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THE changing landscape of Australian agriculture is creating a raft of opportunities across the sector, according to well-known agribusiness banker, Khan Horne.
Following the conclusion of the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program in Geelong last week, Mr Horne, general manager of agribusiness with National Australia Bank, said a number of factors were colliding to create a boom for agricultural careers.
"We have seen strong growth in corporate agriculture, increasing by around 40 percent in the five years to 2011," he said.
"And for the first time in years, agricultural student enrolments are up, and quite significantly. According to the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, enrolments have increased across the board by around 15 percent.”
"Agriculture in Australia has an exciting future. In the coming decades food production will need to increase by an estimated 70pc to feed the growing global population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations,” Mr Horne said.
"This challenge will need to be met by innovative and educated minds, and I'm encouraged by the shift we're starting to see and the quality of the leadership being shown across the industry."
Larger operations required a range of employees to support the business – from farm managers, agronomists and veterinarians to the full range of business functions including business managers, human resources, finance and communications.
This in turn would result in an even greater need for agricultural graduates and those with experience in the sector, as well as for graduates who want to work in related areas, he said.
"What is interesting and quite unique about the agriculture sector is the level of passion it inspires in those involved."
"There is something innately appealing about working in an industry that feeds and clothes Australians and millions of people around the world. And for many the professionalism of running a farm enterprise is only improved by the lifestyle factors and benefits of living in a regional or rural location,” Mr Horne said.
For those aspire to running a farm business, or a business along the value chain, there were significant barriers to entry, however. The capital required to take on a property could be prohibitive, especially if an individual was going out on their own or starting out in the industry.
"The corporate sector offers the experience and lifestyle, without the high cost of entry or financial risk," Mr Horne said.
Today about 29pc of farm managers are women. Further training and tertiary qualifications amongst farmers have increased significantly since the mid-1980s. In 1986 one in ten farmers had some form of further education. At the most recent Census in 2011, this had jumped to one in three.
Mr Horne said farmers and graziers across the board were recognising the need to increase their skills, and were relying more on consultants and other specialists in all areas of their business.
"These factors place the industry in a strong position to drive future growth and make inroads with the severe shortage of skilled staff.
"It is well-established that there are not enough graduates to fill the available jobs in agriculture. The latest findings show that there are now five jobs to each graduate,” he said.
"Given the skills shortage, the average starting wage for an agricultural graduate is more than that of a veterinarian. It’s certainly appealing to school students deciding on a career path and to those already working but who are interested in a career change."
- NAB Agribusiness marks 20 years this year as the sponsor of the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program, which to date has produced more than 700 graduates.