Agriculture’s Achilles heel identified

Joanna Mather’s article “Agriculture’s future workforce wanes” in the Australian Financial Review on 10 October 2011 accurately identified the time bomb awaiting ignition in Australian agriculture with the drought in the number of students studying agricultural science and associated education having critical importance to the future of Australia’s agricultural industries.

Industry leaders are seeking ways to answer its challenge. The Australian Beef Industry Foundation (ABIF) is actively working to inspire beef industry careers by raising funds and providing tertiary education and industry experience to equip young people in the 18 to 30 year age group with knowledge for careers across the entire beef supply chain.

ABIF fully endorses the comments made in the AFR article “Many past recipients of our overseas scholarships comment that winning this scholarship was a life-changing experience and deepened their commitment to work within the industry. They also said they built up networks of contacts with the knowledge and experience to assist their later needs as they progress through realising their passion” the deputy chairman of ABIF, Mr John Gunthorpe said.

“Research shows that 40% of careers are determined in primary school. When asked about people who work in agriculture, most primary school students could only respond with “farmers”. The Primary Industries Education Foundation (PIEF) is addressing this concern and is developing programmes to inform and broaden primary and secondary schools appreciation of our nation’s rural industries. Their executive manager, Ben Stockwin, recently joined the ABIF board and he will increase our understanding in this important area of work.” Mr Gunthorpe said.

Of particular concern is the shortage of agronomists, “The beef industry relies on growing good pasture, and therefore depends on agronomic advice to determine best practices. The reported shortage of agronomists has significant impact. Soil health and mineral management are important aspects of managing a beef property today. The ability for producers to acquire high quality agronomic advice is an immediate and urgent problem.”

“PIEF provides opportunities in agricultural education for primary and secondary students and ABIF dovetails with their work by providing opportunities in the tertiary sector, including work experience” Mr Gunthorpe said.

In the process of nurturing students through their move from formal education to successful career, mentoring is a clear need and ABIF is developing a team of contacts across the beef industry where students can seek support and guidance. Meat and Livestock Australia run a 3-year Graduate Programme to lift their aspirations and provide out of work projects where members can broaden their experience with activities they would not otherwise encounter.

Cattle Council of Australia (CCA) runs the “Rising Champions Award” to find those interested in agriculture who will become the leaders of tomorrow and to recognise the great work of the young in building the country’s beef supply chain.

Alison McIntosh, another recently appointed director of ABIF, is a past national winner of this CCA award.

Mr Gunthorpe concluded, “That while our work is never ending, it is restricted by our foundation’s ability to raise money for this charitable work. The Australian Beef Industry Foundation Education Fund is accredited by the ATO to be a Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) fund and its board of trustees consists of highly experienced industry leaders including Professor Bob Officer and Rabobank Chairman Mr Bill Gurry AO.

Donations received into this fund are tax deductible by the donor. “We would encourage as many as possible to donate to our fund so this critically important work can continue.”