Farm school on political agenda
IF Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell or his independent opponent Richie Williamson get their way, Grafton will become home to the only agricultural college on the NSW North Coast following the state election next March.
Yesterday both Mr Cansdell and Mr Williamson pledged their support for the establishment of an agricultural tertiary education facility in the Clarence.
The site marked for the campus is the largely state-owned and under-utilised Grafton Agricultural Research and Advisory Station on Trenayr Road, Junction Hill.
Speaking with The Daily Examiner, Mr Williamson said the college was a possibility he believed needed to be explored.
“I think it’s an avenue for the state to invest in the education and development of our major industries,” he said.
“We have a thriving agriculture and aquaculture industry here in the flood plains, with a strong fishing industry.
“The partnership between the state and a university would certainly be something that I believe has great merit and should I be elected on March 26, it would be something that I would push for, for the seat of Clarence.”
Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell also voiced his “full support” for the establishment of an agricultural college in Grafton.
He said many agricultural colleges had closed in recent years across NSW, limiting opportunities for country people to access an education on life on the land.
“I’m very happy to push that through government and have that on the agenda,” Mr Cansdell said.
“It’s a great idea.
“You’ve got the facility there; there’s plenty of room out there.
“Why not make space for a college for our youth?
“There’s a lot more advances in agricultural technology today.
“Any academic education we can provide would be a positive thing.”
Grafton High School agriculture and science teacher Keith Brown said he had witnessed a spike in the number of students wanting to study agriculture.
“From a school point of view, we’ve found more students taking agriculture in primary industries – which is a VET course – including those who aren’t from farms,” he said.
However, Mr Brown said pursuing that interest beyond school was problematic due to a lack of educational facilities.
“It’s very difficult to get qualifications (in agriculture) and stay in this area,” Mr Brown said.
“They can’t do much past their Certificate II.”
He said a nearby college would encourage young people to make a career out of agriculture, rather than opting to study a different field at university. There is just one agricultural college in the whole of NSW – Tocal – located north of Newcastle. The facility’s position as the sole college in the state follows the recent closure of the Murrumbidgee Rural Studies Centre at Yanco in the state’s south-west.
Tocal Agricultural College deputy principal Bill Kinsey said student numbers from the Clarence Valley and surrounding area made up about 10 per cent of the college’s yearly full-time and part-time enrolments.
“We’d have about eight to 15 a year (from the Clarence),” he said.
Mr Kinsey said in addition, there were a number of farmers from the region completing skills recognition courses and diplomas via home study through the college.
However, Mr Kinsey warned that attracting students was the greatest challenge faced by the agriculture education industry.
“It’s very hard to get young people to do agriculture,” Mr Kinsey said.
“If you build an agricultural college, it’d be very difficult to fill it up with students.”
In Queensland, there are four colleges and one university offering study in the agricultural arena, however, Mr Kinsey said two of the colleges – one in Dalby and the other in the Burdiken – were to shut down next year due to declining student numbers.