Listen: Today’s agriculture students are tomorrow’s heroes

In a special lecture, Professor Timothy Reeves argues sustainable agriculture must be considered as part of a nexus with food, nutrition and human health.

Professor Reeves is the first Professor in Residence the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences has appointed at the Dookie campus.

At Dookie, Professor Reeves teaches sustainable agriculture to Bachelor of Agriculture students, provides support for student-industry engagement and deliver careers and research project advice. He also acts as a mentor to the Dookie campus’ graduate research students and academic staff.

On Thursday 20 September he delivered a special presentation on the future of agriculture, titled: “AGRICULTURE–FOOD–NUTRITION–HEALTH: Tomorrow’s heroes are today's students!”

Professor Reeves first delivered this lecture at Dookie Day 2018. In his presentation Professor Reeves emphasises three key points.

Agriculture is part of a health nexus

Professor Reeves says that while his major emphasis at Dookie campus is on sustainable agricultural systems, it is paramount that these systems be considered as part of the agriculture–food–nutrition–human health nexus, as nutritional security is a mega-challenge for the coming decades.

Image: Professor Timothy Reeves FTSE
Dookie Professor in Residence Timothy Reeves. Photo: Andy Rogers.

Today two billion people lack key micronutrients like iron and vitamin A; around one quarter of the world’s children are stunted or wasted as a result of malnutrition and will never achieve their true potential; a further two billion adults and 41 million children are overweight or obese; and 88% of countries face a serious burden of two or three forms of malnutrition.

Graduates must understand the agricultural industry

Secondly, he noted that the Faculty is committed to contemporary global excellence in research and teaching to serve the agriculture-food sector and its graduates comprise a diverse range – molecular biologists, social scientists, animal and plant scientists, veterinarians, food scientists, engineers, physiologists, agronomists, economists, rural financiers, consultants, farmers and more.

The common and essential requirement for them all however, is to understand the context of the agricultural industry for which they will all work, and the Dookie experience delivers this efficiently, effectively and enjoyably.

“Listening to some of the third-year students tell their audiences that the Dookie experience was one of the best things in their life, was very emotional and uplifting,” Professor Reeves said.

He says the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus is a key node of the Faculty, focused on applied research and teaching in sustainable agriculture and sustainable intensification. It delivers essential industry experience to its students through frequent exposure and interactions with the 2,440-hectare commercial farm; industry excursions to farms, processors, marketers; complemented by visits and demonstrations from agronomists, vets and specialists from the dairy, pig, sheep and wool industries and more. The engages with over 40 different organisations in the Goulburn Valley region.

This broad range of experiences not only makes an outstanding and valuable contribution to the education process, but also gives the students industry exposure and an insight into potential future jobs – some third-years already have job offers.

Agriculture faces a ‘perfect storm’

Thirdly, Professor Reeves described the “greatest challenge that faces humankind” – global food and nutritional security – in a world where population is still growing at around 150 people per minute and each of these new additions will need to be adequately fed.

This will necessitate a doubling of food production by around 2060, but with the “Perfect Storm” constraints of less land, less water, changing diets and an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all overshadowed by the multiplier effects of climate change.

Not only does Australian agriculture have an important role to play in this battle for food security – on average, each Australian farmer feeds around 600 people, 150 domestically and 450 overseas – but perhaps even more so, Australian science and technology will and should be a vital contributor to winning this ‘battle’ and it is today’s students who will be tomorrow’s heroes in that battle.

“We in the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences must all strive to equip them as well as we can,” he said.

Banner image: Professor Timothy Reeves delivers this lecture at Dookie Day 2018. Photo: Shape Creative.