Address to University of Melbourne Launch of Bachelor of Agriculture


22 July, 2015


Thank you very much and it really is a delight to be here. We did talk about my notes a little while ago which are up in the other office and (indistinct) used most of the talking points in those notes so it's probably a good thing we left them where they were. A real pleasure to be here at what I see as a really important event.

When we came to government in 2013 we said as a government we wanted to make agriculture one of the five pillars of the Australian economy and you have just heard about our reputation internationally, particularly in our key markets of South East Asia, for quality, safe food. And it is a very, very strong reputation, and I can tell you it actually gives us a very, very important and strong place in the market. It is also something that is playing a significant role in increasing returns to farmers at farm gate, and I suspect that is one of the things that will be attracting people in to the industry - the capacity to make a dollar, to make a buck and see a good career path and a future in this industry, and there is no question that agriculture in my view has a very, very strong future in this country. In fact I have said on a number of occasions recently that I think it is a very, very exciting time to be involved in agriculture. It doesn't matter at what point in the production chain you are actually working, there is, I believe, significant opportunity and that is starting to show up in the numbers. 153 in the current cycle, it was 90-odd, 94 last year, a couple of years ago in New South Wales the University of New South Wales nearly didn't have an agriculture course. It's really very, very pleasing to see that turn around.

There are over 270,000 people working in agriculture in this country at the moment. That number has reduced significantly over recent years, but the number of people with post-secondary qualifications has actually doubled since 1981, and that's for a good reason. If you look through the statistics of who is actually involved in agriculture now, you can get caught up in what the headline numbers show or the overarching numbers show which is, yes the average of a farmer is getting older, that's what the raw data says, but if you look underneath that to see what is emerging, there are more younger, smarter farmers with higher qualifications, farming larger areas, with more technology and less labour. That is where agriculture is moving.

In Western Australia yesterday at a CEDA lunch, talking to them about utilisation of big data and the opportunities that that will bring to agriculture for new productivity growth, and just seeing the robotic dairy here, it's doing a whole heap of research as well as collecting a lot of that information and that data, and how that data can be used. I had a visit last week from a company, an Israeli company, whose core business is working in the textiles industry utilising dye technology. So they make the equipment that actually produces the dye lots in the textiles industry here in Australia and around the world. They can make a beach towel or a face washer with the same dye lot, to the same colour as something that was made five years ago with the technologies that they have now. They are talking to me now about bringing that technology into agriculture and mixing fertilisers and nutrients to put on a paddock in real time, so as it is actually required to come out of the spray unit, in the doses required for that piece of the ground. They are the sorts of things that are happening and a lot of farmers at home are now starting to measure their paddocks with drones and utilising the data and the technology that is behind that.

So these are all of the things that are starting to come in to agriculture now, and it's going to bring around about a real change, and it's a really exciting time when you consider 600 million middle class people in South East Asia, who are going to be looking for a high quality, safe food product, and that is what we have a reputation for producing. So, the importance of a new degree course put together in consultation with industry, understanding what the needs of the industry are going to be, the needs of the students, and the inputs that are going to become part of the future of agriculture, we were looking at a video put out by John Deere earlier in the day, a farmer monitoring his property from his kitchen using screens, they told him the paddock was dry, he turned the irrigators on, sent some data reports off, received some information around a tractor that wasn't working, the mechanic will be there, or the technologist would actually be there in 35 minutes to fix it. All of those sorts of things - a really exciting time, and a time of really new opportunity when we are opening up markets around the globe. Seven new markets so far since coming to government for live cattle export, three free trade agreements with major markets and hopefully another one by the end of this year with India, which is a huge opportunity for service offering and it really gives a demonstration of what is sitting in front of this country, and the opportunities for agriculture at large.

To see a proactive approach to education which is just so important, when that is the direction that our agriculture is going, is providing those young, smart, well educated people to come in to agriculture is so pleasing for me to see, and I have had a lot of interest in how the engagement in agriculture with education is working for a number of years now and run some forums in Tasmania to promote that, so it is really pleasing to see that happening. I am absolutely delighted to have been invited here to actually launch the new degree course, it really is a privilege, and for it to be happening in such a proud and famous college as Dookie really is a delight for me, and so representing Australia at a national level in the agriculture portfolio is really quite exciting at this point in time so congratulations, and a pleasure to actually launch the new degree course at the University of Melbourne.

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