Student perspective - growing careers

15 March 2010

Sometimes, we take our food for granted. Postgraduate research student Astha Singh gives her own perspective on food production, and the emerging science that supports our supermarkets.

Plants are the only advanced living organisms that possess the ability to convert the energy of sunlight into stored, usable chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They make up the majority of earth's living environment as trees, grasses/herbs, shrubs, turf etc. Plants are involved in a variety of roles including preservation of ecological balance and hold a vital place as an element of vigorous living environment. And as well as providing valuable natural habitats, plants provide nutrition, income and raw materials that are vital to feeding the world. Agriculture is more than fields of wheat. Behind the scenes there is a mass of scientific research that addresses how we cultivate plants in order to produce higher crop yield, better nutritional value, and sustainable use of raw materials like water.

However crop yield can be destroyed by diseases, pests and can be affected by environmental pollution and nutrient deficiency. Plant disease has made history in 1845 in Ireland when the entire staple food crop, the humble potato, was destroyed by a fungus attack called "Phytophthora" and that caused millions of people to die and a mass emigration of the entire Irish populace. Since the human civilization has progressed, agriculture has been the major source of income. Plant science and how it relates to agricultural production will remain an integral part of a civilization and a nation.

Plants also suffer from competition with other unwanted plants (weeds) and of course the other animals are also damage them. A healthy plant is relatively free from biotic and abiotic stress that limits its producing potential. Serious pest problems are a prominent fact of life in present agriculture and forestry. According to an estimate (FAO 2008), we loose up to 35% of the world's crops due to insect and mites (12%), to plant pathogens (12%), weeds (10%) and 1% due to mammals and birds. These losses can cost up to $20 Billion annually followed by additional loses that occur post harvest. Effective control of pests remains an absolute necessity and can be achieved through an impressive array of efficient plant protection techniques.

This is where the science of plant protection enters the world of agricultural science. Plant protection enables us to maintain healthy plants by protecting them from various ailments especially with an aim of higher yield and production. Here are some tips about how a person can get into the field of Plant Protection, make a career and become a plant doctor or plant protection scientist. On the basis of the range of damage to plants - there are a number of sub-branches of Plant Protection Sciences such as Plant Pathology (Etiology, management of diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, viroids, virusoids, phytoplasmas etc), Entomology (Insects), Nematology (Nematodes), Weed sciences.

How to get into plant protection sciences?

All you need is an interest in botany, agriculture and/or environmental sciences. After completing your HSC in science or agriculture you can apply to a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture or Bachelor of Environmental Systems. Several postgraduate degrees are also available for those wishing to extend their existing knowledge. Masters in coursework leaves you with more knowledge and specialisation in particular field whereas a master in research provides research experience along field and laboratory work experience.

Excellent demand for graduates. In Australia plant protection and agricultural research is a burgeoning industry. Graduates of the Faculty are in high demand and have outstanding employment rates. Many students accept job offers even before their official graduation ceremony! No two graduate journeys are the same, from commodity trading to environmental consulting to biotechnology. Many of our graduates have gone on to high profile positions in the community and have contributed significantly to the development of the Australian and international agricultural and resource industries.

Concluding the remarks and ideas, I would like to say that plant protection and plant sciences were and will always be one of the top few career choices made for the betterment of your country and your society. So open your arms and leverage your love for The Green World.

Contact: Astha Singh

Phone: 02 8627 1000