University of Melbourne at forefront of agriculture science

Sam Nielsen is a first year University of Melbourne Bachelor of Agriculture student looking to the future of agriculture in Australia.

While Sam’s interest in agriculture comes from working on his father’s sheep and dryland cropping farm, he is also interested in agronomy, efficient fertiliser use and how technology can make Australian agriculture more productive and sustainable.

As such, Sam appreciated the opportunity to get hands-on experience at the University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus, a 2440-hectare agricultural education and research hub in the Goulburn Valley.

“There are crops, cattle, sheep — they’ve even got a robotic dairy where you can load the cows in and they pretty much take care of the rest themselves,” Sam said.

The robotic dairy measures the health and productivity of each cow as it is milked.

And automated pastures are automatically calibrated to produce optimum growth using recycled water. Sam said he is interested in precision agriculture technologies, such as the dairy, which could boost productivity and sustainability on Australian farms.

“My brother is actually doing a Master in Mechatronics at Melbourne,” he said.

“He’s making a drone at the moment and I’ve been telling him to get into agriculture with me, because it’s a booming industry. If you can get some good integration of those technologies it’ll really make agriculture more efficient and help farmers feed our growing population.”

The new agriculture curriculum Melbourne University launched last year prepares future agricultural scientists such as Sam with a broad understanding of the technical and scientific aspects of farming systems in its first year.

“We do biology, natural environments and agricultural production systems subjects,” Sam said. “They’re all good at giving you an idea of what you want to do.”

From second year, students specialise with a major in production animal health, plant and soil science or agricultural economics.

This approach gives agriculture graduates broad knowledge of the industry and specialised skills, allowing them to enter the industry with an understanding of their role in the supply chain, as well as that of farmers, consultants and agribusiness professionals.

“I’m still deciding what I want to do but I’m interested in agronomy, agribusiness, even veterinary science,” Sam said.” I want to see where the course takes me and what I’m interested in.”

University of Melbourne provides scholarships for agriculture students, handing out more than $400,000 this year.

This money helps students from rural and regional Victoria access higher education.

Sam has benefited from a William Buckland Foundation Residential Scholarship, which pays for a place at St Hilda’s College at the university’s Parkville campus. He said the scholarship has made the move to the city easier.

“It’s a great atmosphere, friendly people,” he said. “They’ve been welcoming to me and have eased my transition that little bit more.”

This year a new application process for agriculture scholarships allows students to be considered for most scholarships with a single application.

Find out more about University of Melbourne scholarships

Read more at The Weekly Times.