Research with Impact: CQUniversity's RACE - Gippsland project

Jobs in agriculture go far beyond milking cows or planting crops – Australia’s $66 billion agriculture industry needs passionate and skilled people to fill growing numbers of high-tech roles.

Research with Impact: CQUniversity's RACE - Gippsland project


People often think that it’s only city kids that don’t know anything about agriculture, even though these students in Gippsland have multiple industries in their backyard they are not aware of how their food and fibre is produced.

Hi, my name’s Amy Cosby and I’m a research fellow in agri-tech education and extension at CQUniversity Australia. I’m also project lead for the RACE Gippsland project, which is all about raising aspirations in young people in the Gippsland region, to pursue future study and a career path in the agriculture industry. The project started in late 2020, and in 2021 we’ve been running our Agri-Tech Roadshows, where we’ve been in contact with over 400 primary and 400 secondary school students, showing them a range of hands-on activities all related to food waste in the potato industry and how we can get around that. How animal technology or animal behavioural monitoring technology can be used to assist farmers in monitoring the welfare and health of their animals. We’ve looked at different types of milk, and cow's milk versus some of the more alternatives, like almond, oat and soy, and the different nutritional components of those. So those activities have been really great for kids to get a hands-on science and technology-based experience. The LLEN felt a real affinity with RACE Gippsland, one of our main roles is to connect schools to industry, but also to raise aspiration, which is a really big challenge in rural areas.

RACE - Gippsland is very much agricultural based, and the agriculture and dairy industry in South Gippsland is absolutely huge, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, and yet I don’t think that our schools and students are really attuned to what opportunities are available in that local very important industry. STEM has been a real priority for our LLEN for a number of years now, because we felt that’s a real connection point to the schools. STEM is a great way to engage our schools with what’s happening out of farms and helping them to realise that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is a real core of the farming industry. My husband and I are dairy farmers in the Gippsland region, and I’ve been working here with CQUniversity for a couple of years. Our ag education and extension cluster is the only research team in Australia working towards increasing the capabilities of the current agricultural workforce but also attracting and retaining the next generation. Our projects are across Australia, with a number of education departments, industry bodies, farming associations and agri-tech companies, all with that shared vision to showcase Australian agriculture as a leading industry, utilising technology to improve animal welfare, environmental sustainability, productivity and ultimately profitability of Australian farms.

One of the biggest challenges the dairy industry is facing, is the labour shortage. We’ve got farmers crying out for employees all the time. And not just employees but skilled employees. My name’s Sarah Cornell, I’m an extension officer with GippsDairy. GippsDairy is the Gippsland branch of the larger organisation Dairy Australia. There’s a few reasons why we’re losing our workforce, an ageing generation, the increase in knowledge required for technology in the industry. One of the problems with our area is people leaving the area, feeling they need to leave in order to study or reach their perceived career goals, and that can all be done right here in Gippsland, if there’s just the awareness and the knowledge of the career paths that are available.

My husband and I now own and operate a 200-cow dairy farm in South Gippsland, so I guess for me a lot of the work we do is not only important to me professionally, but on a personal level I want people to understand how farmers are working really hard to preserve the environment, how we’re using technology to improve production, animal welfare, efficiency, and how this industry offers really great career choices for them.

So the RACE - Gippsland project is really important to us, because RACE - Gippsland can go into the schools, and let the students know, teach them all about these different careers, and then we can help them with their career pathways from there. I think my favourite part of it is to be able to work with people who are excited about the opportunity to actually showcase this information to our schools and our kids, it’s great to work with people who get excited about a challenge. I think the milk one was fun! I didn't know about milk had protein in it. I learned about, so, protein can make you stronger, the more protein the more stronger you can get.

Another great thing that I really enjoy hearing is teachers coming and saying to us that parents of students have said you know, my child isn't generally interested at school but has come home and told me about this new technology that I could use on our farm. And now we're thinking about using it, so I think that young people are really great agents of change. I think they're a really untapped resource, and if we can build them, and make them capable and have the skills to adopt technology on farms. I think that instead of speaking about why adoption rates are so low in the next 20 years, we’ll be talking about the impact that digital agriculture is having on the industry.