July 15, 2009 / 5:59 AM / 8 years ago

Australian students return to roots with agriculture

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.

"Finally these messages of carbon, food and water and climate are starting to sink into 18-year-olds," he said. "These are big issues that face the entire country."

And there is also the attraction of almost immediate income at a time when unemployment is high during the recession.

"For every graduate that we produce across the country there have been at least three jobs available," said Professor Roger Swift of The University of Queensland.

"Jobs have exceeded our graduate numbers for some time now. Many of our students have jobs before they graduate," he added.

Jack Collins, 19 and in his first year of studying agriculture at the University of Sydney, is one of several students who are confident about their future, and it's not only about the money.

"I feel it's definitely an area that has potential," he said.

"Climate change is certainly a really a good reason to study agriculture because it's changing the way we practice agriculture."

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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