Today’s guest blog comes from Laura Bennett. Laura is a young girl who has experienced a great many exciting things in her short life
This is Laura’s story
Agriculture has been flowing in my veins since birth. I am a third generation banana and beef farmer from a small seaside property on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.
The banana hills I call my home near the town of Woolgoolga, bordered by the Pacific Ocean
My love of agriculture was fostered by a childhood spent feeding and caring for animals, whether they be poddy calves, chickens, rogue piglets or dogs, along with harvesting produce we grew.
Growing up as a farm kid was a wonderful opportunity and whilst many little girls wanted to be princesses, I wanted to be a farmer. I was happiest sitting amongst the banana stools playing in the dirt and “helping” my Dad to fertilise, bag, spray or cut bananas.
Our small piece of land with kikuyu pastures, 1600 mm of annual rainfall a year and views of the Pacific Ocean was a world away from the wide open plains of black soil where I travelled on holidays as a child. We regularly made our family friends giggle when we arrived at their remote properties out in the western agricultural regions of New South Wales because they always claimed that “people GO to the coast for holidays – not leave”. But once or twice a year we looked forward to packing up and travelling west over the Great Dividing Range to camp on muddy river banks, go shearing, mustering, motorbike riding and get involved in wheat harvest or cotton picking. It was here my love of scarcely populated plains, dry, cracked billabongs, night skies completely filled with bright stars and the country way of life grew.
Myself along with my siblings and a family friend admiring modules of cotton on a friends farm
Throughout my school years I was still fascinated by agriculture. As a ‘coastie’ this was a rare thing. Agriculture wasn’t offered as an elective in my senior years so I went down the science path, choosing subjects that would allow me to study an agricultural science degree. My love for agriculture grew and grew and I picked up an extra job for my last few years of high school as a farmhand on another beef property where I mustered every weekend on horseback, drove old tractors and re-fenced paddocks after regular flood events. My coastal town friends never understood what I did at work and I was always amazed by how little they knew about where their food came from, despite living in regional Australia.
Gary (a poddy calf who only posed if he could suckle my finger) and I
During year 11 in 2010 I was fortunate enough to be selected to represent NSW in Perth in a geography competition, and went on from there to be selected as part of the Australian team to compete at the Asia-Pacific Regional Geography Olympiad in Mexico in 2011. I was the only member of the team of four selected from a public school and the only one who didn’t live in a capital city. It was here in Mexico that I met many other students from countries as widespread as Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and Mexico.
The Australian Team on a trip to a tequila plantation in Mexico
Making friends with students from all different backgrounds was a highlight of my trip
When these students discovered that I had grown up on a property they were amazed and thought I was the richest person they had ever met. It was then that I realised just how little our urban cousins, especially in other countries that rely on so much Australian produce, know about our agricultural industry. I learnt so much in the two weeks spent overseas with these students, and it fuelled my passion to become an advocate for my way of life as a farmer and primary producer even more.
Upon return to Australia our trial HSC marks had been released and I had achieved better than I had expected. My careers advisor along with others convinced me that I could be anything I wanted, and that I should apply for medicine or veterinary science rather than agriculture. This advice resulted in an application being sent to Charles Sturt University in Wagga for a highly competitive place in their prestigious veterinary science degree. Much to my disbelief I was offered a place in the 60 person course from 470 applicants, and so I packed my bags and moved 1000 kilometres from home to begin study. I loved vet for many reasons; the wealth of knowledge learned, the feeling of helping an animal and making another person smile, along with discovering what it is like to work hard and realise just how much you are truly capable of achieving.
My short lived vet career will always be a fond memory and gave me lifelong friends
However I also realised just how physically, emotionally and mentally demanding a career as a vet is. I had many friends studying ag science and hearing about their studies made m,e rethink whether I had made the right choice. With this in mind I set off on my autumn mid-semester break spending a day at the Ag-Quip Field Days held in Gunnedah. A conversation with a friend in the cotton industry led to a summer job as a bug checker. So after university finished for the year I headed off to Narrabri on the north of the Liverpool Plains in NSW. Little did I know that soon my life would change forever, and that this was going to be a crucial yet unforgettable summer.
I began work at Auscott and here I counted bugs, looked at the cotton growth stages and took note of changes, sought out flowers and freshly cracked bolls, sampled plant leaves and petioles (stems) for nutrition tests and regularly doused myself in water while attempting to start siphons that would irrigate the fields. I spent the summer knee deep in mud, battling the outside air temperature of over 40 degrees and the 110% humidity of a freshly watered cotton crop. I became accustomed to the feeling of hundreds of flies on me, along with regularly having spiders, grass hoppers and ants trying to make my body their territory. I worked long days and lived by myself on a farm 60 km from a small rural town. And I absolutely loved it!
The gateway to where it all began… Togo Station, Auscott Narrabri, Namoi Valley
This is why I get up in the mornings!
I was captivated by everything cotton and it was the only thing in my life, all day every day, for the whole summer. And while this job was tough and seen as the lowest job on the ladder, I still drove home through those crops with a smile on my face every day, bigger than I ever had when I was studying and performing vet.
Oink! It’s not just all cotton while bug checking!
It was through this summer that I reconsidered my career aspirations. I loved living in a remote community, a friendly town where the summer dress code included Canterbury short-shorts no matter your gender, half-button work shirts, John Deere caps and a Landcruiser or Hilux ute for transport. I loved that people would stop me in the street and admire the black mud on my feet or my tan lines rather than make me feel embarrassed about them. I wanted to be a part of this community and help it in any way I could because it is a small country town that faces challenges such as a decline of skilled workers, a lack of local education opportunities and population decline.
I love living in agricultural areas and small towns, I love nurturing the cotton crops through every stage in order to grow a fibre to clothe the world, and I love finally being truly happy as I rediscovered that my passion for agriculture had not faded.
So despite successfully completing my first year of vet I changed courses and enrolled in a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Wagga and have never looked back. I have just finished my second season as a bug checker, this time in Moree, and still my passion and love for the fibre is endless.
The cotton industry is fast paced, highly productive and extremely intensive and I cant imagine doing anything else.
My first cotton crop ready for harvest. Never been prouder!
This time 12 months ago I wouldn’t have been able to give a clear answer on what I was going to be doing in 10 years. As for now I can happily and confidently say that I plan on graduating university, becoming a well-respected cotton agronomist and then studying part-time in order to complete a Bachelor of Education. The next step in my plan is to become an agriculture teacher and believe that through education I can inspire students to study and enjoy an industry that is so important. I want to share my stories in hope that others can see all the options available to them.
I want to be part of the young generation of agriculturalists that are responsible for changing the face of agriculture in the community and reconnecting farmers and the people who eat their produce and wear the fibres they grow.
By building relationship and trust within the community and raising awareness of why we farm the way we do we can create a new appreciation of modern farming practices . This will also help remove the stereotypes, generate interest in the industry for future skilled ag graduates and ensure we can sustain the livelihoods of rural communities and farmers.
I also hope to one day to be a farmer and surrounded by the things I love.
But there is plenty of time for that and for now I will head back to university for another year of study and hopefully a year of successfully being an ‘agvocate’ for my favourite industry.