mooney says the program has been “fantastic in giving me opportunities”, citing egg-industry placements and presenting at the Australian Egg Corporation’s AGM as highlights.

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4. CSIRO training programs

The CSIRO offers career and training opportunities for young scientists including postdoctoral fellowships, scholarships and industry traineeships, with many program participants going on to pursue careers in ag-related R&D.

5. Westpac Bicentennial Foundation

The Westpac Bicentennial Foundation’s Westpac Scholarship Program aims to fund 100 scholarships and fellowships every year. One hundred million dollars has been set aside to assist future generations in areas the Foundation has deemed to be key: technology and innovation, Australia’s ties with Asia, and being a force for positive change.

Scholars from across five scholarship categories will receive ongoing networking, learning and development opportunities so they can further their research and help shape future growth and prosperity.

6. Adama Young Agronomist of the Year award

Since its launch in 2015, Adama’s agronomy award has recognised dozens of people under 30 working to promote sustainable farming practice. Inaugural Young Agronomist of the Year, WA’s Courtney Piesse, won an agricultural study tour across the United States.

“Young agronomists are unsung heroes and our future,” Adama’s marketing GM Adam Phelan says, noting the key role they play in helping farmers adopt new technology and efficiency measures.

7. Future Farmers Network

Along with opportunities to exchange information and ideas, the Future Farmers Network (FFN) offers supplementary educational funding via scholarships and bursaries, personal and professional development designed to help “empower, support and retain young people in Australian agriculture”.

Member Casey Dahl, a University of Queensland ag-science student and an advocate for Meat & Livestock Australia through Art4Agriculture, sees involvement in communities such as FFN as “crucial” to success in the industry. “The more people you meet, the more opportunities you’ll get,” Casey explains.

8. Horticulture Innovation Australia Fund

Recruiting and retaining the next generation is crucial to the sector’s ongoing success, says Horticulture Innovation Australia CEO John Lloyd. “There is so much passion and talent among young people. We want to attract the best and the brightest.”

A series of initiatives with co-investors in HIA’s Leadership Fund “will provide opportunities for horticulture professionals at all stages of their careers to propel themselves up the leadership ladder,” Lloyd contends. Two early intiatives are a nine-month masterclass in global horticultural business and an industry-focused national PhD scholarship scheme.

More information:

ABARES Science and Innovation Awards: agriculture.gov.au/abares/conferences-events/scienceawards

Adama Young Agronomist of the Year Award: youngagroaward.com.au

CSIRO training programs: csiro.au/en/careers

Future Farmers Network: futurefarmers.com.au/education/scholarship-opportunities

Horizon Scholarship Program: rirdc.gov.au/horizon

Horticulture Innovation Australia: horticulture.com.au

Nuffield Australia: nuffield.com.au

Westpac Bicentennial Foundation: bicentennial.westpacgroup.com.au

WORDS: Merran White

The articles represent the views of the authors and not necessarily that of the Bank. You should seek independent professional advice before acting on any matters set out in the articles.

Reproduced from the Summer 2017 edition of Westpac’s Agribusiness publication "Produce"

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