FARMERS are warning that unless agriculture is added to the school curriculum, Australia won’t have the expertise to keep the sector competitive.
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says the industry also needs more cash for research and development, a stronger relationship with animal activists and a dedicated ministry of food and fibre to promote its needs.
The ideas were unveiled on Thursday in the NFF’s Blueprint for Australian Agriculture, the first report of its kind on the future of farming in Australia.
Developed by farmers, the report outlines seven critical areas for shoring up the $50 billion industry as it faces threats to its competitiveness, trade access and natural resources.
Federation president Jock Laurie said it was time to stop procrastinating about embedding agriculture in the national school curriculum.
The trend of fewer students enrolling in tertiary agriculture could worsen, with higher salaries failing to attract workers to farms, he said.
Careers in agriculture needed to be promoted as rewarding and skilled, so more children from non-farming backgrounds would want a job in farming, Mr Laurie said.
“A lot of the workforce, in the end, won’t be coming out of our traditional agriculturally bred people,” he told AAP on Thursday.
“It will be coming out of people who see an opportunity.”
The NFF hopes educating the nation’s young about farming will also help bridge the gap between city and country, especially on prickly issues such as live animal exports and environmental sustainability.
Building trust in agriculture and closer ties with activist groups would also have positive outcomes, the 4000 farmers who contributed to the report concluded.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we’re so far removed from the general community that we don’t understand their concerns, and they don’t understand our concerns,” Mr Laurie said.
Rural R&D investment has stagnated since the mid-1970s, threatening productivity and expertise in areas like cultivating northern Australia.
Mr Laurie said while the onus didn’t sit entirely with the federal government, one way to boost the industry could be to offer tax incentives for investment in rural research.
Meanwhile, forging free trade agreements with lucrative markets in India, China and Korea would put Australia on an equal footing with some of its global competitors, he said.
Mr Laurie said a federal ministry of food and fibre would ensure the industry wasn’t “taken for granted” and would be “on the agenda all day, every day”.
Foreign investment would play a key role in the future of the sector, but a national register of farm ownership was desperately needed to boost transparency and reassure the community.
“At this stage it’s very difficult to make judgment about whether foreign investment is good for the Australian community or not,” Mr Laurie said.