TWO of the biggest questions facing WA's agricultural sector are, how does it get young people interested and involved in agriculture and once it does, how does it get them to stay there?
According to 16-year-old Cunderdin Agricultural College student Lachlan Hunter, it all came down to educational opportunity.
With the promise of big money in WA's booming mining sector he said it was pretty simple to see the attraction.
But a career in the agricultural industry is what he had always aspired to.
Although he still calls his parent's 10,000 hectares of Bruce Rock wheat and sheep farms home, Lachlan has big plans to study to be a plant breeder when he graduates from year 12 at the end of this year.
But plant breeding wasn't always at the top of his career list.
"I always wanted to be an agronomist," he said.
"But my recent involvement in the 2011/12 Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) scholarship and camp program opened my eyes to a whole range of career opportunities within the grains industry."
PICSE is a national strategy of collaboration between universities, their regional communities and local primary industries to attract students into tertiary science and to increase the number of skilled professionals in agribusiness and research institutions.
The centre is a leader in the delivery of education programs which get young people interested in science and increase the participation of high calibre students into tertiary studies and careers focused on the science-driven food and fibre industries
Lachlan spent a week in Perth during his Christmas holidays taking part in the most recent PICSE program at the University of WA (UWA) and an industry placement at InterGrain.
"The whole week really opened my eyes and has encouraged me to look closely at the many career paths I could pursue once I finish high school and an agricultural science degree," Lachlan said.
"The scholarship not only showed me what the agricultural industry is all about in a lecture theatre but we also looked at the practical areas in workplaces and laboratories."
Lachlan and his fellow group of year 11 and 12 students visited the CSIRO and Chem Centre and listened to a range of presentations by prominent industry people including UWA Professor Kadambot Siddique, 2006 Young Farmer of the Year Cameron Williams and 2011/12 PICSE ambassador Brydie Creagh.
"These sessions were very important to our personal growth and development," Lachlan said.
"I have broadened my horizons thanks to the influence of some of the presentations especially on the hot topic of genetic modification."
But it was his industry placement at InterGrain which provided Lachlan with the most insight.
During his time there he worked alongside Cathy Burchell, a barley breeding technician, who showed Lachlan what a career in plant science might entail on a daily basis.
"The highlight of my week was molecular marker sampling," Lachlan said.
"InterGrain performs extensive procedures to get the most accurate result in the breeding of a barley suitable for WA farmers.
"My placement demonstrated to me the commitment this company has to the future of WA farming.
"The two InterGrain barley breeders and chief executive officer also discussed with me the university path I should pursue to become a plant breeder and which path I could possibly take in the future."
Lachlan said his scholarship and industry placement had encouraged him to unearth creative solutions to challenges and taught him about a very important link in crop breeding which he never knew existed.
But for now, it is back to the boarding house for Lachlan as he starts his final year of high school with a firm idea about what he might do when the 2012 school year comes to a close.
PICSE develops and fosters relationships and direct involvement of primary industry at both the national and regional level which is key to providing science teachers and students with quality and relevant information on primary industry science based career opportunities.
The centre and its programs are funded by the Federal Government's Diversity and Structural Adjustment Fund, University of Tasmania (lead organisation), University of Western Australia, University of New England, University of Southern Queensland, University of the Sunshine Coast, Flinders University, Charles Sturt University, Curtin University and the Grains Research Development Corporation, Fisheries Research Development Corporation, Dairy Australia, Horticulture Australia Ltd, Cotton Research Development Corporation, Cotton Cooperative Research Centre, Murray Darling Basin Authority, Dow AgroSciences and the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training.
p For more information visit www.picse.net