We have invited some exciting young actionists in the agriculture and sustainability sector to share their journey and what drives them. One thing you will notice along the way is the power of industry graduate programs to attract urban Australia’s best and brightest young people
First cab of the rank is Erika Heffer from the Rice Industry
Hi my name is Erika Heffer and I work in the Rice Industry. I went to primary school in Morisset (45kms south of Newcastle), high school in Gundagai (525kms south west of Newcastle), university in Wagga Wagga (610kms south west of Newcastle) and am now working in Deniliquin (860kms south west of Newcastle).
Erika Heffer a 900km career journey to the Riverina Rice Fields
Let’s just say if I stay on this trajectory, I’m going to end up on a boat in the Great Australian Bight.
So why have I kept on moving west? And why am I not fazed that I’m not back living 30km from the beach? I’m not from a farming background but I began dreaming about living in the country and working with farmers during my early teens. By the end of high school I had one goal; I wanted to work in Agricultural extension. I loved both my Agriculture and English subjects and I really wanted to use my interests and gifts in my future job.
During my Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree I took every opportunity of agriculture related work that I could; work experience on a Boer goat stud in Gunnedah, in a Pleasant Hills shearing shed, and five different ag-related casual jobs later I had some experience under my belt and was raring to go.
After graduating from Charles Sturt University in Wagga, I took a leap and applied for the Rice Industry graduate program. When I was successful I moved out west to Deniliquin to undertake placements with six different organisations in the rice industry, focusing particularly on research and extension.
These placements allowed me to get out into some rice crops, learn about rice agronomy, create contacts with key people in the industry and connect with the farming community in the Murray valley. I also got married in November 2015, and my husband Ryan moved to Deniliquin when he finished his Science and Teaching degrees.
To gain confidence to be as effective as I possibly can in my career journey I have put my hand up put my hand up for the training and professional development roles. In 2015 I completed my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Previously I had very little prior experience in facilitating groups of adults and I wanted to understand the best way to engage people from all walks of life. What I learnt from the course has helped me to better run informative events for farmers and facilitate their learning. In 2016 I attended the Planning with Communities: Facilitation and Conflict Resolution Training, which really opened my eyes to how important it is to allow community members to drive their own projects and therefore have ownership of the projects. Since the training I have been spending more time actively listening to the farmers and community members I work with, and they have come up with some really great ideas that suit them down to a tee. I wouldn’t have realised my dream of working in Agricultural extension if I hadn’t searched for learning opportunities and spent time developing my skills. I now feel confident walking into a paddock of farmers and seeing a great event unfold.
Now I am a Landcare Coordinator and Community Support Officer hosted by the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia. To date, I’ve been working in the Rice Industry for 2 years and 3 months and I have loved every season.
Grinning from ear to ear on my last day as a Rice Industry Graduate and beginning my new role with the Rice Grower’s Association of Australia with my new boss Neil Bull (RGA environmental manager Neil Bull
While the farmers are busy growing their annual Rice crops in the summer months we are running agronomy events, applying for projects and planning business management events for the winter.
Rice Extension Innovators Workshop Finley 2017
In my role I have been able to support farming and community groups to run projects for women in agriculture, livestock producers and irrigation farmers. It is a huge privilege to support growers in developing their knowledge and skills to adopt the most environmentally friendly and productive practices they can.
Rice Industry Field Fay, Old Coree 2017
Learning about improving farming practices and discovering ways to teach and encourage others about agriculture has been my passion ever since high school and now I’m able to call it a career! We may not have the beach in the Murray Valley but we sure do have big skies, beautiful sunsets and some of the very best farmers.