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UWA Future Farm 2050
To cope with population projections for 2050, we must go beyond ‘business-as-usual’ in our food production systems if we are to avoid further compromising the environment and therefore human wellbeing. This challenge is multidisciplinary because agriculture is multidisciplinary – farmers have to be able to interpret wide varieties of types of information and form a holistic plan for their farm, their business, and their family.
It is challenging for universities to develop multidisciplinary solutions and demonstrate them in the real world because science usually operates in ‘silos’. To meet this challenge, The University of Western Australia bought a real-world commercial farm in 2009, with a view transforming it into the ‘ideal’ farm (for the WA Wheatbelt), and show that it remains a profitable endeavour. This farm is the home of a project, ‘UWA Future Farm 2050’ (FF2050), that encompasses four major enterprises:
- Conservation cropping;
- Clean, green and ethical sheep production;
- Conservation of biodiversity
- Vibrant rural communities.
Supporting experiential learning and teaching
In contrast with generations past, young people growing up in highly urbanised Australia have little understanding of the origins of their food, the challenges of food production, the nature of rural life, or even the beauty of our countryside. This has led to the development of an urban community of considerable political power that neither understands nor cares much for rural communities – on the contrary, they readily support issues that can be damaging to agricultural industry and therefore rural communities. The outcome is the ‘City-Country Divide’.
In FF2050, with the help of Bruce Ivers, a retired farmer, we aimed to help break the city-country divide through ‘City Kids to the Country’ (CK2C). In CK2C, primary and secondary city school students germinate and propagate seedlings of indigenous plants, and then take them to a farm. On the farm, they place their plants into areas designated for biodiversity restoration. While doing this, they meet farmers and learn about the origins of food and the nature of farming and rural life.
International student groups from secondary schools and tertiary institutions also often visit FF2050. In recent years, we have welcomed students from Singapore, Japan, China, and the USA. They see agriculture in a new light, contrasting it with practices in their home countries. They also learn that agriculture is multidisciplinary, requiring expertise in crop science, livestock science, resource economics, architecture, landscape architecture, electronic and mechanical engineering, solar energy, water management, animal and plant ecology. FF2050 is world-unique as a project in the way that it studies interactions among these various disciplines.
Of course, the same applies to students from UWA. We take classes out to the farm, usually for a single day, but sometimes for two, so they can run practical classes in soil science, plant science, animal science, or engineering. They have focused activities but, at the same time, they gain a new appreciation of the farming landscape and the challenges faced by farmers. UWA has been moving to provide a broad perspective in its degree programs, so a visit to FF2050 gives many first-year students, many of whom coming from non-farming backgrounds, gain their first experience of a real-world farm as well an understanding of where their food comes from. Needless to say, some reality checks are involved!
In essence, FF2050 is an outreach project, with engagement at local, national and international levels. It aims to strengthen links between food producers and food consumers, and between the University and its local community, industries, and authorities.
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