Professional standards and accreditation exist in many forms in industries in Australia and around the world. In accounting the two competing courses, Chartered Accountant (CA) and Certified Practising Accountant (CPA) are well known and undoubtedly necessary for accounting graduates if they are looking to find employment as a recognised accountant. Doctors and dentists require a form of strict accreditation and must attend a certain number of academic conferences each year as one part of maintaining contact with the most recent research and best practice guidelines. Engineers must complete accredited university courses and go through industry accreditation to work in the industry, although differences exist between the engineering disciplines. Lawyers must be admitted and complete the graduate diploma of legal practice (GDLP) before they are even classified as a legal practitioner. However, in the Australian agricultural industry, there is no accreditation for agricultural science courses, nor is there accreditation for agricultural professionals, drawing the concern of many in the industry.
The ‘studying to be a farmer’ phrase is often used when discussing ongoing low enrolment in agriculture-focused tertiary education. In my own experience, and in the experience of many other agvocates, it seems that the above mentality around studying agriculture drives students into working in other fields. Akinwumi Adesina, the World Food Prize laureate for 2017, noted in his address that agriculture needed to be ‘made cool again’ in Africa in order to attract more youth into the industry. Part of this ‘coolness’ is dispelling the ‘studying to be a farmer myth’ in both illustrating the wide ranging possibilities of agriculture and also that farming is actually a pretty cool occupation, where no one is ‘just’ a farmer.
So what is it about just ‘studying to be a farmer’ perception that is influencing career choices of young people around the world? Well firstly, studying farming is thought of as unglamourous, career lacking, remotely located and unprestigious compared to other professions such as law, medicine and engineering. The impact of the above misguided view on studying agriculture or becoming involved in the agricultural industry appears in the low (albeit improving) tertiary education enrolment rates and the poor awareness of career opportunities within the industry.
There are many not-for-profit organisations targeting the misrepresentation of agriculture through insights into the various roles within the industry. However, I feel that the industry could do well in the accreditation sense in actively improving both the perception and tangible standardisation of agricultural professionals at either the tertiary level through accredited courses, or the postgraduate level in a similar vein to CA and CPA. Experience at a number of universities suggests that courses vary significantly in content and length, resulting in differences in agricultural knowledge. Moreover, the lack of accreditation means that in drawing funding and attention for new courses, agriculture is overshadowed by accredited courses such as nursing, engineering and medicine.
Looking overseas, there are equivalents in the US and Canada where agronomists (known as agrologists in Canada) in certain states must be accredited in order to perform advisory services and charge consultation fees.
There are arguments out there that accreditation serves as but an additional cost for graduates and that consultants self-regulate in that market forces will drive excellence. Many larger consultant groups already provide year-long graduate programs for agricultural science graduates, yet these programs are not standardised or regulated in the content provided and methods taught. With sales and consultant fees driving service numbers and returns programs can often focus heavily on sales components over purely quality agronomical advice.
Thus there exists a dire need for a standardised and widely adopted agricultural industry professional accreditation program delivering:
- The accreditation and professional standards desired by graduates in developing well regarded courses and professionals.
- Appropriate competency levels for professionals with ongoing requirements for learning experiences throughout their consultancy career.
- A level of certainty for clients that consultants will be of a standardised agronomy competency.
An accreditation program will go a long way in meeting requirements of a rapidly growing internationally recognised industry, while providing critical evidence of the importance of professional standards and quality within Australian agriculture, to pull in more students and graduates.
Guy Coleman is the Founder of AgriEducate and a Director on the Board of the Ag Institute Australia (AIA). The AIA are in the process of developing a Chartered Agricultural Professional (CAP) accreditation program. Find out more here.