Back to: Sustainable Production major Sustainable Production major
Major in the

Sustainable Production

Available through the

Agriculture is one of the most important areas of expertise for the future of our planet. The Bachelor of Agriculture integrates the environmental, economic and social aspects of food and fibre production. You will develop an understanding of the current issues facing the industry, and technological knowledge to assess and improve sectors. You will be critically evaluating options and applying decision making skills throughout your career to ensure long term sustainable agricultural practices.

In first year, you will be introduced to the basic scientific concepts associated with agricultural production including chemistry, biology, genetics, climate change, water resources and environmental impacts.

In second year, the emphasis is on agricultural production systems and their interaction with the social and natural environment. You will develop an understanding of current issues facing the industry such as water management, agricultural and resource economics and sustainable food production.

In third year, you will advance your expertise in the sustainable production of food and fibre, and develop your own specialist industry project.

If you’re interested in Agriculture, you may also be interested in the Agricultural Science major in the Bachelor of Science at Melbourne.


Career opportunities available to Agriculture graduates include:

  • Animal production and health: Farm management, animal breeding, animal health, animal nutrition.
  • Crop production: Harvesting, farm management, food processing, wine production, crop science and agronomy.
  • Soil and water conservation: Forest work, soil management, research, environmental work, salinity project work, catchment management.
  • Government and policy: International trade and government roles
  • Marketing, sales and media: Conference and event management, sales representation for agricultural products, journalism, freelance writing.
  • Agribusiness or agricultural and resource economics.

Subjects you could take in this major

  • This objective of this subject is to familiarise students with modern concepts of cell and organismal biology, including structure and function of multicellular organisms including cell function, systems involved in energy transformations, nutrition, water uptake, excretion, gas exchange, circulation, and immune responses; plant and animal reproduction and development; mechanisms involved in responsiveness and coordination: hormonal control in plants and animals, and nervous systems in animals; and animal movement and behaviour.

  • The collection and evaluation of technical information is essential for farm planning, precision agriculture, post harvest storage, product processing, transport, and marketing of commodities and processed goods. Success depends upon the selection of appropriate tools for the measurement, collection, storage and retrieval of data as well as techniques for evaluating this information and putting it into context.

    Subject content:

    • Measurement of parameters
    • Determination of accuracy
    • Understanding spatial and temporal information
    • Determining data reliability
    • Methods of data collection, storage and retrieval
    • Principles of data-logging
    • Analysis of data in order to reduce its complexity and achieve simpler outcomes
    • Presentation and evaluation of data for decision-support
    • Understanding the role of technical information in analysis and decision making, including triple-bottom-line assessment and maintenance of the balance between resource utilization and conservation
  • Food is a basic human need. But what should we eat? Not all food is good for us, and a balance between diet and exercise is required for a healthy life. Likewise, not all food production methods are good for the environment. Again, a balance between human needs and the health of our environment is required, especially as the world's population grows and global climate patterns change.

    So how should we judge our food, nutritionally and environmentally? What do our foods contain? How much energy, water, labour etc is used in their production, processing, and distribution? How does the food chain operate in developed and developing economies, and what does this mean for the future of food production locally and globally?

    This subject will address these and other topical issues through the following content:

    • Human dietary needs: energy, protein and vitamins
    • Food composition: meeting dietary needs
    • Food consumption trends: relationships with demographic and lifestyle changes
    • Food production, processing and distribution: knowing where our food comes from
    • Inputs to food production: how profitable and how sustainable?
    • Global population growth: feeding the 10 billion
    • Issues and challenges for sustainable and equitable food production and supply
  • On completion, the student should have an understanding of the nature of matter, solutions and gases, the chemical change related to equilibrium, energy and kinetics, and the nature of redox processes; and structures and functional groups in organic molecules.

    In the practical component, students should develop basic laboratory skills (observation, analytical techniques, report writing) and an appreciation of the health and safety issues associated with the safe handling and disposal of laboratory chemicals.

    The subject provides an introduction to the nature of matter: elements, atoms, ions and molecules; the electronic structure of atoms and ions; bond formation, including covalent, ionic, metallic, hydrogen bonding, and van der Waals; solubility and the solution state; ions and hydration; the behaviour of gases; the mole concept; concentrations; stoichiometry; acids, bases, neutralisation reactions and salt formation; acid/base strength and the pH scale; energy and chemical systems; rates of reaction and reaction order; catalysis and enzymes; chemical equilibrium; the equilibrium constant, Ka, Kb, stability constants and solubility products; redox reactions and redox potentials; organic molecules: structure, nomenclature and functional groups; hydrophobicity and hydrophilicity; and biologically significant macromolecules.

    This subject will provide the student with the opportunity to establish and develop the following generic skills: the ability to use conceptual models and gather and rationalise data, problem-solving and critical thinking.

  • The objective of this subject is to familiarise students with modern concepts of genetics, animal and plant diversity and evolution.

    Topics studied include the nature of variation, inheritance, genes and chromosomes, human genetics, DNA replication, gene action and expression, population genetics, selection, the genetics of speciation, molecular evolution, evolutionary biology and the origin of life, classification of organisms diversity of life, communities, ecosystems and the relationship of organisms to their environment, human impact, preserving habitats and genetic variation.

  • This subject is an introduction to the major topics in climate change, including the scientific basis of the greenhouse effect, the history of Earth’s climate, energy options, economics and public policy, the effect of climate change on food, water and health, and the national and international legal frameworks for the management of climate change.

    The issues around climate change are evolving rapidly, both politically and within the wider community. This subject is the first of a sequence of three subjects, aimed to provide a broad, cross-disciplinary approach to climate change. In particular, students will explore and debate the issues on a range of topics, with an emphasis on the international and global implications.

  • The subject introduces students to natural environments, and the elements and systems that shape the natural world. A critical understanding of these elements and systems is fundamental, not only to the sustainable management of natural environments, but also to nearly all aspects of human endeavor therein: including biodiversity and recreation management, primary production (agriculture and forestry), urban and regional land-use planning, environmental design (architecture and engineering), and local through to global environmental policy. In this subject, the student draws upon case studies and concepts from a broad range of disciplines to explore key components and processes of natural environments, and learns practical skills in landscape assessment for sustainable management and design. Major themes explored include plate tectonics; rocks and minerals; landscape processes and soil formation; weather, climate and climate change; microclimate; the water cycle and catchment hydrology; landscape ecology and the distribution, properties and functioning of different ecosystems. Practical skills in landscape assessment and interpretation are emphasised, as well as an appreciation of the effect of scale and temporal change in the examination of natural environments.

  • This subject is about the application of economic analysis to public choices about alternative resource uses.

  • Physiology is the integrative study of the control of normal body function. This subject will examine the functions of different cell types and their interactions in organs and tissues; mechanisms by which organs are controlled and their functions are regulated; thermoregulatory processes and fluid balance; the physiology of the nervous system, of digestion, circulation, respiration, and excretion; the processes of growth and development, and factors that can be manipulated to alter animal performance under normal conditions.

  • This subject allows students to develop an awareness of the major physiological processes and metabolic basis of nutritional requirements; to understand the nutritional qualities of food, and develop skills to ensure a balanced diet can be formulated for a range of mammals; to be familiar with the impact of dietary imbalances; and to understand the role of food in behavioural, psychological and social contexts.

  • This subject involves completion of a minimum of 80 hours work placement integrating academic learning, employability skills and attributes and an improved knowledge of organisations, workplace culture and career pathways. The placement is supplemented by pre- and post-placement classes designed to introduce skills for developing, identifying and articulating employability skills and attributes and linking them to employer requirements. The placement should draw on specific discipline skills associated with the course of enrolment. Pre-placement seminars will also include consideration of career planning and professional skills.

    Students are responsible for identifying a suitable work placement, prior to the start of semester, with support from the Subject Coordinator and Faculty Enrichment Officer. In the semester prior to the placement students should attend Melbourne Careers Centre (MCC) employment preparation seminars and workshops and access other MCC and Faculty resources to help identify potential host organisations Students will need to commence their approaches to organisations at least 4 weeks before the placement. More information is available on the Faculty website: Placements must be approved by the Subject Coordinator or Faculty Enrichment Officer prior to commencement. If you have problems finding a placement you should approach the Subject Coordinator or Faculty Enrichment Officer well in advance of the teaching period.

    On completion of the subject, students will have completed and reported on a course-related project in a workplace. They will also have enhanced employability skills including communication, interpersonal, analytical and problem-solving, organisational and time-management, and an understanding of career planning and professional development.

  • The production of plant food and fibre involves the manipulation of plant growth and development to achieve desired levels of yield and quality. This subject considers how crop and pasture canopies grow by acquiring resources from the environment, how plants allocate resources to different growth processes, and how management and environment (including climate change) affect plant production in Australia and worldwide. Plant processes will be presented at the plant, canopy and community level, touching on the wider implications for water and nutrient management as they influence landscape processes such as salinity and soil acidification.

  • This subject provides students with an introduction to a number of statistical techniques which are frequently used in agriculture, science and business situations. Course content will be set within the context of practical problems. Technology will be used to support statistical calculations.

    Topics include an introduction to sampling techniques and experimental design; descriptive treatment of sample data; introduction to elementary probability and distributions; estimation and hypothesis testing of means and proportions; the chi-square distribution; simple and multiple regression and correlation; one-factor and two-factor analysis of variance; and use of statistical computer packages.

  • This subject will identify the importance of soil and water in the landscape and as key components of natural and production systems. A basic knowledge of soil properties and behaviour will be applied to understanding the cycling of water and nutrients, the appropriate use of fertilisers, irrigation and drainage and soil management practices designed to maintain or improve the condition of soil and water resources. The origin of soil variation in the landscape and codification of soil information through classification will be introduced.

  • The Australian food industry plays an important role in the Australian economy. The industry encompasses a number of segments from agricultural production, food processing and distribution through to retail sales. A key feature of the food industry is its diversity. The future of the industry will be affected by how well it responds to the changing demands of society.

    This subject introduces students to food production systems and challenges them to create more sustainable approaches to this production. Topics include, food production in Australia - where it happens and why - how it is changing to meet both the needs of the environment and society, associated impacts on the sustainability of regional communities, trade and policy issues which impact on distribution, global food movements and ongoing changes and innovations in global food markets, as well as resource economics implications in developing and developed countries. Future implications of policy and legislative and other changes will be assessed in terms of their impact on the changing structure of food production in Australia.

  • In recent decades the importance of regulating water and its wider implications have been the subject of great debate. Water is no longer viewed solely in hydrological terms, where its supply and allocation are considered to be the only determinants important in understanding how it is regulated. Rather, of equal importance are the economic, environmental, political and social ramifications changing water allocation have on a catchment. In this subject the hydrological, economic, social, legal and environmental implications of controlling water in a catchment are evaluated in order to identify the trade-off between these factors and to suggest improvements that can be made in the understanding and management of this vital resource.

  • Success in animal enterprises and systems is a result of interdisciplinary interactions between animal, plant, climatic, human, risk and market factors. This subject aims to develop the skills required to analyse these interactions and support decision-making in animal enterprises. The subject is taught using problem-based learning by doing. Students will conduct system management case study analyses during the semester, and submit a detailed report on these. Each case study is based on an animal enterprise or system. Case study analysis will require students to clearly identify the problem to be solved and the context for problem solving (including business and personal goals of the owners/managers and their approach to management and decision making), analyse options for solving the problems and meeting goals, and prepare a report of their findings for the 'client'. Case study visits are supplemented by lectures and tutorials that develop the theory and practice of system thinking and analysis. The subject integrates biophysical science disciplines, management economics, and human systems elements. It is designed to enable students to work effectively with the owners and managers of animal businesses in bringing about change in their system.

  • The aim of this subject is to give students of animal science a fundamental understanding of both applied reproductive biology and genetics. This will enable students to develop the skills necessary for management of reproductive performance and to implement genetic improvement of domestic animals. The content includes comparative structure and function of reproductive organs; endocrinology and neuro-endocrinology of reproductive cycles; environmental and genetic influences on reproduction, interventions to manipulate reproduction; reproductive biotechnologies including cloning; breeding values and selection indices; inbreeding and crossbreeding; applied animal genomics.

  • Field crop production is a major component of Australia’s economy, and landholders manage their resources to balance ecological, environmental and social demands. This subject discusses how these strategies are employed to produce high quality crop products.

    Topics include:

    • An appraisal of the cropping enterprises in southern Australia - the location, scale and nature of cropping enterprises and their contribution to the national economy
    • Growth, development and yield in crop production - definitions and relations between growth and development attributes, yield and yield components, measurement of crop yields, biological and economical yield and harvest index (complemented by field exercises)
    • Environmental constraints limiting productivity - climate and growing season, water and nutrient availability
    • Agronomic management to optimise production and product quality, including water and nutrient management, soil management and rotations
    • Problems and prospects of both dryland and irrigated crop production within farm systems, comparative cost-return analysis, marketing strategies
  • Pastures and grasslands comprise the dominant vegetation cover across the Australian continent. The way pastures and grasslands are managed is therefore central to the sustainable use of natural resources such as soil and water, as well as the economic development of the pasture-based livestock industries (meat and wool sheep, beef cattle, and dairy).

    This subject will include:

    • An overview of Australia's pasture and grassland resources
    • The population biology of pasture plants, including the growth cycles of annual and perennial plants, and pathways of plant survival
    • The major pasture plant species and pasture types, their agronomic and adaptive characteristics and management requirements
    • Pasture improvement principles and practices
    • Plant and pasture growth processes influencing the accumulation of yield in pastures, and implications for management
    • The feeding and nutritive value of pastures and factors affecting animal intake
    • The principles and practices of grazing management
  • The aim of this subject is for students of agricultural science and agricultural economics to understand the principles of management economics applied to the operation of agricultural business; to understand decision analysis under risk and uncertainty; to be able to model and analyse agricultural systems; to be able to analyse agricultural investment and evaluate the profitability and sources, and business risk and financial risk of alternative resource uses in agricultural businesses; evaluate business growth strategies; and understand agricultural price risk management strategies.

    The content of the subject is as follows:

    • The whole farm approach
    • Farm business management
    • Farm activity analysis
    • Production economic and financial analysis
    • Agricultural systems analysis
    • Farm benefit cost analysis
    • Risky decision analysis
    • Agricultural risk management

    A number of case studies will be completed based on real farm business situations.

  • Globally there is a broad range of issues identified as impacting on the future of our planet. These issues include climate change, water availability and quality, waste and recycling, energy, biodiversity, salinity and land degradation, biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, changing demographics, human and animal welfare issues. In order to bring about change globally these issues must be addressed at the regional and national level.
    The long term future of our rural communities will depend on how we meet these challenges. This subject will explore these issues at the catchment level analysing how these issues impact on the catchment, practice change requirements, and develop strategies for decision making and implementation as well as critically evaluating environmental, social and economic implications of change.

  • This subject involves the definition and development of an industry-related project, and develops skills in project management, problem solving and planning and reporting investigations. The topic involves or draws on a specific and defined industry issue, and may be developed in relation to a period of time spent in industry placement or previously or concurrently selected elective subjects, applying the knowledge gained in these subjects to a real resource-based industry investigative problem. The project may relate to an applied scientific, economic or sociological or managerial topic, and the work will involve close collaboration between student, academic staff and industry advisors.

    Students work interactively with a supervisor to define their particular project. Each student prepares a detailed literature review and project proposal that places their project into context and includes methodology and approach, and covers the relevant background. A pass mark in the proposal assignment is a hurdle requirement for continuation of the subject. This involves establishing base knowledge in the relevant area; definition of the issue; analysis of the approaches normally taken by industry to address such problems and the degree of success normally attained. A final report is submitted by each student and an oral presentation is presented at completion to an audience including industry members. These detail development of suitable investigative strategies and methodologies and the analysis of results or outcomes in a practical context.

    Students meet regularly with their supervisor for guided, interactive discussion on their projects. Students are required to attend/view online a series of seminars delivered on project design, management and communication strategies.

  • Students will use case studies in agricultural systems to explore how learning and practice change occur in natural resource management and agriculture. The subject will provide students with an understanding of how and why people take up knowledge and information and as well as the impediments to adoption. Students will develop the skills to enable them to generate, acquire, apply and make accessible the knowledge needed to enhance material, human, social and environmental wellbeing.

  • On completion of this subject students should be able to:

    • Describe the scale and distribution of the major irrigation systems in south-eastern Australia

    • Evaluate plant water requirements in terms of water quality and frequency of supply

    • Apply basic principles of hydraulics to the selection of irrigation systems appurtenances and structures

    • Assess irrigation systems in terms of efficiency, economy, energy-use and environmental impact

    • Recognise the advantages and disadvantages of common irrigation systems

    • Recognise the need for efficient irrigation drainage as well as water supply

    The content includes:

    • Water supply potential for the development of irrigation systems, management planning and operation of water allocations, water law, cost benefit analysis, environmental and energy-use implications of resource utilisation and development, efficiency of irrigation systems and long-term viability

    • Climatic factors in irrigation development, rainfall, evaporation, evapotranspiration and hydrology

    • Plant physiology and plant water use, transpiration crop water requirements in terms of water quality and quantity

    • Soils and water, soil moisture retention and movement, plant root zones and development, infiltration and leaching

    • Irrigation scheduling, soil moisture measurement

    • Types of irrigation systems, selection of irrigation systems, irrigation drainage, seepage, surface and subsurface drainage systems, salinity, conveyance and disposal of drained effluent, re-use systems, management of irrigation systems, operations and maintenance requirements

  • This subject aims to provide an introduction to the principles and practices in effective operation and improvement of the major livestock industries in Australia. This subject will cover:

    • The major livestock industries in terms of size, distribution and value
    • Factors that determine the location of the different industries in southern Australia
    • Basic annual and seasonal cycles of production
    • The feedbase for ruminant and non-ruminant industries
    • Basic inputs and outputs, i.e. the roles of genetics, environment, nutrition, reproductive efficiency and health in setting the opportunities and constraints
    • Practices that influence profitability, environmental impact
    • Product quality
    • New and emerging animal industries
    • Current and future issues affecting industry development, e.g. welfare and human health concerns
  • This subject outlines the methods used to identify pathogens causing plant diseases, the consequences of diseases for plant productivity; and techniques used in breeding for plant disease resistance. The links between these two areas are explored as plant breeders and pathologists seek novel genetic material capable of resisting or tolerating plant pathogens.

    Topics covered include:

    • Taxonomy, identification and biology of the main groups of plant pathogens and abiotic causes of plant diseases
    • Host pathogen relationships, and the nature of disease resistance and pathogenesis
    • Methods to identify pathogens, and development of tools for diagnosis
    • Processes leading to plant disease epidemics and their evaluation
    • Principles and methodology of plant breeding for disease resistance
    • Evolutionary processes and genetic variability of plant and pathogen populations
    • World-wide distribution and conservation of plant genetic resources
    • Methods of breeding self– and cross-pollinating plants
    • Management and integrated control of plant diseases

    Practical work includes:

    • Identification and diagnosis of common diseases
    • Development of skills in research techniques and methodology in plant pathology
  • This subject involves a supervised study of an area of scholarship chosen by the student in consultation with an appointed supervisor. The subject encourages independent, critical thought and self-directed enquiry. Students should develop their ability to plan work and use available time effectively. This is an individualised subject, which enables students to pursue studies in areas of agriculture and related fields, not otherwise covered in the normal subjects offered within the degree structure. Students who complete this subject should be able to demonstrate:

    • In-depth knowledge of a specific contemporary topic in agriculture and land management
    • The ability to analyse and report on the topic in a manner appropriate to the methodology developed
    • An advanced capability for development of processes for acquisition, management, analysis, integration and interpretation of data and information