TV presenter and former Miss Universe Australia Kimberley Busteed is calling for federal and state governments to restore funding to AgForce’s ag education program – before it’s too late.
Since 2004, thousands of Queensland schoolchildren every year have been benefiting from the farming organisation’s School to Industry Partnership Program, through events such as Moo Baa Munch, Kids to Farms, Ag Inspirations, and Career Conversations.
Until recently, secondary school programs were funded by the state government and the federal government funded the primary school program Kids to Farms.
However, all funding has now been cut - leaving the future of the scheme hanging in the balance.
Kimberley, who grew up in Gladstone and went on to compete in the 2007 Miss Universe contest, is outraged.
The mum-of-three and Channel Seven presenter, who also runs a farm management enterprise in the Brisbane Valley, with retired cricketer husband Chris Simpson, urged politicians to recognise the importance of educating children about agriculture.
Her own children Evelyn, 6, Victoria, 4, and Jack, 2, are among 3,500 kids to have taken part in an AgForce SIPP event.
“It really is devastating to hear about the funding cuts,” she said.
“The AgForce SIPP team has done a great job to get the ball rolling, and I just can’t understand why anyone would fail to support them.
“I love the fact that our kids know exactly where their food comes from, however, there is still a real lack of awareness among children and their families in the city.
“It’s amazing how many mums will comment to me at school pick up after we’ve been on the farm for the weekend about how amazing farm life is and how lucky the kids are, but the conversations around what we do on farm aren’t happening.
“What is it that you do? What part of agriculture are you in? What happens on a farm? Those sorts of conversations are important.
“I think we’ve done a good job of putting a face to the farmer, but we can really do more work on filling in those blanks about what actually happens on the farm - how the animals are looked after and how we care for the environment.
“That’s why government funding is so important in helping to bring that information to schools.
“I truly wonder how many school leavers and parents, are having conversations around agricultural career paths in urban areas.
“There’s such a lack of visibility and conversation around our industry in the city.
“Let’s also talk about the opportunities in ag. It’s an extraordinary industry – and one that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind as an option – whether they choose to follow that path or not.”
Chris, who is currently Queensland Cricket Chairman, is also a huge advocate for agricultural education.
“We’ve got an open door to any schools, so if someone wants to come up, bring their schoolkids to our farms for a day we’ll show them everything that we do and provide meaning and context to how we get clean, quality food on the table,” he said.
“Kids need a clear understanding of the agriculture industry. Where food comes from, the role ag plays in Australia and the pathways available to them to get into the industry.
“It doesn’t have to be working on a farm, it can be from a capital city in an office. There are so many job opportunities out there that kids can really jump into. We need to do a better job at helping them get there.
“The flow on effect of withdrawing funding and education programs to our kids will be long-lasting.
“We will have a cohort of school-leavers, highly impressionable young adults, without the basis of understanding on how clean and fresh produce makes it to the dinner table.
“The economic, societal and environmental impact that this lack of understanding of our food production systems will become systemic.
“Governments need to get behind teaching agriculture in schools and help programs such as SIPP, not make it harder for them by refusing to show support and stripping desperately needed funding.”
AgForce is now providing sole funding for the program.
General President Georgie Somerset said she was saddened by the decision.
“SIPP has long been regarded not only as incredibly successful, but also as a benchmark for school to industry engagement,” she said.
“But without government backing it’s hard to say what happens next.
“Since the state government closed the last of the agricultural colleges in 2019, there are very few pathways available for young people to enter agriculture, and yet we have a farming industry crying out for a skilled workforce.
“It’s time politicians recognised the importance of sharing agriculture’s good news stories with young people, of encouraging children to take an interest in farming, and introducing students to the diversity of a career in agriculture - before it’s too late.”
Media contact: AgForce Head of Content Hannah Davies 0437 126 309