THE number of people opting for a career in agriculture has jumped significantly in the past 12 months, with numbers of new students taking agricultural courses soaring.
But while it could be assumed that the lift in numbers has been influenced by the federal government's decision to drop prices for agricultural courses by as much as 62 per cent, or the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year, there are indications other factors are at play.
The new intake for students going into the Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences degree at the University of Adelaide has jumped 50pc on 2020 figures, going from 58 last year to 88 for 2021. It was also up on the 2019 intake of 68.
University of Adelaide's Department of Agricultural Science head Jason Able said combined with the 2020 mid-year intake, there would be more than 100 students in some first-year courses.
To understand what was attracting these students into agriculture, Professor Able conducted a survey during the orientation activities at the Waite campus last week.
To his surprise, but also delight, he found COVID-19 and reduced fees were not high on the list of motivators.
"We wanted to pinpoint if COVID had an impact, and are we seeing a blip?" he said.
"But it's really good news that no students selected these as their top reasons."
Instead, Prof Able said the biggest influences cited in the survey were an interest in a sustainable future and a passion for agriculture.
He said this interest in sustainability was a trend he had been seeing in recent years.
"There is an altruistic motive for students who think they can contribute to society down the track," he said.
The survey also showed about 55pc of the intake were not from a farming or country background.
"Irrespective of background, what is making them select ag as a career choice is the search for a sustainable future," he said.
"The beauty of ag is it's so diverse, whether you end up in banking or out in the field or researching."
He said the university had also been working with high schools to promote the industry's potential.
Numbers were also up for those looking at the university's courses in veterinary bioscience, animal science, animal behaviour and veterinary technology, with 289 new students across the four courses.
Animal and veterinary sciences head of school and Dean of Roseworthy campus Wayne Hein said there had been a gradual increase in student numbers across the past five years, but the uptake of the new courses in animal behaviour and vet tech were also pleasing.
He said part of what was driving this increase was the high demand and good job prospects.
"There is very good employer demand for vets - there is a shortage of vets, particularly in country areas but even in the cities and suburbs," he said.
He said the veterinary technology course was particularly popular, attracting more than 80 students in its first intake last year and 71 this year, with Adelaide only the third university in Australia to offer the course.
Irrespective of background, what is making them select ag as a career choice is the search for a sustainable future.
It is a similar situation in for those studying agriculture through tafeSA.
Primary Industries, Animal and Laboratory Sciences acting education manager Judi Brooks said the number of enrolments in tafeSA's primary industries courses for the first semester had increased 15pc on the same time last year, with this demand expected to continue.
She said the most popular courses, based on present enrolments, were the certificate II and III classes in horticulture, as well as Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management, and the wine and spirits school courses.
"We are seeing increasing demand from entry-level students aspiring to work in industry, along with existing workers wanting to enhance and advance their skills and knowledge in these sectors," she said.
"On the Eyre Peninsula, for example, we have seen growth in traineeships across both agriculture and aquaculture."
While courses had jumped to online last year, to manage during the pandemic, she said the 2021 courses would be a mix of face-to-face, blended and online formats.
Prof Able said the university students would also see a return to more normal class structures.
"One of the telling messages we got last year was students were keen on the face-to-face contact and really missed that," he said.
Adelaide University Agricultural Students Association president Brianna Schaefer said it was "exciting" to see the numbers of new students coming in.
She believed reduced student fees were part of the attraction, while COVID caused some student deferrals, which may have lifted numbers this year.
"But over the past few years, numbers have been growing as people are becoming more aware that agriculture is not just hard labour in the field but so much more," she said.
"It's not just people coming off a farm, although there are a lot with a rural background, but so many without that connection who are looking at the career options."
Ms Schaefer said after a tougher year last year, the AUASA was looking forward to a more interactive year with a number of events and programs planned to help students build their networks for the future.
RELATED:Grads look for next step
Incoming student Anna Beebee, Ashton, is among those with an interest in sustainability.
She had tried out a few degree options, including arts, education and midwifery, before enrolling in agriculture. She said the chance to work outdoors and have flexibility was appealing.
Annabel Porter, Jamestown, grew up on a broadacre cropping and sheep farm and says agriculture was always a passion.
"I've just always loved ag and being part of it," she said.
She is undecided about whether her future lies in livestock or cropping - or both - but is hoping to find a career that will allow her to travel.
Renmark's Deepak Atwal, who gained a Merit in agricultural production in last year's SA Certificate of Education, plans to return to his family's orchard.
In the meantime, his goal is to gain a wider view of the industry and business skills, learning from other enterprises as well.
"I want to get perspective and experience and broaden my horizons," he said.
Start the day with all the big news in agriculture. Sign up here to receive our daily Stock Journal newsletter.