A HIGH-level think-tank of national food and fibre leaders have committed to expanding agriculture’s influence in the Australian school curriculum.
Nominations are now open for a working group, which will spend six months preparing a strategy to boost food and fibre education in schools.
The move was backed by more than 50 peak council and RDC CEOS, MDs, chairs and their nominees who met in Brisbane on Friday (April 21).
The forum was organised by Anthony Lee, CEO of major Queensland-based beef business, Australian Country Choice (ACC), who addressed the Ekka keynote breakfast last August arguing for a stronger presence of food and fibre in the classroom.
Since delivering that address Mr Lee said he had been overwhelmed by messages of support, adding he had been approached by large companies keen to assist. He said it was important for the entire supply chain to buy in.
“We need to know what food and fibre educational excellence looks like,” he said. “We need to know where we are today, and we need to know how to get from here to there.”
The Federal minister for agriculture, Sen Murray Watt and assistant minister for education, Sen Anthony Chisholm attended the invitation-only forum and pledged their support.
Attendees agreed to support the existing Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA) as the national peak food and fibre education body.
The meeting agreed the skillsets needed for the strategy working group, incorporating:
- An independent chair
- A PIEFA representative
- A policy and funding expert
- An education or curriculum expert
- A corporate representative
- A project manager/secretariat
- An RDC representative via the CRRDC
PIEFA CEO Luciano Mesiti will guide the committee selection process, supported by Fiona Simson – president, National Farmers’ Federation; Janine Waller – executive director, Australian Dairy Products Federation; Chris Taylor – CEO Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Michael Guerin – CEO AgForce Queensland.
MLA MD Jason Strong committed to financially support the concept and suggested that funding to be shared proportionally between the RDCs with co-funding from the Federal Government.
Mr Mesiti told the all-morning meeting that there is currently no national year 11 and 12 curriculum.
“It’s mostly all state based and I think there’s a great opportunity for a food and fibre curriculum to support teachers.”
He explained: “While there have been some successes in food and fibre education it really comes down to a small number of really passionate teachers. But once they leave that system and leave that school – that passion is gone, and those programs tend to disappear.”
Sydney’s Barker College has been one of the success stories in agricultural education, developing 1.5pc of all enrolments for Australia agriculture-related university degrees. Head of agriculture Scott Graham told the think tank that Australia has insufficient agriculture-related students graduating from its universities; a six-jobs-per-graduate ratio.
“We’re graduating about 600, maybe 700 from all Australian universities in agriculture each year – so it’s pretty dire and I think it’s at a historical low,” Mr Graham said,
He emphasised the potential for urban students – who are alert to issues such as sustainability – to become engaged in agricultural studies.
Associate Professor Dr Amy Cosby of CQU noted that students based in regional towns might also be unaware of opportunities in agriculture.
“Now, there are often students living in rural and regional areas that don’t have that personal connection through friends or family with someone who works in ag,” she said, recalling a student in dairy-centric Gippsland who earnestly asked her when cows are shorn.
“We need to make sure that we are providing quality educational experiences to everyone in Australia regardless of where they live,” she said, stressing that real-life engagement on-farm is more effective than online teaching resources.
Mr Lee said the industry leaders would be meeting every six months to keep the momentum going “on this extremely important topic”.
“The group will be seeking inputs from across the industry, especially noting grassroots initiatives,” he said.
- A working document showcasing successful education programs was compiled for the meeting and is available at www.piefa.edu.au.
- Nominations will be received by PIEFA at email@example.com before CoB, Friday May 26.
We must shift thinking away from just “agriculture” and more into “food and fibre” in order to present the diversity of career pathways across the value-chain, not just pre-farm gate. When we lose people at a pre-farm gate level they often disappear into another sector entirely instead of looking across the food and fibre value chain so the intelligence/skills still have connectivity. When we speak to students about “agriculture” they often have certain mental images which are different to those when speaking about “food and fibre” where they start to also think about food science, waste and resource recovery, drone pilots, robotics, digital skills in traceability, export supply chains as well as the positioning of agriculture as part of that overall food and fibre value chain. Industry is thinking and referencing more in “food and fibre” which is driving need for education to reflect the same so we can appropriately support ‘jobs of the future’.
I am keen to be able to be involved in this working group regards and believe I can provide input from several points of view. I am the National Coordinator for Landcare Farming Systems, was previously the program manager for Profitable Grazing Systems (MLA) & in a previous career point worked as an Agriculture & Primary Industries teacher for 5 years in northern NSW (Maclean & Grafton) & in Arnhem Land (Gunbalanya). I have worked in Ag my whole working life, graduated Rural Science in the 90’s & have worked in education & training in this sector for some time (as well as a researcher & extension officer). The value of Ag education is really under acknowledged & not well understood by many & the opportunity for this working group to develop a program that will educate, engage & build the opportunity, skills-set & confidence of school students would be of huge value for young people, their families & for our Ag industry that has so many opportunities for so many different thinkers & skill sets. As a woman working in Ag since the 80’s I have watched the evolution of our industry to be more inclusive & believe that there are so many more opportunities that could be developed.
At Ravenshoe State School P-12 in Far North Queensland there is a working dairy. This is a unique enterprise and one that is not being utilized and is in fear of closing down. The dairy was rebuilt with all the latest technology about 5 years ago and has a scientific lab attached, that to my knowledge is not being used effectively. This dairy provides milk to Bega, aka Malanda Milk. The students used to attend all the local Ag shows showcasing their cattle. About 10 years ago the students participated in ‘Farm to Plate’ and got 3rd in Australia overall for their cheesecakes, which they continued to make for our local eateries and cafes. This school needs help to find their way back to utilizing such a unique opportunity. Can you give guidance to our education department!
Potentially wonderful … as long as is is specific to natural foods only .. & not used to promote crickets, lab-grown fake meat & plant protein fake meat.
I shear mine regularly
How do I offer my experience teaching Agriculture for 40years in NSW. Luciano knows me from the NSW Agriculture Teachers Association – I would be willing to go on the committee.
This is an idea whose time has come. Congrats to everyone in that room with the vision to commit to a better Ag education system for Australia. One that is not only fit for purpose but adequately funded .