A life in agriculture conjures up images of dusty plains, long days on the land and the intense responsibility of animal or crop welfare. Whilst this is absolutely the case in some instances, there are many different career paths an agriculture qualification can take you.
Graduates of agriculture courses land jobs as farm hands, farm managers, contractors, consultants and agronomists. And the integrated study program at Melbourne Poly technic allows you to flow from one course to the next, depending where your interests and aspirations lie.
The entry-level Certificate III in Agriculture (AHC30116) gives you a solid grounding in basic farming skills, how to drive a tractor, how to build a fence, how to handle livestock, planning feed protocols, planting and maintaining grain and vegetable crops and pastures. After 12 months full time (three or four days a week), graduates are ready to step into jobs such as a farm hand, livestock handler in sale yards, contract worker, farm contracting or farm harvest services.
Lead teacher in agriculture Kate Norris says: ‘At Melbourne Polytechnic we work on a holistic approach. We run our own commercial enterprise of beef cattle and we want our students to understand the whole process. We build skills based around our farm annual calendar.’
The Certificate IV in Agriculture (AHC40116) works as a backgrounding program for students wanting to step into management and can lead to second-in-charge type roles. This course is linked to the Diploma of Agriculture (AHC50116) and together the courses take two years and include underpinning skills, scientific background, report writing, and management skills and knowledge to make farm management decisions. The Diploma can also lead into the Bachelor of Agriculture degree program.
Certificate III and Certificate IV in Agriculture are offered as Free TAFE programs, and attract all ages – young people from farming families, school leavers not sure where their future in agriculture might lie, people in their 60s keen on escaping the city and students from all around the world.
Choosing an agriculture career path at Melbourne Polytechnic means you don’t need to find a job on a farm or traineeship to study; you learn on a real working farm. Kate says ‘all of our learning is integrated into practices on the farm. Students work side by side with us and our farm staff, and do some classroom-based theoretical learning but the majority of our learning is done out in the paddock.’
Kate says the role of farm manager ‘can be a real calling for some people’. ‘It's a lifestyle change, it's the freedom to become the custodian of the land, the ability to make change however big or small’.
There is a rhythm to life on the farm with the changing seasons, and every day is different. ‘One day you could be flat-out, mustering sheep and getting ready for shearing. And then you can be finished with the sheep and they're back in the paddock. And suddenly, you've got time to relax and be with your family. Agriculture has the ability to work around your family as well.’
Head of Higher Education Agriculture program Dr Sylvana Iacuone says for those who wish to go on to further study, Melbourne Polytechnic offers the Undergraduate Certificate in Agriculture and Technology (Agronomy) and the Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology (Agronomy major).
The undergraduate certificate is one semester, full time, of four degree subjects and is a ‘foot in the door in industry’, so you would develop basic skills, both vocational and academic. It’s also a pathway as those four subjects are credited towards the Bachelor of Agriculture degree (three years full-time).
The bachelor degree leads to a career as an agronomist; a consultant who specialises in problem solving and data driven outcomes analysis and consultation to businesses who manage the growth of crop plants and livestock . Agronomists have a holistic knowledge of livestock and pastures used to feed them, soils, plant nutrients, water availability, fertiliser, pest and disease control, and crops rotation and variety.
As an agronomist you could work for one of Australia’s leading agriculture-based companies such as Murray Goulburn or Elders, or as a consultant working for yourself. Along with the technical expertise, you need to be good at working with and understanding the requirements of the growers and farmers you are advising.
Kate Norris says ‘there are so many jobs available in agriculture now, so many opportunities available for anybody at any level. There are opportunities to be able to climb that ladder, to be able to start out working as a farm hand and then move up through the ranks up to a management role.
‘For the person that's driven and willing and wants it, the opportunities are endless’.
Melbourne Polytechnic’s agriculture courses are run in Melbourne’s north, at Yan Yean commercial farm with pastures, cropping and livestock; and Northern Lodge with horses, pastures and cattle. Our Epping campus offers students a practical learning experience by applying skills you learn from day one, in our industrial training facilities for agriculture, aquaculture, meat processing, viticulture and winemaking.