What is AgTech and what opportunities are there for international graduates?
Hoping to translate your passion for the planet into your education? Look no further than AgTech. Marrying agriculture with technology, AgTech is an exciting and innovative industry that seeks to help agribusinesses improve their processes using technology. From horticulture to livestock farming to fisheries, the goal of AgTech is to make management practices more efficient to ensure we effectively feed, clothe, and protect the population.
We spoke with two AgTech experts in Queensland to gain their insights into the future of the industry as well as helpful advice for new graduates hoping to find employment opportunities. Andrés Javier Morera Cano is currently navigating the transition from student to successful alumni: he is about to complete his Bachelor of Agriculture at Central Queensland University (CQUniversity) and is preparing to venture into the AgTech sector as a working professional. Dr. Richard Koech, Senior Lecturer and Head of Course for Agriculture at CQUniversity, holds a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a PhD in agricultural engineering. Some of his areas of expertise include agricultural irrigation systems, agricultural soil and water management, and hydraulics and fluid mechanics.
The role of education in AgTech
Students hoping to pursue a career in AgTech will need a strong knowledge base in agriculture in order to succeed. One of the best ways to acquire this knowledge is by pursuing a degree in agriculture. In addition to your coursework, agriculture degrees also provide practical opportunities outside the classroom.
“Throughout my course, I had the chance to work as a research assistant for the Central Queensland Innovation and Research Precinct (CQIRP),” says Andrés. “I worked for a research group that is still implementing precision agriculture in horticultural farms principally in the mango industry.” He shares that this practical involvement in the AgTech sector allowed him to better understand the role of technology in improving agribusinesses’ decision-making practices.
That said, students pursuing other types of degrees can still find ways to become involved in AgTech. While it is vital to have a thorough understanding of the agricultural space, the budding technological side of the industry opens doors to students pursuing more technology-based degrees.
“Students with engineering degrees – mechanical, electrical – are also able to work in the AgTech sector,” says Richard. “Students with computer science or computer engineering backgrounds [can also pursue a career in AgTech].” These students, he suggests, should take agricultural courses throughout their studies to maintain their familiarity with the industry.
The benefits of studying AgTech in Queensland
Boasting one of the most abundant agricultural and food sectors in Australia, studying in Queensland is the perfect choice for students pursuing a degree in AgTech.
Queensland is home to some of the “most prominent horticultural regions, [such as Bundaberg and Rockhampton,]” says Richard. “We’ve got a very vibrant horticultural industry. All these horticultural industries use a lot of technology and that is going to increase in the future. [By studying in Queensland], you are aligning yourself with jobs for the future.”
Andrés echoes this sentiment, saying: “I [found] that being in Queensland complemented my studies. Queensland is a state with so much biodiversity – from tropical, subtropical, to more temperate regions. From dryland agricultural systems to fully irrigated systems, [Queensland offers] different possibilities for those interested in the industry to think more holistically about the impact of technology in the agriculture sector.”
Job opportunities in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing division have been steadily on the rise in the recent past: employment has grown by roughly 17.5% over the last five years. Although the market is expected to experience some highs and lows due to COVID-19, Richard highlights that the employment outlook in the AgTech sector is still very promising: “I’m not aware of anyone who has graduated [with an AgTech-related degree] and failed to find a job. The future looks very bright.”
Setting yourself up for success
Both experts highlight the importance of networking with your academic community (i.e. professors, colleagues, peers), particularly for international students who likely have fewer connections here in Australia. “Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself,” Andrés urges. According to Richard, you can escape your comfort zone and expand your network in a variety of ways, including part-time jobs and volunteering.
Additionally, both Andrés and Richard emphasise that AgTech students receive a great deal of support from their institutions in terms of finding employment (i.e. sending job postings via email, inviting students to job fairs, helping students secure internships). Therefore, it’s essential for students to interact with staff, express their interest in these opportunities, and take advantage of these resources to transition into a successful career.
Andrés is living proof that building your professional network during your studies can set you up for success; he recently received a job offer from an agricultural company to assist in its horticultural and crop monitoring operations. Crediting his success to his experience as a research associate and his relationship with his supervisor, he shares: “Building great relationships with our teachers can be very important to find our dream job.”