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The ‘smart state’ is pretty dumb when it comes to ag education

by AgForce General President Georgie Somerset

It sometimes surprises me just how little people living in our cities know about their food and where it comes from.

It is even more remarkable that this can be the case here in Queensland, which has one of Australia’s most significant and diverse agriculture economies, and at a time when public interest in food and its ‘provenance’ is at an all-time high.

However, it is a sad fact that as we become more urbanised and ‘modern’, people living in our cities are losing touch with the source of what they eat and the farming communities that provide it.

The news that AgForce has been selected to roll out the Federal Governments Kids to Farms program in Queensland is very welcome and very exciting.

This program – to get city schoolkids onto working farms and into food processing facilities to learn about agriculture production, sustainability practices, and land stewardship – is a great way to reconnect city and country.

As the only state farming organisation which is also a registered training organisation, or RTO, ag education like this is core to AgForce’s mission and one we are well-equipped to deliver.

For more than 15 years, we have been successfully developing and delivering the Schools to Industry Partnership Program, or SIPP, designed to interest and attract school leavers in the variety of exciting career paths offered in ag.

It is also an opportunity to teach kids about where their food and fibre comes from and the importance of ag to their everyday lives.

Unfortunately, that program was gutted when funding was withdrawn by the State Government (although some months later, a different department allocated a smaller amount of funding under the Gateway Schools Extension Program).

The defunding of SIPP was a cruel blow not just to our industry but to the many school teachers who relied on the resources and inspiration provided by the program.

This miserly and short-sighted decision was announced the same month the State Government also proclaimed the closure of Queensland’s last two surviving agriculture colleges, at Longreach and Emerald.

Taken together, these decisions – both made without any prior consultation with AgForce or the wider rural community – underlined the Government’s fundamental lack of understanding of agriculture and its need for an engaged and appropriately skilled workforce

These ‘human resources’ are critical if our sector is to meet its target to become a $30 billion industry over the next decade.

And now agriculture is deemed an essential industry – and has been identified at both the Federal and State level as a key driver in the nation’s post-COVID economic recover – this need is more acute than ever.

AgForce is focused on resolving this issue and has included it as one of the 16 critical issues in our Strong regions for a strong Queensland policy framework to take to the State elections.

We will be talking with all political parties over the next 12 weeks to highlight the importance of addressing this issue regardless of which party wins power at the October elections.

But we can’t do it alone.

So please get involved in our Stand With Regional Queensland campaign – send a message to all political parties that losing touch with agriculture means losing touch with real food and fibre. Something none of us, in this new world, can afford to do.

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