The face of agriculture is changing as hordes of young and enthusiastic students descend on rural Victoria to learn the tricks of the trade.
Enrolment in agriculture courses has boomed in the past few years as the number of jobs available in agriculture quickly outstrip the number of graduates available.
This new reality has seen the number of students visiting the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus set to double in the second half of the year, as the students shift from the flagship Parkville campus to the regional campus to continue their studies.
Campus director Ros Gall said enrolments had continued to increase in the past few years.
‘‘There’s renewed interest in the agriculture industry as a result of growing interest in a number of things including the sustainability of the industry, food and Australia’s place in the world food trade,’’ she said.
‘‘The last couple of years there’s been a real turnaround.’’
Having been around farms for much of his life, the transition into studying agriculture was quite a seamless one for 20-year-old Joshua Hine.
Currently in the final year of his degree, the former Pakenham Upper resident is majoring in sustainable production, interested in how the agricultural world will transform in future years under stress from growing populations.
Joshua puts the boom in agriculture students down to a greater understanding of the industry.
‘‘I reckon now people have realised how many different options there are in agriculture. It’s not just simply working on the farm,’’ he said.
‘‘(More people getting involved in agriculture) is really good. Since we started there’s been a huge need for more graduates because there’s just that many jobs out there.
‘‘There’s a statistic like there’s two jobs for every graduate or something. It’s just ridiculous.’’
While not sure where he’ll be headed at the end of the degree, Joshua has had a growing interest in agronomy and is looking to embrace the freedom of being out talking to farmers.
‘‘It’s easy to slip in somewhere if you are in the area. It’s easy to go sideways and find what you like, rather than completely changing everything,’’ he said.
‘‘I don’t want to be sitting at a desk all day, every day. I want to be out there doing stuff. Yes, you do have the office stuff but you’re also going out to farms and consulting farmers and interacting with them.’’
For third-year agriculture student Caroline Purcell, who is majoring in production animal health, the areas of genetics and nutrition have been of particular interest in the past few years.
Although she originally wanted to be a vet, Caroline said agriculture was a way to still follow her love of animals in what is regarded as a booming industry.
‘‘It’s such an important industry going forward, especially with all the research and development and providing food for such a growing population,’’ she said.
The 22-year-old from Melbourne said moving forward she was considering her options, but animal nutrition had caught her eye.
‘‘If you’re feeding animals, right then you’re hopefully getting the best out of them. I think ration development and going out to a farm and consulting with them and finding out what feeds suit them best (is interesting),’’ she said.
‘‘That’s a really important area from what I’ve experienced, because feeding the right things creates an animal that produces better.’’
Caroline said ultimately young people had an edge when it came to the industry, given the growing demand for more technology in the field.
‘‘Being young we have that passion to do better and do more. Being a younger generation we kind of understand technology. We’ve grown up with it, so it’s second nature for us,’’ she said.
Starting the first year of his degree, Harrison Goy, 19, is focused on the future of the industry.
Having grown up around small farms in the suburb of Harkaway in Melbourne’s south-east, Harrison said he would definitely be looking to work with cattle in the future, but emphasised the need for more young people to get into agriculture.
‘‘We’re not going to run out of a job. The world needs us more than ever now,’’ he said.
‘‘I read something that said the average age of a farmer is 58 years old, so if it’s not us, who is it going to be? It has to be us.’’
Harrison said those studying agriculture at the Dookie campus weren’t all from farming backgrounds.
‘‘Just talking to the guys and the girls in the first couple of weeks, a lot of them are from Melbourne private schools and have hardly seen farms,’’ he said.
For Harrison, the love of the lifestyle and the opportunity to work with animals were huge factors. As a result, he said he was interested in how the industry would move forward.
‘‘I’m passionate about the future of agriculture, so obviously feeding the world and the practices involved in that and more sustainable practices or even organic,’’ he said.
‘‘The next generation, our generation, need to step up, I think, and take over those positions.’’
The prospect of becoming a rural vet has driven Emma Tadday to pursue a career in agriculture in the hopes of realising a childhood love.
Emma, 17, who grew up in Carrum Downs in Melbourne’s south-east, said she had always loved farm animals and her passion had continued to drive her education.
‘‘It’s not even a job, it’s like a hobby,’’ she said.
‘‘I lived in a suburban area all my life, but I’ve just always loved farm animals since I was little. I have heaps of pictures of me playing with and talking to little baby calves. So whenever I look at them I go ‘oh okay, I obviously really enjoy being with animals all the time’,’’ she said.
While becoming a rural vet is her ultimate goal, Emma said she was aware of the future and technology’s involvement in the industry.
‘‘I think in the future we’re always going to need a vet for animals, especially with farm animals,’’ she said.
‘‘No computer can replace (agriculture jobs). Even though they have computers running the dairy rotaries, you still need a person to oversee that.’’
If in the future she wants a change, Emma does have some other career options in mind.
‘‘I’m also interested in someday being a farmer or something like that, so I think about the future, feeding the world,’’ she said.