Future of agricultural colleges uncertain, but alumni say skills needed more than ever
Ian Burnett had a proud career in agriculture.
- Agricultural high schools are disappearing, more and more are closing their doors
- Alumni say colleges have played a vital role in shaping their lives and careers
- They also say colleges offered students “skills that made you employable” and “hands-on experience in the paddock”
He started a family business that operates beef cattle and cultivates crops and has a long history of involvement with AgForce Queensland since its inception in 1999, even as chairman from 2012 to 2014.
Like many others who have found success in the agricultural industry, Mr. Burnett attended an agricultural college, particularly Emerald Agricultural College in central Queensland.
Last week, he joined a special cohort of students to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary, as a member of its inaugural class.
“Those experiences, I guess, sparked interest and later I wanted to get involved in representing the industry and reinvesting something in the industry I was working in.”
But despite the important role agricultural colleges have played in the lives of many students like Ian, their future in Queensland remains uncertain.
Abandonment of registrations
Several agricultural colleges in the state have closed in recent years.
Queensland Minister for Agricultural and Fishing Industry Development Mark Furner said the drop in registrations was to blame.
“With the lack of students who have gone through these colleges in the past two years, this is why we have made the decision to reassign them to other initiatives,” he said.
These include the recently announced Central Queensland Smart Cropping Center, which will be based at Emerald Ag College.
He said that the funding that went to these colleges was directed to TAFE colleges and universities.
“We are invested in this budget [as we were] as the 2020 elections approach in terms of training at TAFE colleges, ”said Furner.
“Putting your eggs in one basket is not appropriate these days.
“We must ensure that we cover the ground in terms of training and the needs of this sector.
However, he said that the use of the Emerald Agricultural College for other training in the future has not been completely ruled out.
Agricultural colleges still have a place
Christina Harris was one of the most recent graduates of Emerald Agricultural College, before it closed in 2019.
In 2015, she obtained a double degree in agriculture and agri-food management.
Ms Harris has since worked in contract recruiting, as a ruminant nutritionist for an animal feed company, in administration for a breeding agency, and is now about to begin studying a bachelor’s degree in agro -industry at the university.
“The main selling point behind going to agricultural college was the fact that we were going to learn in a classroom and then go out into the paddock so that we could save the skills and theory that we had just learned.
“You had to have skills that made you employable and you also had to have the theory to understand why those skills were so important. “
Key to practical skills
Ian Nicholas is another member of the inaugural class at Emerald Agricultural College.
He grew up on a family cattle property and continued to work cattle after graduating from college, which his younger brother Craig also attended.
Mr Nicholas said the practical skills he learned during his time in college were essential for him to work on the land later in life.
Graduates like John Heelan also believe college is essential in encouraging city dwellers to pursue a career in the bush.
He now owns a property near Clermont in central Queensland, but grew up in Brisbane.
“I wasn’t completely out of the earth when I went to college – [I was] no longer a city boy – but it certainly put me in a good place for the future life of what I learned there, ”Mr. Heelan said.