NSW Farmers is calling for $9 million to support a grazing best management program (BMP) to support science-based farming systems alongside improved education in our schools to teach the next generation about how agriculture works and the origin of their food and fibre.
Key to the success of the agricultural industry is the community understanding what farmers do to produce the high quality products freely available in supermarkets, butchers, bakers delicatessens and fruit and vegetable stores across the world. Awareness of the journey of food and fibre is essential to community acceptance of farming systems and practices, including animal husbandry, safe chemical use, land management and the availability of a skilled workforce and affordable innovations to grow the sector. Linked to this, too, is the cost of our farming systems and the relationship between farming systems and prices paid for produce.
Food and fibre education in our schools
At a cost of $4 million over four years, NSW Farmers believes it critical for the Government to provide seed grants to support the establishment of new agriculture-technology networks of teachers in rural and metropolitan schools. Potentially these networks would be supported by a dedicated expert attached to each of the Department’s Educational Services teams that were established across the State under the Blueprint.
The future of a vibrant, sustainable and productive primary industry sector depends on a knowledgeable and supportive community. Agribusiness is critically important to the Australian economy but is rarely identified in curriculum areas of STEM, economics, English, geography, civics or other social sciences. Digital technology and advances across most fields of science are transforming production practices and making agriculture more sustainable and efficient. Advances in manufacturing, logistics, and e-commerce are shortening supply chains and enabling Australia to tap into premium export growth markets for food and fibre.
The trajectory of agriculture as a respected and valued profession is dependent on attitudes to agriculture and agribusiness that are based on science and facts. These facts are the natural province of the classroom. There is an important place for agriculture with respect to the disciplines of history, culture, science, political and international affairs and professional development.
Broad community understanding of the primary industries sector is low. The most recent school student survey by the Australian Council of Educational Research into awareness of primary production showed that 43 per cent did not link science to primary production; and 55 per cent did not link innovation to primary production. However, there is no doubt that teachers in primary and secondary schools consider it important to engage students on topics relating to food and fibre production.
The Government’s Rural and Remote Education: A blueprint for action outlines a significant commitment to both support students across the state to better access a range of curriculum, and importantly, support for teachers to build capacity and capability through networks and professional development.
Grazing Best Management Program
NSW Farmers is requesting that the Government invest $5 million to establish a grazing BMP program. The program would concurrently boost farmers’ business performance and enhance on-farm productivity, while creating a mechanism to demonstrate sustainable use of natural resources and high quality animal welfare practices to the community.
Farmers are continually striving to improve their on-farm practice and business performance, and this is undertaken in an environment of lower margins and increasing consumer requirements. The Grazing BMP program would allow for farmers to pinpoint the opportunities for improvement, through benchmarking current practices against industry standards, based on the best available science.
There is also increasing pressure on farmers to clearly prove their environmental and animal welfare credentials. The program would produce aggregated data that would clearly demonstrate farmers’ good practice and stewardship to supply chain partners, consumer, the community and the government.