Should more levy funding be directed to ag education?

Eric Barker, 16/08/2022

EDUCATION has been high on the agenda in recent weeks, with Queensland ag colleges going up for sale again and a beef industry leader calling to give young children better access to agriculture.

Naturally, funding has come up as the next topic of discussion as the calls for an overhaul are likely to come with a cost.

The industry already puts plenty of funding into education, with programs run by most state farm organisations and research and development corporations.

However, Agforce sheep and wool president Mike Pratt said there was an opportunity for livestock levies to help train new staff, especially with the closure of the Longreach Pastoral College in western Qld.

“We are hoping they might consider a training component within the levy,” Mr Pratt said.

“It would have to be a national scheme, but there is a shortage of livestock industry workers throughout Australia. I’m mainly interested in the Longreach Pastoral College and I know it will need funding if it is to re-open at some point.

“With the looming threat of Foot and Mouth there is going to be a need for more investments in other sides of agriculture, but I think it would only need a small amount to assist with training.”

Everybody on the same page

Funding was also flagged as an issue by ACC CEO Anthony Lee in his address to the Qld Rural Press Club at the Brisbane Ekka earlier this month. He pointed out that the national training body the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA) – operates with an annual budget of just $500,000 to $750,000 – which he said was less than ACC’s HR budget.

Speaking to Beef Central after the address Mr Lee said he would like to see the entire agricultural industry come together and form a strategy before forming a funding model. He described the current education outlook as a scattergun approach.

“I’m sure there is a heap more ideas out there from the great people in our industry that we can pool together so we create the goal,” he said.

“I think the peak bodies need to come together first and agree that it is a concept, then you bring the RDCs into it because they are the funding source.”

Mr Lee said creating an effective education and training model for the agricultural industry was not likely to cost a lot of money.

“I’m not sure exactly how much funding we need, but I’m talking numbers like 1pc of the research and development funding available,” he said.

“We really need to understand the vision first, then we can work out the financial requirements.”

$4.3m in education

A spokesperson for Meat & Livestock Australia said the organisation was planning to spend $4.3 million on education this year.

MLA listed the following industry leadership programs it is supporting:

  • Horizon Scholarships – two undergraduate scholars annually
  • Nuffield Australia Program ( > 20 years ) – 1 scholar annually
  • Zanda Mcdonald – one Scholar annually
  • Australian Beef industry Foundation – Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program – 3 scholars annually
  • Australian Rural Leadership Foundation Program ( > 20 years ) a significant number through various MLA programs across the years – now consolidated at two annually
  • MLA has provided Ambassadors for the Red Meat Industry training courses to over 200 participants since 2020, with another year of training planned this financial year MLA Ambassadors for the Red Meat Industry Program | Meat & Livestock Australia
  • Through MLA’s support for the Peak Industry Councils, MLA has sponsored the CCA Rising Champions program, sponsors a few of the ALFA leadership programs such as the ARLP and TRIAL , and also sponsors similar programs with Sheep Producers Australia and Goat Industry Council Australia’

The programs through its school education program were:

  • Educating school students through virtual classrooms with producers facilitated by teachers via Kimberlin Education: KE Teacher Event: Smart Farming Virtual Classroom. Sessions are held each school term, with 20 sessions hosted over last year.
  • Provision of school education resources and digital resources such as the Virtual Reality 360 Tours (including a segment in the Beef VR involving ACC processing plant) – for using in the classroom or via VR googles.
  • Education and career development information provided through links to ALFA’s FeedlotTech and AMPCs career and education resources.
  • Provision of lesson plans and resources for teachers and students – all materials are currently being updated, with suite consisting of resources for Foundation to Year 10 due to be launched late Term 3 / early Term 4 of the 2022 school year. These have been developed by teachers for teachers and students aligned to the new school curriculum.
  • Founding members of the Primary Industries Education Foundation of Australia (PIEFA) which provides coordination of initiatives to encourage primary industries education in schools through a partnership between industry, government and educators.
  • Through the Royal Shows – we support and participate in the school education program, with sessions hosting schools into the Australian Good Meat paddock to plate Igloo experience – next will be at the Ekka where we’ll be hosting schools at the Australian Good Meat stand with loads of educational material – with MLA staff and Red Meat Ambassadors involved in hosting the sessions / school visits.
  • Development of web-based interactive beef and lamb paddock to plate tours for students to gain a deeper education about red meat supply chains. Project will be ready to launch in 2023 school year.







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  1. Angus Hobson, 17/08/2022

    There’s an ever-increasing strain on socialised monies (levies and taxes) right across the ag sector.

    Australia is uniquely privileged to access dollar-for-dollar tax and levy matching in the research space.

    I think a better question is: what is the priority (preferably on an ROI basis) given to the likes of:

    Chemical residues

    I would like to think that a profitable, vibrant and sustainable ag sector is built from all the pillars above. And from that, we will attract the best and brightest minds, without having to subsidise their education with socialised monies.

    We also need to think about what levels of education we’re aspiring to for the future. Sure, we’ll need more under- and post-graduate expertise to support ag innovation in the future, but I’d hazard a guess (an experienced guess) that the biggest deficit in ag right now (and in the future) is a basic labour force – the type of one that comes from the ‘school of hard knocks’ rather than umpteen years spent at university.

    Investment in scholarly programs (Nuffield, ARLP, ABIF, etc) and ambassadorial activities are all important, but again the level of levy investment into these activities needs to be periodically scrutinised on an ROI basis.

    No doubt there’s an issue with the demise of ag colleges, but we’d want to thresh out the ‘cause and effect’ behind that before we go throwing levy monies at it.

    Take home message: it’s extremely easy to default to a call on levy-funding for EVERYTHING that we do. We need to tread that path with care to make sure it’s not creating perverse outcomes (mandatory unionism, etc) and that any investments made are – on an objective, tangible basis – delivering a return to the very levy payers who are footing the bill.

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