Agriculture education investment needed to build future workforce

THE Nationals are calling for big financial investment in agriculture education to inspire students to pursue a career in the industry.

Speaking in State Parliament, the Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Melina Bath said Victoria needed a targeted funding program to increase participation in secondary schools agriculture curriculum.

“Victoria’s agriculture industry is predicted to be worth $100 billion by 2030 and we need an educated and skilled workforce to match, however Victoria has a vulnerability in its agricultural workforce supply chain,” Ms Bath said.

“To continue producing world-class food and fibre, we must ensure students have ‘paddock ready’ practical experiences to complement the classroom theory.

“Modern agricultural careers can be promoted as a ‘first choice’ option if schools are equipped with the right facilities and qualified teaching staff.”

At a recent Victorian Farmers Federation Agriculture in Education Forum, where Ms Bath presented, agriculture educators raised their concerns at the lack of secondary schools teaching practical courses.

Only 35 secondary schools in Victoria (5.8 per cent) offered Units 1/2 in Agriculture and Horticulture (Year 11) and only 26 schools (4.3 per cent) offered the Unit 3/4 in Agriculture & Horticulture (Year 12).

In-school Vocational Education and Training (VET) statistics for 2021 showed 1470 students started studying a Certificate II in Agriculture, but only 265 students or 18 per cent successfully completed it.

Ms Bath said it was important to expose students from non-farming backgrounds to the exciting opportunities in modern agriculture and horticulture.

“Extensive hands-on experience to develop the skills involved in soil and plant biology, animal breeding and welfare, machinery operations, weed and pest control and aquiculture is needed,” Ms Bath said.

“Given Victoria has 25 per cent of the nation’s farms, (the government) should be focused on developing an education system to reflect the importance of our food and fibre production.

“Agriculture education in Victoria will only be enhanced when our students have increased access to quality practical opportunities in the curriculum, and this can be achieved through state government targeted investment.”

Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Emma Kealy said the state government had paid little care or attention to Victoria’s looming agriculture workforce “crisis”.

“To build our workforce for the future, the Andrews government must invest in opportunities for secondary school students to pursue their interests in agriculture and horticulture,” Ms Kealy said.

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