Victoria needs a centre of agricultural excellence, in the bush

Posted: 12th Mar

THE two Victorian Government inquiries into agricultural education have yet to provide a vision of what is really needed in this state.

What is lacking is a centre of excellence in agriculture that covers all sectors, including horticulture and viticulture.

This centre needs to cater for all facets of agricultural science, economics and farm management, with an emphasis on marketing and international trade.

Food and fibre production and processing is Victoria's core industry and a centre of excellence is badly needed to ensure both future productivity gains and a new generation of well-trained people entering farming, extension, the service sector, research and teaching.

Two schools currently teach agriculture, one at Melbourne University and the other at La Trobe University.

These are small, under-resourced facilities in major, city-based universities where they are largely overlooked at the expense of law, medicine, commerce, engineering and the arts.

These two schools should be merged and moved out to regional Victoria.

The rest of the world teaches agriculture in regional towns and cities.

Geelong, with Deakin University and nearby Marcus Oldham College, is ideally located to be a centre of excellence.

The under-used assets at Dookie and Glenormiston should become university farms run by a strong farm management department within the merged institution, along the lines of the New Zealand and US land-grant university farms, where courses deal with the real, practical world of farming.

It may be time for the Victorian Government to create some cadetships to train people in NZ, as in the 1950s and early 1960s, when 52 young Victorians went to Massey University to study dairy science and food technology. That investment helped the dairy industry become the state's major exporter it is today.

Victoria's agriculture sector will struggle until we get a strong and vibrant school of agriculture that works closely with producers.

In the US and NZ, about 25 per cent of farmers have tertiary training, compared with 5 per cent in Australia.

This will not change until our centres of learning get closer to the farming sector. And if the schools of agriculture remain in the middle of a major city this just won't happen.