From labourers to problem solvers: Future farming demands new skills

Australian farming has a long and proud history of family succession. Farmers are well known to have a very strong, emotional bond with the land and a dedication to preserve a lasting legacy for future generations. 

Yet, particularly over the past 30 years or so, things have started to change. Many children of farming families now face difficult decisions when it comes to their turn to continue working the family farm. The prospect of a life committed to back-breaking work and toiling against the elements, is often enough to drive anyone into another career. 

While the demands on agriculture are growing, it is also difficult for farmers to find the skilled workforce they need. This is mainly due to the broadly held image of farming as being all about hard labour and toiling outdoors – rain, hail or shine.

However, the game has started to change and the shift in farming practices is significant. 

The Sunraysia region has always been on the forefront of advances in the horticulture sector and there have been many exciting developments in technology and farming practices that are already radically moving away from traditional farming. 

Soil erosion, water shortage, limited land, and an increasing world demand for food have led the need for research into environmental sustainability and increasing produce yields in farming.

Farms are becoming SMART and the Sunraysia region is at the fore front of a revolution in Australian horticulture and agriculture.  

The age of digital farming has arrived:
 
  • Drones, LoRaWan Internet of Things, sensor networks, artificial intelligence, and robotics have become the new farm implements. 
  • Remote sensor monitoring reads soil moisture and nutrition content. 
  • Cloud platform servers with programmed software models analyse data transmitting back to mobile devices. 
  • GPS monitoring and positioning technology instruct digital machinery, irrigation systems and automation with precision. 

The times have changed, modern farmers are innovators and creative problem solvers.

In partnership with the horticulture industry and local growers, SuniTAFE is providing training in the latest innovations and practices in agronomy at its SMART Farm, ensuring there is a capable workforce ready to operate in a digital farm setting.

SuniTAFE’s 55-hectare SMART Farm has cutting-edge technologies to achieve efficiencies in soil, irrigation, and fertilization management. Virtual Reality training simulations blended with computer-generated imagery (CGI) have been trialled to induct operators on expensive harvesting machinery to increase production and safety. While brilliant innovations in new dwarf crop varieties have also successfully increased greater yields.

SuniTAFE has many established partnerships - with multi-national food producers, industry peak bodies, local producers, sector experts, and associated universities - giving SMART Farm access to a wealth of expertise and knowledge.  This includes relationships with the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre (MRIC), La Trobe University’s Agri-bio facility at Bundoora, RMIT University’s Centre for Digital Excellence, and University of New England’s Smart Innovation Centre in Armidale.

SuniTAFE’s broad range of accredited courses not only provides horticulture students with the operational skills and knowledge for new roles in digital farming, but create pathways to university. 

SuniTAFE is preparing the next generation of farmers for dynamic new careers that will lead the Sunraysia horticulture industry into a sustainable future.