STEM skills required to drive the digital revolution in Australian agriculture

By Dr. Ray Johnson, Managing Director, Agricultural Appointments.

Employers now are more interested in people who possess more than just academic qualifications. They appreciate someone who is able to use his analytical skills to solve problems using science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). As the agricultural sector continues in the digital revolution referred to previously (http://bit.ly/2rwfAIP), it is crucial that candidates possess STEM skills. Modern agriculture is now a world of satellites, high-tech sensors, sophisticated software and IT-enabled machines, so it is necessary for prospective candidates to be ready to deal with digital agriculture.

Key STEM skills include;

  • Great research skills, ability to develop a project plan and draw relevant conclusions from the research plan;
  • Science skills to break down complex data into smaller parts. This is especially valuable for data analysts who have to translate huge amounts of data into insights for farmers;
  • Mathematics skills are an obvious requirement;
  • Technical skills to understand key satellite and sensor outputs and be able to run the necessary software to decode this into meaningful output useful for agricultural production.

Apart from these skills, it is also likewise important for candidates to have great communication skills, creative abilities and leadership and organizational skills to better interact with project partners. There has always been a cloud of stigma surrounding STEM careers and agriculture. The former one being described as being too technical for only geeks and agriculture being perceived as too rural and boring. But the facts prove otherwise. A report by the US department of agriculture shows that a staggering 58,000 agriculture related jobs requiring high tech skills will be opened up by the year 2020. The demand for jobs in engineering, renewable energy, sustainable farming and environmental industries will continue to be on the rise. With the introduction of scientific agriculture, the globe will be soon experience a great demand for machinery engineers, food scientists and technical experts.

These facts are reason enough for undergraduates to want to get excited about acquiring STEM skills to properly fill the vacuum of multitudes of graduates who enter the job market with impressive resumes yet having no practical skills. Candidates with STEM skills act as a bridge between farmers in the production chain. Increasingly Australian farmers will still need scientists to measure soil health, software analysts to analyze data, engineers to operate farm machinery and farm management advisers to offer insights on the best farm practices.  These combinations of strategies and approaches are now crucial to improve agricultural productivity, increase efficiency and enhance sustainability.  In my next article I will look at how Australian universities are gearing up for the challenges of digital agriculture.