City school-leavers look to future in agriculture

Georgia Osborne did not grow up on a farm, nor did she seriously consider studying agriculture when she was in high school.

The 20-year-old, who was raised in Melbourne’s inner east, was certain she would do something in humanities when she left high school.

“I loved theatre, drama, history and biology, so I assumed it would be something in the arts or possibly marine ­biology,” Georgia said.

“I was a bit of an allrounder in that I was good at everything, but not outstanding at one thing.”

She applied for the Bachelor of Arts-Bachelor of Science ­degree at Melbourne University and listed a Bachelor of Agriculture course as her second preference.

“It was Mum who actually suggested I put down ag as an option because my Dad had studied it at the University of Sydney and really enjoyed it,” she said.

Georgia missed out on her first choice, but was accepted into arts-science at Monash University. By that stage, however, she was intent on taking up the agricultural degree.

“I remember going to an open day and seeing the stats for how many graduate jobs there were in agriculture,” she said. “I thought that was ­impressive. And I also liked the way that agriculture and farming affects everyone..”

In 2016, the National Farmers’ Federation estimated for every agricultural graduate there were 2½ jobs available.

A 2016 report in Agricultural Science confirmed the demand for ag workers.

“It is clear that the proportion of agricultural graduates in full-time employment is 12-15 per cent higher than the proportion of all graduates,” the report stated.

The Good Universities Guide estimated bachelor degrees in agriculture were now split about half and half between students from the country and city kids.

“Not only are many agriculture students from the city these days, quite a few of them never actually leave,” Good Education Group chief executive Chris Lester said.

“As farming practices evolve and become ever more complex and hi-tech, formal qualifications will be needed like never before.”

It is all music to Georgia’s ears. She has recently changed her major to plants and soil science and would like to become a researcher or an agronomist when she graduates next year.

“I think people think that ag is just working on the land or driving a tractor,” she said.

“But you can do pretty much any job within the field of ag. There are so many applications for it.”

Georgia spent a semester this year studying at Melbourne University’s Dookie agricultural campus, working in a real-world agricultural context for the first time.

“It was so much better than being on campus because you could actually see what you were learning about,” she said.

Many of her friends have chosen broad science or arts degrees, but she prefers the close-knit world of the agriculture faculty.

“The thing with ag is that it is a smaller department so I am still friends with people I met on day one,” she said. “I think it forces you to get out of your comfort zone as you’re not in one of the larger faculties with so many students.”

And her advice to school leavers is to think twice before they dismiss ag: you do not need to have grown up on the land or even want to grow crops to study it.

“I have friends in my course who want to do engineering or policy work,” Georgia said.

Dookie campus director and Bachelor of Agriculture course co-ordinator Ros Gall said precision agriculture and smart farming were changing the nature of agriculture.

“Vehicles such as tractors will increasingly become driver­less, and farmers can now be in a city or overseas and still remotely turn on their irrigation systems using their smartphones,” Ms Gall said.

“The industry will increasingly need to rely on greater numbers of professionals to provide the expertise and ­advice to make the best use of technology, inform decision-making and maximise productivity.”

According to Good Education Group, the University of Melbourne is Victoria’s largest enroller of agriculture students, with more than 360.

For more information on agriculture courses and providers, as well as what career paths an agriculture degree can lead to, visit www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au

 

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Times – City girl studies at Melbourne University’s Dookie agricultural campus

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