Will Australia Starve? Why maintaining farming knowledge is essential to our food supply.

Australia is facing the risk of a nationwide famine unless something is done to halt the hemorrhage of expertise from farming industries. Agriculture and Horticulture industries lost around 70,000 employees in the first years of the 21st century (Reported by Agrifoods Skills Council Conference, in Sydney, Sept 07). The situation has not improved since then.

Farm produce has declined, agricultural imports are increasing, and Australia’s pool of expert agriculturists is decreasing.

It seems certain that in the near future we will have far fewer experts who know how to grow food. At the same time, we may also have less capacity to find food outside of Australia. As fuel costs increase, and with talk of carbon trading schemes, it may well become unfashionable, not to mention economically unviable, to replace locally grown produce with imported food.

So where did we go wrong? There has been a flood of negative publicity about the downturn in agriculture due to drought and global warming. It all makes for dramatic, attention-grabbing journalism but the full story is potentially quite alarming.

In addition to the flood of experts leaving agrarian industries, the number of students training to replace them has dropped dramatically. Enrolments are declining at many horticultural and agricultural colleges and some have even closed down. Still others are considering closing because there simply are not the student numbers to make continued operation profitable. People seem to believe there is no future in the industry after years of hearing tales of doom and gloom.

What does the future hold? There are already predictions of huge hikes in wine prices next year. Other products are sure to follow suit. Starvation may not be inevitable but we may have to adjust to a more limited variety of food than we are used to right now. Growing our own vegies and keeping chooks in the backyard may even become a necessity.

Perhaps now is the time to hunt down a veggie or fruit book and sign up to a garden course!

John Mason Principal ACS Distance Education


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