It’s great to see demand for third-level ag science qualifications growing throughout the island of Ireland. This, no doubt, reflects the media and general hype that has been dedicated to the prospects for farming and food over the past number of years. But, as this year’s new crop of students make their way to UCD and Queen’s University Belfast – which delivers its agricultural science degree course in tandem with CAFRE – the question has to be asked: what jobs will new graduates be able avail of in three of four years’ time?
Harvest 2020 envisages a more-than-significant growth in farm output across many of Ireland’s food production sectors – dairy being the most obvious example. Given the tremendous volatility that is currently impacting on world food markets there is now some doubt as to whether the growth targets for the food and farming sectors will be realised. But – at the very least – it seems certain that the growth in agri output that has been recorded over the past five years will be maintained.
This being the case, there is an onus on both the farming and food industries to identify now how they intend making best use of the graduates that will be coming their way over the next few years – and specifically – the additional numbers required to meet their needs.
Only a small number of ag graduates, traditionally, go home to farm full time. Most are either employed by the wider agricultural sector, including co-ops, Teagasc, the Department of Agriculture or the banks. And, more and more frequently in recent years, the number of graduates travelling abroad for work continues to be overseas. And given the huge potential for food production and processing in China and the continent of Asia as a whole, this potential career path may well prove attractive to increasing number of Irish graduates.
But the overriding factor within all of this is the fact that the calibre of young people coming into the farming and food sectors here in Ireland is increasing. So it is vitally important for our farming and food industries to make best use of this resource.