STUDENTS taking up agricultural training in south-west Victoria have been declining.
But a Warrnambool-based company is helping to sow the seeds for the sector's future workforce.
National Centre for Vocational Education Research data showed student numbers involved in agricultural certificates II and III through the private sector and through group training organisations have declined about 28 per cent in south-west Victoria since 2016.
The data also showed about a 15-per-cent slip in people engaged in the qualifications statewide for the same time frame.
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria Koroit farmer Oonagh Kilpatrick said the fall in take up of agricultural certificates mirrored negative perceptions of the dairy industry.
"That is the result of what people are seeing and hearing. We as an industry have to promote ourselves in a much better light," she said.
"We are having a fantastic season, the milk price is one of the highest it has been."
At least six high school students will do traineeships with The Midfield Group next year and Westvic Staffing Solutions' Wayne Robertson said the opportunity was a small step towards addressing ongoing labour shortages in farming-based work.
"If we don't address this now the skill shortage we have in 10 years time will be far worse," Mr Robertson said.
He said the program was unique because students would work on farms, at the Warrnambool meat processing plant and the Midfield-owned Union Dairy Company factory at Penola, South Australia.
"They are going to get a paddock-to-plate experience in both aspects of dairy processing and meat processing," Mr Robertson said.
"It can have an influence on the career path they take."
The students will be in years 10, 11 and 12 and work a minimum one day a week while doing their secondary studies, and have a mixture of formal classroom training.
The Midfield Group's Dean Mckenna said he saw the traineeships as benefiting the whole industry.
"I don't mind if they don't stay with us, I just care that they stay in the broader industry. It's not about us, it's about agriculture," he said.
"The interest in agriculture starts at a a very young age."
Midfield Group's human resources manager Barry Crimmin said the company hoped to expand the initiative.
"The long-term plan would be to grow this scheme and have more and more young students involved in it, which will hopefully mean they want to stay in the industry," Mr Crimmin said.
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