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Inspiring teenagers to help feed the world

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Rabobank Farm Experience participants on farm

August 12th is International Youth Day, this year’s theme is around eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable consumption and production. With the world’s population rising, set to reach nine billion people by 2050, food security is a growing global issue. Australia is a vital food supplier, exporting up to 60% of the food it produces. But many young people have lost their connection to the country and are not aware of the exciting career opportunities the food and agribusiness sectors offer.

The subsequent skills shortage in agriculture is a problem for many of our clients, who struggle to attract and retain talent. Marc Oostdijk, Head of Sustainable Business Development at Rabobank, cites a very large berry farm that recently needed to recruit two farm managers.

They ended up having to hire from the UK and Romania because they couldn’t get access to the right candidates in Australia,” he says. “These were well paid jobs.”

Research was carried out among the 16–18 age group in Australia to find out their awareness of farming and food production. The results found:

  •  77% of Australian city teenagers knew little or nothing about farming and food production*
  • 68% didn’t know – or knew little about – how food gets from the farm to their plate*

Despite this, 90% of young people perceived farming and food production as very important to Australia*. But they still rate agricultural careers lower than occupations in medicine, engineering, business or design.

Whats it like to be a farmer?

To change attitudes and address some of the myths about agriculture, Rabobank developed the Farm Experience (FX) Program. Now in its third year, FX aims to give high school students a more accurate idea of what farming and its associated services are like.

“We came up with the idea of doing a presentation program in schools about food and agriculture, but realised that experience is much stronger than a story, and we could make it a more life-changing experience for the students,” Marc says.

So we created Farm Experience to give kids the opportunity to stay on a farm for a week, live and work alongside a farming family. They get a much better understanding of what is happening on the farm and in food production, and how it eventually gets to their plate.”

Around 60 kids a year, aged between 16 and 18, are hosted through the FX Program. They’re encouraged to keep a blog and use social media throughout their stay, and give a presentation in school assembly afterwards.

Farm Experience is already seeing results. Even though the original aim was exposure not conversion, there have been enrolments in agricultural colleges following the program. Some students have also gone back to their host farm for an apprenticeship or a further visit to see what happens on the farm in different seasons, and in some case, taken their family to visit the farm with them.

A lesson for teachers

Rabobank is also educating careers teachers about the wide range of opportunities in agriculture. Many teachers hold the misconception that only limited roles are available. In reality, the majority of agriculture and food production jobs don’t even involve living on a farm.

  • 51% of food and agricultural jobs are city-based
  • Only 5–10% involve actually working on a farm

“Agriculture is much more than milking cows and sitting on a tractor,” Marc says. “A farm is a business like anything else and requires skilled people in areas such as accounting, marketing, HR, science and quality control. Australia has many huge agricultural companies that export globally, so you could apply your marketing degree to work in agriculture.”

Importantly, the agriculture sector needs innovators. Without innovation, it will be impossible to produce food and feed the growing population without pressure on the environment.

“The challenge is not how can we grow as much as possible, but how can we do this sustainably? How can we produce more food with depleting resources? Innovation is the one thing that can make this happen. That’s the kind of brainpower that the industry needs to take things forward and the opportunity for the younger generation.”

If you’re considering a career in agriculture:

  • Familiarise yourself with the industry and the wide variety of jobs it offers
  • Be open to talking with young people in farming who have already made their first steps into a career in the industry
  • Ask them what working in the agricultural sector is really about

How would you inspire teenagers to choose an Ag career?

 *Source: Rabobank Farm experience program - urban youth research - by House of Brand, May 2014