Professor Neal Menzies
Professor Neal Menzies

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences website.

The current economic, social and environmental climate means both exciting and challenging times ahead for those involved in the disciplines relating to Agriculture. Before you venture further into our website, and explore our research activities and academic offerings in more detail, I would just like to take a few moments to reflect on how our students and staff are helping to create a more sustainable Australia, and contributing to global food security.
 
By 2050 we anticipate that the worlds’ population will have increased by 2.3 billion. Food and fibre production must increase by 70% to meet the needs of this larger, and more wealthy, global population.  Our challenge is to meet this increased demand for agricultural produce, and to do so with the least possible environmental insult.  Furthermore, we need to ensure that our agricultural enterprises are profitable, that our rural communities remain vibrant, and that the Australian community achieves the correct balance between conflicting land uses (agriculture, urbanization, mining, conservation).  This is the exciting domain in which the staff of our school work, and for which we train our graduates.

The Challenges

The challenge of meeting human nutritional needs is a complex one. Globally we currently have around one billion people who are undernourished, but we also have two billion people who are obese. So our challenge is to continue to meet the demand for increased quantity of food, but also to increase the quality of food. Most challenging of all, this must be achieved using less water, on less arable land, with lower losses of nutrients from the soil and crop protection chemicals to the environment, and in the broader context of diminishing fossil fuels and other natural resources, and a more erratic climate. 
 
The high level of interconnectedness throughout our disciplines means that problems in one area of the chain cascade into other areas. For example, insecticides used to control pests in cotton can contaminate beef; because following the removal of the cotton fibre, the seed is crushed for oil, and the remaining high protein meal is fed to stock. At a much larger scale, a warmer climate brings an increased risk of disease and pest incursion, which in turn can affect crop production or endanger natural flora and fauna. Clearly, our graduates must be comfortable working on issues from elucidating fundamental bio-physical processes, right through to the management of large-scale ecological and agricultural systems.

Demand for our graduates at home and abroad

The Australian food and fibre industries will continue to provide Australians with economic growth and security in a world that is struggling to sustain itself.  Even during the global financial crisis, our agricultural enterprises flourished, and gross domestic product from the agricultural and food manufacturing industry grew during this period.  The agrifood industries manage over 60% of Australia’s landscape and produce 90% of Australia’s domestic food needs.  
 
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics forecasts that the value of Australian agricultural, fisheries and forestry exports will be $38.6 billion in 2011-2012, which is an increase of 6.6% from $36.2 billion in 2010-2011. Through our engagement with industry, education of graduates, and our research outcomes, the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences will continue to play its part in continuing this endeavour. 
 
Australia’s disease-free status underpins its world-class reputation as a reliable, high quality supplier, with excellent food safety standards. Our graduates will be on the frontline in the never-ending struggle to maintain this reputation, while our researches will continue to provide the necessary information and advancements to protect this status.
 
Australia’s agriculture sector is strong, so there is also a strong demand for graduates. The Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture estimates that current employment opportunities for new graduates from our school’s disciplines exceed 2000 per year. With fewer than 800 new graduates nation-wide, this means our graduates are in high demand. Current key issues such as rangeland management, greenhouse gas emission reduction, water scarcity, soil degradation, and the increased focus on genetics, biodiversity and bioengineering have only added to this unmet demand for graduates.  Our graduates are also sought after by the mining industry, and the broader environmental sector, due to the social requirement to demonstrate good natural resource management practices, and to maintain and enhance biodiversity.
 
Finally, to our international role! Australia’s agricultural industries generate enough food for over 60 million people, with 80% of the total gross value of agricultural production being exported. While this is an impressive track record, Australia’s role in ensuring global food security will not be as a food supplier; our exports could only feed a small proportion of the 2.3 billion population increase we expect by 2050. We believe that Australia’s contribution will be the provision of knowledge (how to produce more food with fewer resources) and education (people who can use the knowledge, and teach it to others).  
 
Our School’s role is clear, and we are well positioned to deliver the graduates needed. Most of the global population increase, and much of the potential for increased food production, is in the tropics and sub-tropics. The University of Queensland is located in the sub-tropics, and our orientation as a research and teaching institution is toward the tropics.
 
In order to learn more of the educational and research opportunities that exist in the School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, I encourage you to take the time now to explore our website.
 
Professor Neal Menzies
Head, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences
Professor of Soil and Agricultural Science
Dean of Agriculture

 

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