The future of any sector depends on the quality of the future leaders coming up through the ranks. The current challenges facing the future growth of the agribusiness sector are evident and need to be tackled, at an academic, government and corporate level.
Education is at the core of the issue; nationwide statistics pointing to a lack of engagement from students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects is a trend that needs to be reversed to ensure the future of the sector.
Richard Dickmann, Head of New Business Development at Bayer CropScience, said that Australia has a real opportunity to become global leaders in this space: “With Australia’s large area under production and a strong history of research and development in the agriculture space, we have the potential to profit from growing demand for high quality food in Asia, addressing the issues of a rapidly rising population.
“However, this can only be achieved if we can tackle the significant production challenges facing the industry, including climate change, resource limitation and labour shortages,” he said.
There are three key ways to use education as a catalyst for change in the agribusiness sector.
Educating future leaders to drive the future of agriculture
At the fundamental level, encouraging participation in STEM subjects at an early stage in the education system is vital.
Australian universities currently graduate only 800 agricultural students per year; however research has shown that there is demand in the industry for over 2,000 graduates each year. Filling this skills gap is integral to securing the successful future of the agriculture industry; the risks of failing to do so are great.
“It is important that programs target students at every step, starting from primary and continuing through to tertiary education,” said Mr Dickmann.
“It is critical that corporate Australia recognises their responsibility and the role that they have to play in this.
“The Youth Agricultural Summit is a high profile and effective way to reach university students and young adults already in the industry, engaging them in some of the key industry issues such as food security.
“These sorts of programs are really valuable in ensuring that there is a strong pipeline of future leaders of the industry coming through,” Mr Dickmann continued.
Educating and engaging the public in key health and food issues
The broader education of the public is vital to promoting the importance of science, and this resonates particularly strongly across the topic of food, where the public is highly engaged. The increasingly broad understanding of industry issues such as the importance of food security and heightening safety standards can be used as an opportunity to engage the wider public, which in turn can have the effect of driving policy and corporate action.
Continuing learning throughout a career
Another important way in which Australian businesses can support STEM and help to drive change is to ensure that learning continues throughout a person’s career. Learning should not stop once a person’s formal education is complete. Corporate development schemes are important to prompt innovative thinking once an individual is involved in the industry, and can be a force for change by encouraging people to think beyond their day to day role and about larger issues and challenges that the sector faces.
This sort of development can help to drive Australia from where it is today to where it needs to be; taking centre stage globally in the most innovative areas of agriculture.
The agriculture sector in Australia is at a pivotal point in its history; securing its future will be a collaborative effort between the academic sector, corporations and government. The coming years will be critical to this, with the need for more interest from the next generation of leaders more acute than ever. With effective and engaging education across up and coming students, those already working in the industry as well as the wider public, Australia has the potential to be a true global leader in this space.
Image: Richard Dickman – Head of New Business Department Bayer CropScience
First published in Leading Agriculture Issue 6