Innovative solutions to the issues we face as an industry

Frances Gartrell, Manager Biosecurity and Extension, Western Australia

In the past, Australia’s economy rode on the sheep’s back. Today, with our economy becoming part of a mobile, fast-moving global system, it has become much more important to investigate what threat might ride on the sheeps’ back. This has caused biosecurity, food safety, traceability and animal welfare to become a prominent part of the agricultural industry.

As a child, agriculture meant passionate farmers looking after livestock and tending the land. Tractors were driven from dawn until dusk, cows were milked, sheep were checked and rounded up in dusty mobs by horses or motorbikes and fences were created by the laying of wire and driving in poles by hand.

Today, agriculture still utilizes these practices, but also often involves semi-automated tractors that can crop a paddock so perfectly using GPS signals that the end result looks more like a painting than a field of crops. Drones are able to monitor a bug infestation on the underside of a leaf. Wireless fences can encourage animals to remain inside an area. Biometric scanning devices can provide the farmer with individual animal health reports. Milking machines allow cows to choose to milk themselves.

This change in practice has led to a significant change in employment opportunities and innovation requirements within the agricultural industry, creating new fields of employment based around science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These skills and choices are often overlooked when it comes to providing advice to our children on agricultural careers.

As we endeavor to keep up with a moving world, agriculture as an industry is determined to lead the way. Think about where this will lead the industry; the need for innovation could open up doors for students to create any future they can image.

What if we could encourage our science-minded children to remain in agriculture? What opportunities will they find if they’ve grown up wanting to be digital agricultural designers or disease prevention researchers? Think of our budding engineers, who might become automation programmers or software engineers. Can we find careers for our young mathematicians in yield analytics or disease outbreak modelling?

It is important to acknowledge that there are opportunities for innovation among the threats and challenges this industry faces in food safety, biosecurity and traceability. It is important to encourage our children to see the larger picture and dream up solutions for disease prevention and managing of animal welfare.

A thorough understanding of these issues – a deep-seeded knowledge of not only what livestock farmers do to ensure animal health and welfare outcomes, but also how and why they do it – will give the next generation the building blocks needed to build creative solutions to these challenges.

I encourage you to look closely at the future of agriculture and the opportunities it presents. The next generation are growing up in a very different world than we did, but this only presents them with the chance to leave their mark on this industry and ensure they can continue to make their living on the land.