Swansong for Another Ag Ed. Program

While the State Government scrambles to justify the closure of the Longreach and Emerald Ag Colleges in the face of widespread local and industry opposition, today sees the end to a unique home-grown program developed by the agriculture industry – To teach school kids about where their food comes from has its swan song this week, after funding was axed by the State Government.

Today will see the staging of the last ever Food, Fibre and Agricultural Educators Conference in Brisbane, with more than 100 specialist ag teachers from around Queensland and interstate expected to attend the swansong event.

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The teachers, most attending in their own time, will gather valuable techniques and first-hand knowledge to enable them to engage students in the vital role of agriculture and exciting careers offered in the sector

The Conference is the flagship program of the School to Industry Partnership Program, or SIPP, which has been successfully developed by the agriculture industry led by AgForce for more than 15 years.

Last year, the State Government announced it would no longer provide the $181,000 to fund the program, because it was no longer relevant – a criticism fiercely denied by the National Ag Educators’ Association.

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin says the agriculture industry was absolutely dumbfounded as to why such an important and cost-effective program that reached more than 10,000 students at hundreds of schools every year.

“For many city kids, SIPP offered their only opportunity to learn about farming, about how their food is grown, and about what an interesting and diverse environment agriculture in Queensland is.”

“For many kids, SIPP events are the first time they have ever touched a farm animal, felt real wool or an ear of wheat, seen a tractor or harvester or talked with a farmer. Primary and high school students will now struggle to learn about agriculture, which is especially alarming when you consider that a survey by the National Farmers’ Federation found 83 per cent of Australians describe their connection with farming as distant or non-existent.”

“The Palaszczuk Government’s short-sighted decision to cut funding to this program will mean Queensland kids will become even more disconnected from where their food comes from and how it is produced, further deepening the ever-growing divide between city and country.”

Mr Guerin says it was incomprehensible that Queensland, home to the country’s largest and fastest-growing agricultural industry, was cutting ag education just as other states were beginning to invest – many using SIPP as a model.

“While New South Wales implements compulsory ag classes in high school, and Tasmania injects an additional $16 million into their school farms initiative, Queensland has axed its home-grown program that cost just $18 per student to deliver.”

Mr Guerin says it’s been disheartening to learn that, in the same month as the SIPP program was axed, Education Minister Grace Grace announced an $808 million program for just 35 schools within five kilometres of Brisbane’s CBD.

“This is another kick in the guts from the State Government for agriculture, an industry which the Government’s own AgTrends report estimated will top $20 billion in terms of gross value of production this year.”

“Late last year, the Government also announced it would close the State’s two remaining agricultural colleges, at Longreach and Emerald.”

“Ensuring these vital institutions are saved for future generations is another key AgForce campaign this year.”

“The continued strong growth of our industry depends on having a well-educated, appropriately trained workforce that is passionate about working in agriculture, whether that be on-farm, in food processing, or in science and research.”

“Our industry is committed to advancing sustainable agriculture agribusiness, which aligns with the Government’s own priorities and policies. However, we cannot achieve what is expected of us – sustainably managing vegetation, increasing productivity, decreasing chemical use, reducing our own carbon emissions and ‘banking’ carbon on behalf of the community – if the State Government does not support us.”

“But the biggest losers from the axing of SIPP are Queensland kids and we’re calling on the Palaszczuk Government to reverse this cut so this vital program can continue to reach them.”