Ag education the basis for future workforce

View From the Paddock: Ag education the basis for future workforce

OPINION
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The next few years are going to be tough, and View From the Paddock columnist Robin McConchie says ag education is a key to having a young, well-trained workforce ready to ensure the sector can thrive and ensure the future of our economy.

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Robin McConchie, former rural reporter and teacher.

Robin McConchie, former rural reporter and teacher.

Survey after survey confirms a large proportion of city youngsters do not know where milk, meat or pasta come from nor that vegetables grow in the ground and apples come from trees. Certainly few connect sheep with woollen jumpers or cotton growing in a paddock with their jeans.

But does it matter?

Farm lobby groups believe it does matter, but say empathy with farming has faded as society becomes more urbanised.

A web search is fascinating and frightening. You have to ask which articles are opinion and which are fact? Who is sponsoring which items, and what is the motivation?

Some articles want children to understand where food comes from and how to eat healthily. Others are an attack on traditional farming methods and the use of animals in agriculture for any purpose.

There are some great programs in schools teaching students to grow and cook healthy nutritious food.

Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation is one of the best-known programs teaching students to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal produce.

I taught ag science at high school and the students had a ball growing veggies, brewing ginger beer, cooking together and sharing the spoils.

My senior students got jobs through work experience with local ag-related businesses. The students enjoyed wool classing, and getting out in the paddock to do a bit of surveying and water divining, although grubbing out boxthorn wasn't a favourite activity.

Going back to the web, and this is where opinion dressed up as fact can become quite murky.

Consumer perception drives consumer demand, so if kids tell their parents farming is cruel, or food is full of pesticides, parents will mostly react with their purchases.

That's why I am pleased to see AgForce secure the roll-out of the federal government's Kids to Farms Program in Queensland.

AgForce said it would get city schoolkids onto working farms and into food processing facilities to learn about agriculture production, sustainability practices, and land stewardship.

On the flipside, AgForce says ag education is an election issue in the forthcoming state election. AgForce condemns the effective axing of the Schools to Industry Partnership Program and the closure of the Emerald and Longreach ag colleges. SIPP was designed to interest and attract school leavers in the variety of career paths offered in agriculture.

The next few years are going to be tough, and agriculture is a key to the future of the economy. A young, well-trained workforce is essential if the sector is to thrive.

The starting point for me is ag education and knowing where food comes.

- Robin McConchie, former rural reporter and teacher

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