Government support for land based education in Australia, the UK and other places has dramatically decreased. Many Horticulture and Agriculture courses and colleges have closed. At the same time though; four colleges that deliver ACS courses, saw more than a 100% growth in enrolments over 2012/2013. These courses are not government funded; and most hold no formal accreditations of note; but they are of a high standard, tutored by highly qualified professionals; and people are choosing to pay the fees out of their own pockets and do these courses.
It may well be that the number of people who are studying horticulture and agriculture, is not decreasing. It may be that people are just moving from government colleges and universities; and now studying with private institutions.
Industry Needs to Wake Up! Change is everywhere. We grow things differently today, we use them differently; and the way in which we learn about horticulture and farming is becoming different too.
Change has been happening for longer than most might think. Some in the land based industries have adapted; but many others have been waiting for things to return to "normal". The problem is that yesterday's normal will probably never happen.
Long established industry publications have closed down; and publishers have greatly reduced the number of books they are producing. At the same time; more people read things on the internet than ever before. In fact the total amount of reading that people do, has greatly increased.
Many well established businesses have disappeared, but new ones with a slightly different slant on the industry have boomed. The recent success stories tend to be run by lateral thinkers who have been able to adapt to change and break the established industry mould.
Over 50,000 people have left the Industry (Reported by Agrifoods Skills Council Conference, in Sydney, Sept 07). Some types of enterprise (eg. The local family nursery, and the dairy farm) have decreased in number; but other types of enterprise in these industries have emerged and become a success
Courses being offered in Australia were declining back in 2007, and the trend in TAFE's has not changed (with other odd exception: refer editorial of Australian Horticulture magazine, September 2007).
The credentials of teaching staff in many colleges has lowered over the past few decades
The significance of science and plant identification has diminished in some if not most courses.
One would be forgiven for predicting that industry is facing inevitable oblivion except for two inescapable facts:
1. We all have to eat, and without local horticulture and agriculture industries, food costs increase, and quality decreases.
2. Horticulture and Agriculture are unavoidably linked to environmental quality; and without a quality environment everyone suffers!
What’s the Answer?
Industry must be more effective in changing public (and political) attitudes.
It would be nice to think politicians and the public should be more receptive to the messages from industry; but recent history has taught us that this is not likely. Face this fact, and come up with solutions that do not depend on hand outs.
Better incentives for people to study and work in horticulture and agriculture.
The quality of education needs to be high vocational level, with far greater emphasis on foundation science and problem solving skills.