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Green shoots: Climate agenda sprouts new job crop for Qld farms

Statewide

The drive to achieve better environmental outcomes on farms is opening doors to new career pathways in agriculture.

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Molly Blake freely admits that before graduating with an environmental management degree, she had barely set foot on a working farm.

Born and educated in Brisbane, for the past two months her life has been consumed with bananas, as she begins her first role post-graduation in the heart of the state’s banana belt at South Johnstone near Cairns.

While the farming sector struggles for farm-hands and pickers at the bottom of the labour market post-pandemic, professionals furnished with skills and qualifications are highly sought in regions required to meet the demands of changing market protocols and new regulatory frameworks.

Blake was one of 11 new graduates who started as farm extension officers this week as part of a program executed by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and the Queensland Government to enlist more support for farmers in Great Barrier Reef catchments.

The new trainees join 21 extension officers who have graduated from the program since 2018 and, importantly, remain actively employed in the agricultural sector.

Of the 11 new recruits, only three are from rural backgrounds with agricultural science-based qualifications. The remainder of the cohort, like Blake, are from the city, who see farming as the ideal place to cultivate their passion for improving the environment.

And of the new intake, seven are women, confirming a growing industry trend that’s altering farming’s perception as a male-dominated industry.

“I have just fallen in love with where I live and work,” Blake told InQueensland.

“It’s authentic and real and I love the lifestyle. I’m surrounded by people who put food on our tables and I’m in awe of farmers and their operations.”

Starting her initial 15-month placement with the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, Blake, like others in her group, will receive ongoing training and mentorship by more experienced extension officers to aid in her career development.

She was at a two-day technical symposium in Brisbane earlier this week, before making the return trip north.

The appointments don’t come without controversy as some farmers and rural groups continue to bristle against new environmental standards set by the State Government, particularly in areas of fertiliser use and soil management near the reef.

Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto this week introduced a bill to State Parliament in a bid to overturn what he calls the Palaszczuk Government’s “farm-destroying Reef regulations”.

The Katter’s Australia Party representative said the government’s laws introduced in 2019 were imposing a “big brother style supervision over everyday farming decisions” that wrapped farmers up in “unworkable green tape”.

QFF CEO Dr Georgina Davis sees the current program as an opportunity to bring new people into the sector with different perspectives, while helping farmers meet their obligations.

“This capacity building program provides a great pathway for new people coming into our sector and is another step towards a more holistic approach to helping deliver Reef water quality targets,” Davis said.

“Following the success of previous years’ programs, we look forward to seeing the graduates develop into experienced officers that can continue to support farm managers and businesses.”

QFF’s drive to bring more smarts into agriculture from outside traditional channels comes as CQUniversity researchers launch a national agricultural awareness survey.

Available to primary and secondary schools, the survey aims to capture students’ knowledge and understanding of the agriculture industry.

The project’s lead, Dr Amy Cosby, said there was a clear need for updated data.

“We all know that agriculture is a part of our everyday lives, through the food we eat and the clothes we wear and given that it’s a key driver of the Australian economy,” she said.

“To ensure that the next generation is ready to support our food and fibre production, we need to engage young people early and inspire them to consider a career in the industry.

“However, without current, accurate data on their level of agricultural knowledge and learnings, we are basically working in the dark.”

Cosby said national survey data would be used to help inform the future of Australian agricultural education.

“Results will lead to the development of new and exciting educational programs for Australian teachers and students,” she said.

“Each program will be aimed at increasing students’ agricultural knowledge, awareness, and appreciation, to help inspire the next generation.

“The learnings will also highlight any gaps to support the need for future collaboration between educational institutions and agricultural industry groups.”

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