As agriculture enters the digital age, industry is questioning whether current education practices are fit for future.
Tackling the topic at the Agrifutures EvokeAg conference was a panel comprising of CQ University researcher and Gippsland dairy farmers Dr Amy Cosby, agricultural graduate and AgriFutures future young leader Callan Daley, current Charles Sturt University agricultural student and AgriFutures future young leader Angela Hughes and facilitator Startup.Business CEO Jo Burston.
Dr Cosby said appropriate education needed to start in primary school and follow through with tertiary and industry training to effectively deliver the skills needed to thrive in agriculture's future.
"At an event such as EvokeAg there is a lot of agtech tools and systems on show, but as primary producers we sometimes forget we already collect a lot of data and the aim is to use the data effectively," she said.
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"They need to be able to separate out the 'smoke and mirrors' from something with a more tangible outcome for the industry."
Dr Cosby said a recent project completed by CQ University looked at encouraging innovative thinking in primary and secondary students through collaboration with food and fibre industries.
"I think it is a university's role to work with other organisations to assist with collaborative thinking, instead of targeting just at a tertiary level we can get students thinking about food and fibre from a young age," she said.
At a tertiary level, Dr Cosby said students also needed to play their part, seeking out opportunities to innovate in a collaborative way.
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"Universities offer a lot of opportunities and students need to take them up on those opportunities and make the most of them," she said.
"We are actively invested in wanting our students to succeed in the industry, we want to see industry collaborations and we want them to be useful employees."
Having grown up on a beef farm in CQ, Mr Daley agreed that gaining experience in the paddock supported tertiary learning and that there needed to be more focus on direct high-level pathways into agriculture, through the tertiary sector.
"People in agriculture need to push and drive change," he said.
"We love working with our hands, we love thinking, we love problem solving.
"We need to create pathways for kids to get a high-level but hands-on, lateral, creative thinking degree or diploma that allows them to launch straight into agriculture."
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Mr Daley said it was important to attract and retain critical, forward and lateral thinkers in the industry, however the traditional STEM education paradigm of concentrating on science, technology, engineering and maths programs should perhaps be supplemented with a specific agricultural stream.
"Agriculture currently tries to attract the best thinkers from other industries, rather than having the best thinkers come to us," he said.
"Collaboration has to come from the idea that agriculture is an extremely advanced and professional career to pursue, we know that, but not everyone outside knows it."
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