Roseworthy rules: The future of global agriculture
In 2005 Roseworthy campus celebrated 100 years of affiliation with the University of Adelaide. Lumen looks now at some of the research areas in which Roseworthy is playing a major role in the future of global agriculture.
In a speech made to the Roseworthy Old Collegians Association at their annual dinner this year, Professor James McWha, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, reflected on the role of agriculture in society.
"Agriculture is, in fact, the single most important activity of all time, and the one with the greatest impact on human existence. Without agriculture, we would all be hunter-gatherers and the sort of civilisation we know could not exist. Agriculture is, quite simply, an organised system of food and fibre production that began to emerge about 11,000 years ago.
"Townies (and today that's most of us) think that agriculture is less important than sports, than entertainment, than having a good time, or indeed most other things. They are seriously confused, but I suppose security of food supply and lifestyle does that.
"In the 1950s one person in four in the world didn't have enough to eat, so simple arithmetic suggested that a 25% increase in food production would solve the problem. Well, this is an appropriate occasion on which to say congratulations to all of us involved in agriculture, because we did it. Since 1950, food production has increased not by 25%, not even by 100%, but four-fold."
Professor McWha went on to say that, with increases in population, the existence of poor economic management and even government corruption in some developing countries, as well as an increase in super-sized, super-convenient foods, the definition of "enough" food has changed.
As Professor Phil Hynd, Director of Roseworthy campus, points out, despite the tremendous advances made by agriculture in the past 50 years, we are still in a situation where the world needs to double its food output over the next 25 years in order to be able to feed everyone.
"Roseworthy will play a vital role in the future of global agriculture both in research and education," he said.
The challenge facing future agriculture is to compete in a global market in which consumer demands are increasingly stringent and include concerns about sustainability, animal welfare, and product quality as well as price.
"Gone are the days when consumers discriminated solely on the basis of price," Professor Hynd said. "Today they are asking about the practices used in the production systems. Questions like: is it organic?, was it produced humanely?, was it produced with no genetic modification?, and so on.
"At Roseworthy we are committed to providing solutions and technologies that will allow these consumer concerns to be addressed. Much of our research is aimed at increasing the efficiency and quality of food and fibre production using the latest biotechnologies, but always within the context of sustainable systems."
This approach has been successful to date, as measured by the success of Roseworthy researchers in attracting competitive research grants and being invited to participate in seven Cooperative Research Centres, including the Pork CRC, whose headquarters are at Roseworthy.
"By collaborating closely with the agricultural industries and state government agencies such as SARDI and PIRSA, we can deliver a 'whole-of-chain' solution to problems," said Professor Hynd.
This is also attractive to overseas students who are increasingly choosing Roseworthy for their postgraduate training.
"One of the paradoxes of agriculture is that despite a burgeoning job market for agriculture graduates, we have had difficulty attracting school leavers into agriculture degrees," Prof Hynd said. "We are aiming to turn this around at Roseworthy with better marketing and education campaigns that highlight the exciting, interesting and high-technology careers that are available in agriculture and related fields.
"Our graduates in agriculture, animal science and agronomy are in high demand, with many employers approaching students before graduation!" he said. ■
Story Lisa Reid