First published on Beef Central

A call during a speech at last year’s Ekka for industry wide support to increase agricultural studies in schools is leading to practical action, with funding support and a working group now in place to develop a national food and fibre education plan.

Anthony Lee addressing the Rural Press Club of Qld breakfast at last year’s Royal Queensland Show. The show was traditionally known as the Brisbane Exhibition, and shortened to the Ekka, a nickname which sticks today.

Speaking at the Rural Press Club of Queensland’s Ekka Breakfast on this day 12 months ago, Australian Country Choice chief executive Anthony Lee highlighted a need to bridge the gap between the large number of career opportunities in agriculture and the comparatively small number of graduates entering the industry.

He called for agriculture and food studies to made mandatory in schools to give younger children a taste of what agriculture means and can offer.

He also called for proactive industry support to boost the role of the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia as a single, focused body to provide a conduit between industry, government and education institutions.

Mr Lee has followed through on his commitment to see the process through and has since made progress in helping to turn pledges of support following his speech into practical, tangible developments.

In April this year he hosted a National Agricultural Education Forum in Brisbane, which brought together national food and fibre education leaders who are committed to expanding agriculture’s influence in the Australian school curriculum.

The forum was attended by the leaders of more than 50 peak industry councils and agricultural research development corporations (RDCs), along with Federal Minister for Agriculture Senator Murray Watt and Assistant Minister for Education Senator Anthony Chisholm.

The forum agreed to support the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA) as the national peak body to drive a national food and fibre education plan.

Building on that meeting, a Working Group to prepare a strategy to boost food and fibre education at a national level in schools across Australia has been appointed this week and its work is now underway.

It comprises:

Chair: Adele Laughton, CEO at Future Farmers Network

Corporate Representative: Catherine Velisha, Managing Director at Velisha Farms and Managing Director at Veg Education

Education Representative: Scott Graham, Head teacher of Agriculture at Barker College and PhD candidate in Agricultural Education at Charles Sturt University*

Research and Development Corporation Representative: Maxie Hanft, Industry Government Relations Manager at Grains Research and Development Corporation

Project Secretariat: Dr Bridie Schultz, Director at Sativus Pty Ltd

PIEFA Representative: Dr Cameron Archer AM, Chair at PIEFA

Project Manager: Luciano Mesiti, CEO at PIEFA

While dollar amounts have not been disclosed, Beef Central understands a number of agricultural RDC’s have now committed provide funding on a pro-rata basis to fund the development of the national education strategy for the food and fibre sector.

“We have funding committed to be build the strategy, and from the strategy will come project-based work aimed at closing the gap between what good looks like and where we are today,” Mr Lee told Beef Central today.

According to a PIEFA statement the Working Group will work under the auspices of PIEFA and spend six months developing the strategy.

CEO Luciano Mesiti said the initiative had attracted strong interest from the education sector, which has led to a decision to appoint a consultative group for Working Group Education Representative Scott Graham to work with to develop the strategy from the school perspective.

The policy role within the Working Group will be undertaken by a number of people who will be enlisted as the need arises, the statement said.

The group has also now confirmed its operating principles and terms of reference.

Mr Mesiti said it will align its structure in a general way to the current National Agricultural Workforce Strategy.

“This strategy is well accepted and there are links to it regarding workforce and careers, but the school education strategy has a much broader remit relating to general education across all age stages and learning areas.”

He said the Working Group has agreed to prioritise researching and reporting on current initiatives that are underway, acknowledging the great work many individuals and organisations already do for food and fibre education – with the hope to build upon existing programs.

This work would help direct the Working Group strategy.

The Working Group also recognised the importance of providing students in all States and Territories greater opportunity to study agriculture in high school, as well as the need for many more teachers across both primary and secondary school to become confident in teaching food and fibre content.

These are long-term but essential strategies to develop.

“Its early days for the Working Group but the foundations are established for it to develop a sound and long-lasting strategy that will see real change to food and fibre education and the future of Australia’s primary industries.” Mr Mesiti said.