Making sense of our next revolution

Making sense of our next revolution


Opinion
Agriculture has always been innovative and farmers quick to embrace innovation. And the plough enabled our development, both in food production and population.

Agriculture has always been innovative and farmers quick to embrace innovation. And the plough enabled our development, both in food production and population.

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Film media – and perhaps society at large – doesn’t really understand agriculture.

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In movies that involve the country, there’s always disappointment. 

When you look at the detail of farming operations, they usually don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to see people tilling land in contemporary films. We don’t do that anymore.

The obvious conclusion is the film media – and perhaps society at large – doesn’t really understand agriculture.

Today’s agriculture is risky, think climate change, but also amazingly high tech – it’s widely acknowledged the mining boom will be overtaken by the dining boom.

Mining is now the economy’s most important sector, but we believe agriculture will become the number the one export sector within seven to 15 years.

Today’s agriculture attracts city dwellers and demands digital skills – information technology prowess and engineers – with robotics and precision agriculture merging, informed by and in answer to what shoppers actually say they want.

Australian agriculture is not only clean and green but increasingly clever; this is where we have a niche that is less susceptible to price elasticity, where we can be global price makers not takers.

If we want to exit the race to the bottom (think $1 milk) and instead satisfy the huge and burgeoning demand for quality food and fibre, we will exploit our competitive advantage.

Agriculture is a way of business and a way of life. Agricultural education has always been strongly scientifically and mathematically based.

We talk a lot about big data and statistics – did you know the biggest developments in statistics came from agriculture?

Agriculture has always been scientifically and mathematically based and always technologically innovative. One could argue the plough is our greatest technological innovation.

We have sensors of all kinds for crops and soil, we have drones in the skies measuring agricultural data and we have the possibility of separating our food into small aliquots and sending them to individual consumers all over the world.

Technology is growing with agriculture and technology will allow agriculture to be both sustainable and profitable – and this technology excites young people.

It’s this digital tech that is bringing our children from the cities into agriculture.

Therefore our agricultural education, especially at the tertiary level, needs to evolve from a purely scientifically and mathematically orientated approach to a Science,

Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) approach – an area that is attracting our best and brightest. Agricultural education needs to embrace STEM.

This process has already begun at the University of Sydney. That’s why we’ll soon announce new curriculum and courses to expand agricultural education to embrace digital agriculture, IT and project management.

Even with these new approaches there’s still a challenge to educate the public.

  • Alex McBratney is Professor of Digital Agriculture and Soil Science, University of Sydney.
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