Secondary Students Get Immersed in Plant Life During First SuniTAFE SMART Farm Visit of 2024.

06 Mar 2024

Secondary Students Get Immersed in Plant Life During First SuniTAFE SMART Farm Visit of 2024.
Secondary students participating in the 2024 Northern Mallee Horticulture Immersion (NMHI) Project were treated to an industry visit to SuniTAFE’s SMART Farm campus last month.
The NMHI Project is an initiative of the Northern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network (NMLLEN).

It aims to show secondary students with an interest in farming, science, engineering, and emerging technologies the many horticultural career pathways they can take locally, in an effort to keep them local and fill crucial skills demand. 

This year, the Project has 32 participants from Chaffey Secondary College, Red Cliffs Secondary College, Merbein P-10 College, Irymple Secondary College, and Mildura Specialist School. 

The students were given a tour of the farm and a demonstration of key technologies used at the SMART Farm campus. 

In between these activities, the students were also given presentations on the pathways they can take to grow a career in Horticulture. 

The students got to hear about the more obvious career pathways in the industry, such as general farming, agronomy, mechanics, or engineering. However, they also learned about the lesser thought-of jobs like finance or marketing. 

SuniTAFE’s Horticultural Relationships Manager, Matt Wilson says the visit to the SMART Farm campus is all about getting students excited about a career in Horticulture, placing an emphasis on technology. 

“In this new generation, most of the students are online and they’re quite tech-driven,” he said. 

“They’re linked to mobile phones and I don’t know of any teenager that doesn’t have a mobile phone within this current generation. So, I think they find it quite interesting that a lot of the technologies we use have capabilities that link to apps on phones.”

This technological literacy is beneficial for newcomers to the industry and will put them in good stead to make a difference in the field. 

“We’re very much data driven now in this industry, so we need emerging leaders that understand how new technologies operate and how to analyse and utilise the data obtained to make informed decisions,” Matt said. 

“We also need students that can develop skills to design new technologies that will improve how we manage and grow horticultural food crops now and into the future, which includes those who specialise in the fields of Engineering, Mechanics, Science, Agronomy, and Mathematics. 

“This will aid in the development of new and improved computer coding and algorithms to design and operate robotics, autonomous vehicles, and technologies that utilise artificial intelligence.”

As Matt explains, these skillsets have never had more relevance or urgency. 

“The world’s population has grown significantly since the 1970s, when the population was estimated to be approximately 3.5 billion people,” he said. 

“The population is now estimated to be over 8 billion people and our natural resources have not increased during this time.

“It has never been more important to develop new, more efficient ways to grow and manage food crops or to grow more with less. Our new emerging leaders will play a vital role in this space.”

The SuniTAFE SMART Farm team use these farm excursions to demonstrate to students the career pathway opportunities available locally. 

“We have so many opportunities within SuniTAFE,” Matt said.

“Students can start early with the Vocational Education and Training Delivered to Secondary Students (VETDSS) program. We also offer a range of certificates for after school in areas like Horticulture, Conservation and Ecosystems Management, Agriculture, Parks and Gardens, and Nursery Operations.

“Many of the staff who teach these courses have a horticultural industry background and are able to provide students with real life examples from personal experience. 

“We really just want these students to get excited about the industry so hopefully they pursue this as a career, and come back to SuniTAFE to do the VETDSS program or complete a course or traineeship.

“The skills and qualifications they obtain will open up many job opportunities within the horticulture industry.” 

To see the full list of Horticulture courses on offer at SuniTAFE, click here. 

Or, click here to learn more about the SMART Farm campus.