Professor Jacqueline Rowarth from Massey University highlights the lack of New Zealand students interested in a science career in agriculture She councils against filling the gap with overseas graduates, "some positions could not be filled by migrants as they require a hands on knowledge of NZ's agriculture and it would be smarter for the government to look after its own people". I couldn't agree more.
All the signs point to agriculture being a smart career choice for young people. With the world's population fast approaching 9 billion, and an even greater growth rate of middle-class, food price rises seem inevitable. Great news for NZ because farm profitability has at long last started to improve. The industry is adopting IT rapidly and this will lead to leaps in productivity and innovation. Agriculture is the exiting place to be.
Unfortunately, it is an uphill battle to get our kids inspired in NZ's primary industries. It just doesn't compete with the warm fuzzies they see on TV such as conservation, psychology, small animal vets, cooking etc. I often ask students how they rate a forester on a scale from 1 - 10 where doctors and nurses were number 10 and used-car salesmen were say 1. Students from New Zealand, Australia, USA and Canada universally put foresters a 2 - 3, (not respected). A sad reality given that the world desperately needs better forest management and many more trees. Interestingly, students from Europe often rate a forester at 8-9 just below the medics. Agriculturalists have not had such bad press as foresters but I doubt they rate much above 5 on the popularity stakes.
Poor public perceptions of agriculture is by no means new. Even Massey University, years ago, dropped the good old Ag. Sci degree much to my chagrin at the time. I went to Massey University straight from high school, a decision I have never regretted. The B. Ag. Sci.degree was just what I needed. It produced graduates who were true generalists, understanding a wide range of subjects such as; biochemistry, animal/plant physiology, economics, statistics, management, ecology, mechanics, construction, microbiology, genetics, hydrology, dairy, meat, wool industries. Best of all, Massey taught us to think independently.
The great advantage of this degree was to open our eyes to possibilities we'd never heard of before. Graduates of my year dispersed into all sorts of careers in the primary industries, in my case, forestry science. Massey taught me so much and shaped my thinking throughout my career. I am always grateful for that.