Yoghurt comes from trees – dispelling the myths

Agriculture was on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning for all the wrong reasons again.  The article by Saffron Howden highlights the worrying levels of knowledge or lack of, about agriculture in schools

A survey released by Primary Industries Education Foundation shows that student and teacher knowledge of food and fibre production has declined to worrying levels. It is a wake-up call to government says PIEF’s Chair, Dr Cameron Archer.

The survey was undertaken by the Australian Council of Educational Research (ACER). It reveals that 75 per cent of students thought cotton socks were an animal product and 45 per cent of students could not identify that everyday lunchbox items such as a banana, bread and cheese originated from farms.

Read article by  Saffron Howden

Cultural cringe: schoolchildren can’t see the yoghurt for the trees

Read survey

Now lets be clear statistics like this and the fact that they highlight the disconnect between urban and rural Australia are not new and are not surprising.

What is new is that Agriculture now has a peak education body, the Primary Industries Education Foundation’s who, as part of it’s objectives can provide national leadership and coordination of initiatives to encourage primary industries education in schools through a partnership between industry, government and educators.

As witnessed today agriculture now has an independent provider of credible, relevant and factual information on all matters relating to agriculture for the community who can open all the right doors and get front page news in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The statistics are also not surprising after all Australia is the most urbanised country in the world and as we grow so will the disconnect. It was for exactly this reason that Art4Agriculture and our unique education programs were developed

It is vitally important that we re-connect. The health, wealth and happiness of all Australians depends upon it.   We are a lucky country and as a result food security does not register with most Australians.  As a testament to this our Archibull Prize surveys showed only half of the student participants surveyed in 2011 knew that Australian farmers feed 60 million people. In fact 40% thought Australian farmers ONLY feed 6 million people

Yet the survey further showed the students are not overly concerned about food shortages and instead are most worried about water scarcity and pollution – things they have witnessed first hand. We do not want our young people to be food insecure before they appreciate agriculture and the farmers who grow their food and fibre.

This appreciation will only be achieved if we engage in a 2 way conversations with students and teachers.  We all know that just making resources available for teachers without support and context does not work.  Programs must be engaging, they must put farmers and students together, they must support teachers to expand their learning of agriculture and they must deliver real outcomes that can be shared with a wider audience if we are going to have significant impact.

The survey commissioned  by PIEF and undertaken by ACER highlights the importance of a sustainability message for students in addition to students understanding where there food comes from.

We must get the balance right between food and fibre production and the environment. We must communicate this message and our farmers’ commitment to sustainable and ethical food and fibre production to urban audiences.

In fact sustainability IS the key message in Art4Agriculture’s programs with the theme of the Archibull Prize being “What does it take to feed and clothe your community for a day sustainably”.

All our programs are a true celebration of the people and the places behind the food we eat. They deliver strong rural sustainability messages – not just to the students involved, but also to the wider community. They showcase the positive things farmers are doing and empower them to share their stories. Our activities are genuine, contemporary, engaging, fun and full of hope for a sustainable future.

Agriculture, this survey is yet another wake up call to get behind programs such as Art4Agriculture that promote a “whole of industry vision” and a willingness to engage in two way communication between stakeholders and community.


24 hours after this story hit the new stands there are over 1.7 million links to it on the web worldwide. Embarassing yes but lets not play the blame game. This is a tripartate problem for goverment, industry and education but the solution is already out there and its already happening.

Agriculture now has a peak industry education body and we have cross industry highly successful independent in-school programs like Art4agriculture getting measurable results. The challenge is can we break down the industry silos and work together for the common good

Interested in Australian Agriculture?

Want to know all about Australian cotton farming check out this prize winning Archibull Prize entry from Colo High School

Or see what happens when you take fun and innovative agriculture programs into schools and actively engage with next gen who in turn become your AGvocates and tell Agriculture’s story for you.

Art4Agriculture Presents 2011 Cream of the Crop Finalists

Fast Facts about Australian agriculture

Sourced from the National Farmers Federation Farm Facts 2012

  • Each Australian farmer produces enough food to feed 600 people, 150 at home and 400 overseas
  • Australian farmers produce almost 93 per cent of Australia’s daily domestic food supply.
  • Australia’s major agricultural export markets are China (14 %), Japan (13 %), ASEAN (21 % ), other Asia (16 %), European Union (8 %), Middle East (8 %), United States (7 %) and other (17 %).
  • Australian farmers are environmental stewards, owning, managing and caring for 61 percent of Australia’s land mass.
  • 94 %of Australian farmers actively undertake natural resource management.


  1. Here, here to your comments Lynne. I am in a fortunate position to teach secondary students in the areas of food and agriculture, and can certainly back up what yourself, Saffron and the PIEF are saying. The divide certainly exists, and there is a certain level of ignorance in where our food and fibre come from. I believe that many adults are also confused as well; perhaps not to quite the same level, but in terms of how food is produced and the state of agriculture in Australia.
    We need to focus again on where our food comes from and encourage conversations that provide an accurate and balanced view of farming. It’s time to put aside the notion that farming happens somewhere “out there”, and that it’s of little everyday concern. We simply can’t exist without the food, fibre and feed farmers produce; indeed we need to pay much more homage to an industry that we will further come to rely on as global food security issues continue to raise their heads.
    We need to smarten up our act and promote agriculture as an industry that will take us into the future, and the future needs people trained in science, technology and research to ensure we can increase food and fibre production in a world with less land to produce from and a need to protect what land we already use.
    The key is to start at school, using engaging programs that highlight the importance of our primary industries. Well done to programs like Art4Ag that provide a positive message to students on the future of agriculture, and with organisations like the PIEF, we can look forward to the formal promotion of agriculture into the future. After all, the future lies in the hands of our youth.


  2. Agforce MLA etc should be proactive and produce material to be included in the curriculum. It is a disgrace that such a fundementally basic knowledge of “where does my food come from” is being lost. No wonder we have a city country divide!


    1. Hi Shelley
      MLA does produce quite good material for schools and Agforce does some very impressive work in schools. I know because they are both Art4agriculture supporting partners. What agriculture lacks is a collaborative “whole of industry” vision. Teachers are the key but they get bombarded with resources from everywhere. Firstly agriculture needs to fully support PIEF with funding to ensure agriculture is incorporated into the entire teaching curriculum .
      The survey and other work by the foundation shows a whole-of-education strategy would offer government and industry the greatest return on educational investment, particularly if that strategy integrates with the school curriculum at early primary level and continues right through to late secondary.
      This extract from the Foundation’s submission to the recent senate enquiry sums it up “Reaching and influencing Australiaʼs 286,000 teachers is a massive task – requiring a heavy emphasis on ʻpracticeʼ rather than ʻpolicyʼ. This includes providing them with high quality tools, training and industry networks that are structured to help them deliver against their curriculum goals. Yet most school based initiatives aiming to incorporate primary industry contexts into the classroom have failed because they are poorly conceived, too narrowly focused (to one specific industry sector for example), under-resourced, have no or inadequate teacher professional learning components to the activities, or are not designed with teachersʼ needs, capabilities and capacities in mind.
      Encouragingly, across all primary industries there is a strong desire to better engage with the education sector. But in order to do so, effective engagement requires acceptance of a comprehensive and collaborative vision and substantial government support to help bring it to fruition.


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