Australian students return to roots with agriculture

Wed Jul 15, 2009 1:58am EDT
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By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Global warming and the economic downturn have made farming fashionable again in Australia, where large numbers of youth are going back to their roots and planning a career on the land.

Many universities across Australia, where farmers have sown near-record acreage so far this year, are seeing a surge in the number of students signing up for agriculture, which was often bypassed for business or other sciences, especially during the worst drought in more than 100 years that struck in the middle of the decade.

But with the drought lifting last year in most parts of the country, agriculture, a mainstay of the economy, has emerged as an attractive career path, especially as jobs are almost guaranteed.

"We've certainly seen a substantial increase, about 40 percent in our internal offerings for 2009, whereas in the past decade we've had a downward trend," Philip Eberbach, associate professor at the nation's biggest agricultural and wine sciences school at Charles Sturt University, told Reuters.

Australia is a major global source for produce and food crops such as wheat, as well as livestock and dairy products.

Its wine industry is also one of the biggest in the world and government statistics show that agriculture was the strongest contributing industry, in terms of volume, to economic growth over the past 12 months.

"Australian agriculture is at the heart of some of the biggest issues facing the world, including climate change and the struggle to meet the global food shortage," Federal Minister Tony Burke told Reuters.

Stephen Cattle, associate dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources at the University of Sydney, believes concerns about food security and climate change are making young Australians more keen to study agriculture.   Continued...