EXPOSING city-bred university students to "big picture" concepts, such as the potential impact of climate change on food production, has significantly boosted interest in agricultural science.
The number of undergraduate students choosing to major in agricultural science at the University of WA has more than doubled as a result.
Director of UWA's Institute of Agriculture, Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique said a new degree program introduced in 2012 allowed more flexibility and exposed more students to agricultural science topics.
Prof Siddique said all enrolled students had the opportunity to study key issues related to global agriculture and could nominate particular study units later in their course.
"The change has led to an increasing trend of high calibre students opting to take a single agriculture major, or combining their agriculture studies with economics, environmental science or natural resource management," he said.
"Very early on myself and others present big-picture lectures on agricultural science or cross-science related topics - like climate change and its impact for example - to stimulate interest.
"This can introduce from 400 up to 700 first-year students at a time to the breadth and scope of agricultural science and the possibility of future employment in a related field."
Prof Siddique said UWA science degree entrance requirements were relatively high so only dedicated students were accepted.
Rural-based students accepted into a science degree course usually "had some prior exposure to agriculture" and were generally aware of the opportunities for further study, he said.
However, city-based students often had not previously considered agricultural science or its potential.
"For the future of our agriculture it is very important to have this growing interest, particularly the cross-discipline interest,'' Prof Siddique said.
"With food security becoming a global issue, it is also important to educate city people."
The range of employment opportunities enabled by an agricultural science degree were far wider than agricultural production or research, and extended to careers such as commodities trading, which also helped participation, he said.
Enrolments in the third-year undergraduate units Clean, Green and Ethical Animal Production and Agricultural Systems have doubled to 34 students in each unit this year.
The units attracted 13 and 11 students respectively in 2012 and last year 14 and 13, Prof Siddique said.
Associate Professor Dominique Blache from UWA's School of Animal Biology and Institute of Agriculture, who co-ordinates the Clean, Green and Ethical Animal Production units, said they were designed to understand how best to balance the biology of animal production and constraints of a farming environment.
"The unit structures facilitate interactive teaching through workshops partly run by industry professionals, based on tools used by the industries to address topics such as farm models, climate change and bioenergetics," Prof Blache said.
"Students also visit UWA's farm, Ridgefield, near Pingelly, where they have the opportunity to test their ability to think on the ground and exchange ideas with livestock producers and academics from all aspects of agriculture."
The Agricultural Systems unit, co-ordinated by Ken Flower and Associate Professor Megan Ryan, from the School of Plant Biology and Institute of Agriculture, introduces students to the main temperate crop and pasture species in WA.
It employed a systems approach to understanding relationships between crops, pastures, weeds, plant disease and environment.
"This understanding is placed in a real-world context through field trips to commercial farms in the greenbelt and through an assignment where each student approaches a farmer, visits their farm, describes their farming system and identifies potential areas for innovation," Dr Flower said.