Developing the skills needed to pursue a career in agtech is becoming a more clearcut process thanks to tertiary education providers.
The Australian agtech industry is predicted to be worth $100 billion by 2030, according to the Australian Information Industry Association.
However, the industry needs to double its growth rate to meet this target and is hindered by a skills shortage.
It's a problem Melbourne Polytechnic and the University of Southern Queensland are hoping to address through two new bachelor degrees.
Melbourne Polytechnic will offer the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology, while USQ will offer a Bachelor of Agricultural Technology and Management from semester one, 2022.
USQ water and environmental engineering lecturer Justine Baillie and Associate Professor in plant agricultural sciences Keith Pembleton are the program directors for the Bachelor of Agricultural Technology and Management degree.
The degree is open for enrollments and takes three years to complete full-time. It can be studied on-campus or externally and can also be completed part-time.
Assoc Prof Pembleton said students can study an agricultural science or agricultural engineering degree, with USQ offering the only fully accredited agricultural engineering program in Australia.
However, he said a gap exists between those two worlds around agtech.
"Agtech takes parts of agricultural engineering, particularly around sensing, automation, data and programming but also needs to apply it in a farming system, which gets into the role of ag science," Assoc Prof Pembleton said.
The degree is 'quite novel' in its structure; it has a work-integrated learning core and knowledge content scaffolds off of this.
Assoc Prof Pembleton said the course would offer hands-on training and every year students will engage with industry and employers.
Ms Baillie said the program is aimed at addressing the broad base of competency needed for a career in agtech.
"That's one of the other really big features of it; it's a really multidisciplinary program," she said.
"Essentially you're taking all the elements that are important to agtech, because agtech isn't something that operates in isolation - you're dealing with your production system, the financial implications and aspects of employing and developing that agtech, legal implications, people and resources."
Melbourne Polytechnic director of Higher Education Dr Nicola Cooley said specialised skills in agtech are in demand across Australia.
"The Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology is a hands-on qualification that was developed with industry, ensuring students learn the right skills to support employment or run their own business or farm," Dr Cooley said.
"This unique program will enable students to strengthen their employment prospects by studying courses that were co-designed with industry input and are at the forefront of farming knowledge."
Dr Cooley said many students live on farms or in rural communities and work while studying.
As such, the delivery of the degree is blended, with some subjects requiring attendance and intensive workshops run where possible.
It is a three-year full-time degree with part-time options available and applications open next week.
This unique program will enable students to strengthen their employment prospects by studying courses that were co-designed with industry input and are at the forefront of farming knowledge.- Dr Nicole Cooley
The University of Western Australia has also reshaped its course model to allow students to major in agricultural technology as part of specialist degrees.
UWA School of Agriculture and Environment head of school Associate Professor James Fogarty said two new specialist degrees were officially approved in 2021 - the Bachelor of Agricultural Science and Bachelor of Agribusiness.
"In 2021, the UWA School of Agriculture and Environment opted for a soft launch of new teaching programs, with undergraduate majors in agricultural science, agricultural technology, and agribusiness," Assoc Prof Fogarty said.
"From 2022, when the new degrees in agricultural science and agribusiness become available, students will still be able to take any of the new majors, including agricultural technology, as part of a general Bachelor of Science degree, or will be able to combine agricultural technology with either agribusiness or agricultural science to complete a specialist degree."
Australian Agritech Association chairman Andrew Coppin said innovation needs to be prioritised but in order to do that the agtech sector needs to attract the right talent.
He said agritech was much more than just a component within agriculture and, as its own industry, it warrants its own specialised tertiary education offerings.
"Formal, tertiary education in agritech is a great addition to the hands-on education and training being offered by some of the most successful Australian agritech start-ups," he said.
"An Australian-made, science-based, research-backed education in agriculture will help nurture the next generation of talent, evangelise for agritech as an attractive opportunity for school leavers and bridge the gap between agriculture and technology."
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