Agriculture at 'crisis point'

Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture secretary and Charles Sturt University research professor Jim Pratley.
Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture secretary and Charles Sturt University research professor Jim Pratley.

THE agricultural industry has reached a crisis point that can no longer be ignored.

This is the assessment of Charles Sturt University (CSU) research professor and secretary of the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA) Jim Pratley who is actively pushing to ensure the number of graduates entering agricultural careers increases over the coming years to deal with a long-standing shortage of industry professionals.

The industry was recently shaken when the University of Western Sydney was forced to cancel its agricultural course at its Hawksbury campus after fewer than 10 enrolments this year. While CSU has seen a jump in enrolments by 17 per cent this year and with other universities including New England and Sydney enrolments following suit, the enrolments are nowhere near enough to turn out the amount of graduates needed to fill job demands.

"The demands for jobs are for around 4500 graduates a year, but nationally we are producing 700 graduates," Professor Pratley said.

"I think the agricultural industry has been a bit tardy or complacent in promoting careers, but there has been a move towards other trendy courses like business, IT, health and mining.

"There is also a perception that agriculture is back in the last century and we haven't done a lot to dispel that, but the reality is that production gains in agriculture are the highest of any sector and are higher and almost double that of the national average. It encompasses technology and efficiency."

Now the crisis has been highlighted through data collected at a government level, Professor Pratley said the ACDA is hopeful action will now be taken to ensure the next generation of the industry through promoting its strength and importance.

Concerns have been echoed by Senator Fiona Nash.

"Agriculture is a multibillion dollar industry which contributes generously to the national, state and regional economies and at a time when there is an ever increasing focus on food production and food security and changing technology, we need to build up a skilled workforce," she said.

She also called on the federal government to help attract new generations to farming.