Crafting Careers in Agriculture – Emeritus Prof. Jim Pratley AM reminds us we haven’t ploughed a field since he was a boy

Continuing our Crafting Careers in Agriculture series in this blog post we reach out to our thought leaders in the education sector

“Agriculture is not all about milking a cow, or ploughing a field. We haven’t ploughed a field for the last 30 or 40 years. It’s all conservation agriculture now. The issue, I guess, has been that as a sector we have not promoted what it is that we’re doing, yet our record of conservation, sustainability and increasingly a focus on emissions reduction, are all good news stories. We’ve done more than most other sectors and so we need to get that message out and to let people know that we’re a sophisticated, highly professional sector.” Emeritus Professor Jim Pratley AM

Jim Pratley AM is Emeritus Professor, Agriculture at Charles Sturt University and has dedicated his life to agriculture. PYiA is honoured to call him a friend and a long-time supporter of our work. Our Crafting Careers in Agriculture series would not be complete without Jim’s input and here we chat to him about riding the new agricultural wave.

A recent report from the ABC highlighted the increased number of enrolments in agriculture at Australian universities, headlining COVID-19 and the lower fee structure as driving factors.

Jim believes this is only part of the story.

“We think COVID has played a part by stopping the gap year and so young people have had some of their options closed and are coming to university, but conventional wisdom is the fee structure is not a major driver as kids don’t think about financial obligations that don’t start for three or four years. I think it (increased enrolment) is really a continuation of a trend that’s happened since about 2012, when we were at our low point. Since then agriculture’s image has improved dramatically and industries have worked hard at creating career paths. Salaries for people who have degrees are probably in the top 10 of starting salaries for graduates. So supply and demand has worked really well in agriculture.”

Data collection by Rimfire Resources shows the number of advertised jobs in agriculture has been rising in the last five years, with a steady increase in managerial positions. A managerial position incorporates high technology and high business skills, meaning the image of agriculture as – in Jim’s words – “cow and plough” is receding.

“It’s not all about milking a cow, or ploughing a field. We haven’t ploughed a field for the last 30 or 40 years. It’s all conservation agriculture now. The issue, I guess, has been that as a sector we have not promoted what it is that we’re doing, yet our record of conservation, sustainability and increasingly a focus on emissions reduction, are all good news stories. We’ve done more than most other sectors and so we need to get that message out and to let people know that we’re a sophisticated, highly professional sector.”

Getting the good agricultural message out there often starts in schools such as when Young Farming Champions engage with the next generation through The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas. And this is not possible without the support and enthusiasm of agriculture teachers in these schools. To this end Jim works with national bodies representing these teachers.

“Agriculture in schools has had an issue in terms of its status. Years ago schools would allocate kids to agriculture who didn’t want to do anything else and the good kids would tend to say, ‘Oh, well I’m not going to do that’ and the ag teachers probably felt the same way.” As a result there is currently a shortage in agriculture teachers but change may to be on the horizon as the image of agriculture in general morphs to one of a highly professional and scientific sector. “I was at a Zoom meeting last night with the National Association of Ag Teachers, and they were commenting that they get inquiries from other teachers about transferring to agriculture because of the sense that it’s about to boom.”

“I think what we’re seeing is the fruit of a lot of people’s labour including Lynne Strong (PYiA) and Fiona Simson at National Farmers Federation and industry bodies who now have education and leadership in their strategic plans. We’ve had enormous change in the rhetoric coming out of the key organisations and industry bodies and what we’ve seen is a real professionalisation of agriculture. I think that we’re on a wave at the moment and we want to make sure that we ride it all away.”

And how did Jim find his way into a career in agriculture?

Jim grew up on a prime lamb property near Bathurst, NSW with the intention to return to the farm on the completion of his university education. “Circumstances changed and my parents sold the farm in my final year and so I needed to change direction. I was offered a scholarship to undertake a PhD and was successful in attaining an academic position at Wagga Wagga where I have been ever since.”

Read Jim’s book Australian Agriculture 2020 Conservation Farming to Automation

Connect with Jim on LinkedIn

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