Australia’s is suffering from a crippling and an ever-increasing shortfall of young people interested in producing the country’s food, putting at risk its grand plans for being Asia’s food bowl.
According to Dr Brian Jones, Professor at the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment, while the exact figures on the employment shortfall are hard to calculate, there is a clear mismatch on the demand and supply of skill in agriculture.
“It has been shown that while there have been only around 700 graduates per year Australia-wide in recent years, job advertisements have suggested a demand for approximately 4,500 tertiary qualified graduates per annum,” said Jones.
“Similar shortfalls exist for qualified people in other parts of the industry. We absolutely cannot take advantage of the opportunities for the industry if we don't develop strategies to address this key issue,” he added.
Jones pointed out that Australian agriculture produces 3% of GDP, but it is the post-farm gate agribusiness sector that has grown exponentially in recent years—the value-adding that happens after food leaves the farm helps the processing and agricultural production sectors account for 12% of GDP.
“Our fresh produce, reputation for safe food and potential to add value explain why Deloitte this year named agribusiness as one of the five 'super-growth' industries of the future. Exports to Asia and Africa are seen as major market opportunities,” said Jones.
More city folks
Jobs in the food processing industry range from farming, food science, marketing, product development, transport logistics, trade, food safety, global food security and international development to packaging, research and policy.
“More Australians are moving into cities and the production and supply chains means we give little thought to food production. Out of sight, out of mind is one of the reasons that too few people are moving into careers in this sector,” Jones said.
“But fortunately, Australians are also increasingly foodies, with sophisticated tastes. One of the outcomes of this is that people are starting to once again question how the food got to our plates. The reality though is that an increasingly skilled workforce is needed to keep good food on our tables and there is currently an unsustainable shortfall."
According to Jones, agricultural producers are responding in various ways to twenty-first century challenges, being driven both by consumer demand and the strong desire of producers to develop healthier, more sustainable practices for their businesses.
“Australians have always been innovators in food production and we are making continual advances in cropping and food processing,” Jones said.
“This is a great time for young people in the industry, when real innovation is not only possible, but essential. In order to capture the emerging opportunities, we need a new generation of food innovators and entrepreneurs in Australia,” he added.