'Kick in the guts' for QLD agriculture industry
NATIONAL agricultural body AgForce say the short sighted decision to cut much needed funding for an agricultural educators conference is another kick in the guts for the industry.
Funded by the School to Industry Partnership Program (SIPP), the bi-annual Food, Fibre and Agriculture Educators Conference will be held for the last time this week after the State Government last year announced it would no longer provide $181,000 in funding required to run the conference, saying the course was no longer relevant.
Over 100 specialist agriculture teachers, from Queensland and interstate, attend the flagship conference in Brisbane, which has run for 15 years reaching more than 10,000 students.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the industry was "dumbfounded" by the State Government's decision to cut funding to the program.
"The Palaszczuk Government's short sighted decision to cut funding to this program will mean Queensland kids will become even more disconnected from where their food comes from and how it is produced, further deepening the ever growing divide between city and country," he said.
"For many city kids, SIPP offered their only opportunity to learn about farming, about how their food is grown, and about what an interesting and diverse environment agriculture in Queensland is.
"Primary and high school kids will now struggle to learn about agriculture, which is especially alarming when you consider that a survey by the National Farmers' Federation found 83 per cent of Australians describe their connection with farming as distant or non-existent."
Saying that many other states have adapted the SIPP model to invest in agricultural education, Mr Guerin added it was incomprehensible that Queensland, home to the country's largest and fastest growing agricultural industry, was doing the opposite.
"While New South Wales implements compulsory ag classes in high school, and Tasmania injects and additional $16 million into their school farms initiative, Queensland has axed its home grown program that costs just $18 per student to deliver," he said.
President of both the Queensland and National Agricultural Educators' Association and local teacher Hardy Manser said the flow on effects of the funding cuts to SIPP would be widespread.
"Unfortunately with the funding cuts, that is going to have a massive knock on affect," he said.
"To lose SIPP's is just a travesty and an absolute gutting of the agricultural education program in Queensland."
Providing agriculture teachers across the state with the most up to date and significant information, the conference allows educators to keep up to date with progress in the industry on a large scale.
"Every week in agriculture we are getting a massive growth in resourcing, in terms of industry development across the state, and it is one of the main economic pillars of the Queensland economy," Mr Manser said.
"Yet for us to stay current as educators it is very, very hard to do that as an individual, so program's like SIPP are essential to provide opportunities like this conference.
"SIPP's has had a great impact on Queensland agricultural education over a number of years."
Disappointed by the decision to cut the funding, Mr Manser said it was the students who would lose out more than anyone else.
"We really need to look after our future generations by adequately preparing them and by doing that we also need to keep our teachers up to date," he said.
"If industry changes we have to keep up with it, otherwise we get left behind and we leave our kids behind.
"The model they currently have works, so I don't understand why it is being removed."
Following last year's decision to close agricultural colleges in Emerald and Longreach, Mr Guerin said the recent actions from the State Government were disheartening.
"This is another kick in the guts from the State Government for agriculture, an industry which the government's own AgTrends report estimated will top $14 billion in terms of gross value of production this year," he said.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries responded to AgForce's statement by confirming a one-off payment to allow this year's conference to run.
"The decision was made last year to end government funding to the AgForce run SIPP program, with this conference supported with a $26,000 one-off contribution," they said.