How a career in plant breeding has led Rebecca Thistlethwaite to find love and compassion for people across the globe

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The roles of plant researcher and humanitarian may seem worlds apart but Dr Rebecca Thistlethwaite is discovering her agricultural career is leading her to a greater understanding, and compassion, for people from all walks of life.

Rebecca is as a Post-Doctoral Research Associate for The University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute based in Narrabri in northern NSW. Her work involves studying the relationships between heat, nutrition and yield in wheat and other crops.

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In 2018 Rebecca travelled to a farming community in Uganda on a Rotary Group Study Scholarship. She lived with villagers for a month to experience first-hand the challenges they had producing food, and designed ways in which that could be improved in the future.

“It was an incredibly humbling experience to live with people who had so little yet who were exceptionally generous and who opened up their homes and their hearts for me,” Rebecca says.  “The food was so fresh and delicious! Goat meat was particularly common and my hosts were really surprised that Australia is the largest exporter of goat meat yet we rarely (if ever) consume it ourselves. I made some lifelong friendships and I will most certainly be going back.”

Rebecca again found herself overseas this year when she was invited to speak about her plant breeding work at the Aus-Pak Conference for Food Security in Pakistan. She spent time with research teams, in particular students, and early career researchers from the Muhammad Nawaz Shareef University of Agriculture, one of Pakistan’s newest universities in the city of Multan, just over 500km south of the country’s capital, Islamabad. As she was the only female on the delegation and not of Muslim faith she faced the trip with some trepidation.

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“I shouldn’t have worried at all though,” she says. “The Pakistani people I met were incredibly kind and accepting. I was treated like royalty the entire time, presented with gifts and flowers on many occasions, had traditional Punjabi dress and shoes made for me and the Vice-Chancellor even had a tree planted in my honour.”

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Apart from conference responsibilities the aim of Rebecca’s delegation to Pakistan was to build collaborations to help with the country’s food security efforts and to implement the use of Australian technologies and systems to improve and future proof their research capabilities.

“One of the absolute highlights for me was getting to talk all things culture and religion with many very open-minded men and women of varying ages. In particular, I had fantastic discussions about the challenges surrounding women’s education and career development which is such a passion of mine both in developing countries and in the western society.”

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“Pakistan has suffered from political unrest and religious extremism for many years but they are still an incredibly proud people who only want the best for their country. The trip taught me that kindness comes in many and varied forms and that being different from someone else is not necessarily a bad thing. The world would be a much happier place if we were more respectful of other people’s differences, owned our own individuality and realised that the world would be a very boring place if everyone was exactly the same.”

Find out more about the world of work in agriculture. Visit our website here

#YouthinAgVoices #StrongerTogether

Feelings aren’t Facts but they do determine what facts you identify with

Change Starts with me

Yesterday apparently without consultation with agricultural education peak bodies another “New and Shiny” was announced by the federal government with 10 million dollars being allocated to a bring kids and farm together program ($5 million for up to 80 iFarm trailers for city based schools and $5 million for school visits to farms). 

21st century education calls for a deep transformative approach to learning. Instead of merely increasing knowledge, it works with values, mind- sets, worldviews and identity to trigger shifts in behaviours and practice.

Students that attend best practice Australian schools are taught to think critically and creatively about real world issues and work collectively to take action that has real world impact. Students who master this find themselves being headhunted in the workplace.

Its a well know scientific fact that education needs to go beyond changing what is inside people’s heads. Its is also well known that facts don’t care about your feelings but your feelings affect what facts you use. 

The reason for this is that very few people have a complete understanding of the facts on any issue. If you’re not a Ph.D in a relevant field, or haven’t spent hundreds of hours studying a topic, you almost certainly don’t know all the facts.

The bottom line is this: if you aren’t an expert in a field (and you probably aren’t), you don’t know the facts. What you possess is knowledge of a subset of the facts, and how you decide what facts are included in that subset is of paramount importance. This filter is going to be determined by your background, your experiences, your social circle, your interests, and yes, by your feelings. Source 

Current agricultural education industry practice is more output focused instead of outcome focused.

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Value change takes a long time and multiple attempts yet there are limited opportunities to create linkages between industry initiatives, or between previous and current programs, in order to share knowledge and learnings and leverage the breadth of experience and promote successful  outcomes.

To get it right takes a collective outcomes based approach and longitudinal studies. Imagine how efficiently we could make this happen with government support and our agricultural industries working together.

Please no more new and shiny agricultural awareness programs until we have a strategic framework for agricultural education in this country based on best practice 21st century learning principles.

We are #strongertogether #YouthinAg #YouthVoices19



Aimee Snowden and the power of the Sydney Royal Easter Show to foster careers

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Using art as a means to connect with agriculture has been a winning formula for The Archibull Prize for many years, and now Art4Agriculture’s AgDay Careers Competition is replicating this on a smaller scale. In the Careers Competition students are tasked with creating and photographing a Lego character (or using one supplied by partner Little Brick Pastoral), identifying their strengths and then using multiple resources and 21st century enterprise skills to present a pathway to a career in agriculture.

14 year-old Hamish Maclure from Yanco Agricultural College was the 2018 winner of the middle school section of the Careers Competition and his story shows how the program’s blend of creativity, research and literacy can attract and engage all students.

Hamish lives on his family’s 5000 acres mixed grazing farm near Tarcutta in New South Wales and is heavily involved with cattle showing and junior judging. He has competed in three states across Australia this year.  He lists his favourite school subjects as maths, science and agriculture but being dyslexic means writing and literacy are not his fortes. However Hamish knows how to best use his resources and chose to research a career as a stock and station agent because “I like to travel and to meet other people and to analyse cattle and sheep.”

Stuart McVittie teaches agriculture to Hamish and his fellow Year 8 students and thought the competition would be a great idea to get kids thinking about opportunities in agriculture much earlier than they normally would, and to help them choose subjects for future school years. Stuart also involved the school’s career advisor who showed the students how to access resources to research agricultural careers.

“Writing is not Hamish’s strength and neither is using computers but he is a practical type of student, which is why he loves handling and showing cattle,” Stuart says. “Getting Hamish to write that story was an excellent task on his behalf. The Art4Agriculture Competition has increased his confidence and given him some positive feedback.”

Hamish’s mother Belinda agrees. “Hamish has done really well in the cattle showing ring but we’re so proud of this because its literacy, which is something he has really struggled with.”. Belinda also believes the competition has taught the students valuable communication and enterprise skills. “The kids had to email their entries themselves to Lynne [Strong] and had to manage that communication, which is I think is a great skill for them to learn.”  Learning and experience also comes from making mistakes and when the Yanco students neglected to manage their email communication effectively they missed out on knowing three of them had made the finals and that Hamish had won his division. They also missed out on the awards ceremony in Sydney! “Hamish has learnt a really good lesson about checking his emails,” Belinda says.

For Hamish the competition has meant stepping out of his comfort zone and crystallising thoughts on his future. “It gets us thinking about what we want to do when we leave school and makes us do things that we sometimes don’t want to do but are very important to us. For example we might not want to do the [writing] competition but if it helps us in the long term it is always a good thing.”

“We were stoked that we had a number of kids into the final seven and that Hamish won it,” Stuart says. “We’re quite proud of our kids and I’m glad we had the opportunity to be part of the Art4Agriculture program. It’s been fantastic.”

Although Hamish missed the awards ceremony in November, he and Belinda travelled to the Sydney Royal Easter Show in April where Little Brick Pastoral’s Aimee Snowden made a special presentation of an iPad donated by Career Harvest.


Find out more about the world of work in agriculture. Visit our website here

Meet Laura Bignell who is looking forward to teaching the next generation of agriculturalists

Today we are introducing you to our fifth University of New England Young Farming Champion  Laura Bignell

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Hi! I am Laura Bignell and I am a student at the University of New England studying a Bachelor of Agriculture.  I will be extending my studies later this year by undertaking a Master of Teaching (Secondary) so that I can foster my passion for educating the next generation by teaching high-school science and agriculture.

My passion for agriculture stems from my exposure to the industry while growing up. I grew up in Rawdon Vale in the Gloucester region of NSW on my family’s beef cattle property, where we produce composite steers for the export market. I have always grown up with cattle and have been involved with many local shows and competitions.

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My time at UNE has strengthened my understanding and knowledge of the Agricultural sector and has allowed me to develop interests in soil science, hydrology and technology, which I have been building my unit choices around. Recently I was selected to participate in a study tour with UNE which travelled to Cambodia and Thailand. On this tour I was exposed to some very different production systems, including a feedlot which was growing out Australian cattle!

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There have been many influences on my journey into the agriculture industry.

From a family perspective my grandfather always encouraged me to further my education and broaden my horizons within agriculture. I am very proud to follow his footsteps and be a part of the thriving industry that he has worked and loved his whole life.

From an environmental perspective, the mining in my local area and the regeneration processes to develop the land back into viable agricultural land is one of the first examples of this in Australia. I have undertaken work experience with the environmental sector in the mines near Gloucester, giving me an insight into  the transformation of these zones into productive landscapes.  From this point, my fascination of land care and land regeneration practices followed me to university.

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From an educational perspective, my high school agriculture teacher sparked my interest in the field of teaching. I thoroughly enjoyed gaining an insight to the many aspects of agriculture through my high-school years and am passionate to pass those experiences on to the next generations of agriculture enthusiasts. I was reassured this was the right path for me after coordinating the Schools Program for Farming Futures at UNE which promoted careers and opportunities within agriculture. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the enthusiasm and enjoyment from the students was very fulfilling.

I am excited to be part of the evolving agricultural sector and hope that the developments into the future allow for the continued growth and agricultural boom. I look forward to making my mark in the industry.


Meet Rebecca George who is a proud female farmer

We are delighted to introduce you Rebecca George to our fourth University of New England Young Farming Champion for 2019 . Beca has the YFC program in her DNA with her sister Diana a YFC alumna

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This is Becca’s story

My name is Rebecca George & I’m a 4th year agriculture & business student at the University of New England. I grew up on a mixed farming operation in central west NSW, near a small town called Nevertire.

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Although I never thought much of it growing up, agriculture was always a major part of my life.  Farming has always been a family affair at home as not only our business but also our life.

I am the youngest of three girls, the first time in 100 years there isn’t a son to take over our property. However, we were never treated any differently in terms of chores around the farm from feeding the chooks to helping muster sheep on our pink bikes. My father was born and raised on our property and my mother grew up in the city and through both my parents influence I ended up being a farm kid who would return home to a pink fairy themed bedroom. The contrast in my parents’ upbringings taught me from a very young age that you can be both feminine & a farmer, something that has definitely  shaped my personality. My older sister and I got involved in a local cattle show when we were in primary school. That first show unleashed a new love and appreciation for beef cattle and resulted in many kilometres traveled to attend youth shows.

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The many opportunities I was given and the exposure to the red meat industry was invaluable as a youth and as I grew older.  I appreciated those who put in the time and effort to invest in the next generation of agriculture. In the past 2 years I have joined several committees and now volunteer for these events and I have found a passion to support and inspire the next generation of #YouthinAg.

I studied agriculture all through high school & through this was able to develop leadership skills as I began to mentor the younger students. In 2015, during my gap year  I spent 3 months working as an agriculture contractor in County Cork, Ireland. This experience opened my eyes to the diversity in agriculture on a global scale and I began to become greatly interested in agriculture and beef as a worldwide industry.

It was here that I found two new passions; travel & international agriculture. In 2016 I started the Rural Science degree, I had deferred at the end of year 12. Throughout the year as I met new people and learnt more about what was on offer at the University of New England and found  was was very curious about the agribusiness units I saw some of my friends taking. After some further research I changed into my current degree of Bachelor of Agriculture/ Bachelor of Business majoring in International Business. Since making the change I have been able to continue learning about agriculture as well the  essential business skills that are the foundation of  our industry. I have also been given the opportunity to travel abroad & experience international agriculture through the university having been to South America in 2018 as part of the University of New England IFAMA team . In June this year I am going  to China and Vietnam.

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As I near the end of my studies I am excited about a future in agriculture and the experiences I will have that will further shape my career and life in this exciting industry.


Meet Haylee Murrell who is Gunnedah born and bred and looking forward to pursuing a career in Australian agriculture.

It gives us great pleasure to introduce you to our third University of New England Young Farming Champion Haylee Murrell. We first met Haylee when she won the senior section of our inugural National Agriculture Day Careers Competition in 2017.

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Haylee Murrell with her dad and Young Farming Champions Ambassador Costa Georgiadis  

We then invited Haylee to join us as a n intern at the 2018 Sydney Royal Easter Show Primary School Preview Day  and what a star she was

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We are very excited she chose to study her tertiary education at UNE and officially join the Young Farming Champions team

Welcome Haylee  ……

Hello! My name is Haylee Murrell and I am a born and bred Gunnedah girl. Living in an area with 80% of its town invested in agriculture, I was always surrounded by diversity and vibrancy of the industry and I am confident this is what sparked my interest in a career in Agriculture.

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From an early age I was determined I was going to work in Agriculture, and everyday I am more and more determined and passionate about it. This has been fostered by making the most of every opportunity during my primary and secondary school education and the many, many extra activities I grabbed with both hands to learn from and immerse myself in the industry.

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There have been many highlights have helped to cement my decision to pursue a career in Agriculture.

The first one being the people I have met. People have not only been encouraging, they are enthusiastic and excited about the fact that youth are involved in agriculture and that they want to know about the industry. I have learnt more from people in the industry then I have learnt from studying and reading. These people have inspired me and helped pave my way in the agricultural sector. I am in the agricultural sector because I want to meet and learn more off these people and I want to be like them.

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For me, educating young individuals about agriculture is such an important area that must occur for agriculture to remain ongoing and for people to understand how vital it is for Australia’s future as well as a huge interest for me. So when I first entered The Archibull Prize National Agriculture Day Careers Competition I had no idea it would lead to me being introduced to a bunch of young individuals doing exactly that, educating the next generation of agriculturalists. I was honoured to be asked after the Archibull Prize awards to come to the Sydney Easter Show as their intern to help teach young students from the Sydney area about where fruit and vegetables come from and how they can grow their own food at home. I took so much away from this experience, especially the joy and satisfaction I felt after helping the kindergartens learn the importance of eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables everyday. This experience encouraged me to educate other young people and older people about agriculture.

Another highlight on my career journey into agriculture was a recent work placement at the North Coast Local Land Services, which showed me the diversity of careers in agriculture. It allowed me to see the diversity of the landscape and how each region has different problems, pests, crops and farming methods. It was clear to me you can never stop learning about Australian agriculture.

Without the people and experiences in agriculture that I have been involved in my love and passion for agriculture would have not flourished and these are the reasons I want to pursue a career, future and life in Australian agriculture.

I want to encourage all young people to be interested in where their food and clothes come from. I want every young person to have the opportunity to have farming experiences and like me be inspired to follow a career in agriculture

Meet Forbes Corby who is looking forward to a career that will open up international trade opportunities for Australian farmers

Introducing our second University of New England Young Farming Champion for 2019.

Meet Forbes Corby

IMG_1527[7815] This is Forbes’ story ……..

One of the greatest things about the agricultural industry is its broad scale of diverse opportunities. As a 21-year-old completing a fourth year of study in a Bachelor of Agriculture/ Bachelor of Business (Major: International Business) at the University of New England (UNE) my agricultural journey began a long time ago. Living and working on my small family sheep property in rural NSW saw me eager to learn more about the industry.


I studied agriculture and primary industries at school and thoroughly enjoyed it; in part because of the very enthusiastic and visionary teacher I had to guide me. During high school I gained experience working with agricultural traders such as CRT and Ray White where I learnt how to auctioneer. I completed high school and knew that I loved agriculture and business so decided to undertake my undergraduate degree in the two disciplines. At this time, I had little understanding of what more opportunities existed in the industry apart from being a farmer or working in the local Landmark store as a merchant or agronomist.

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Forbes has enjoyed participating in shows and is pictured here at the NSW State Sheep Junior Judging at Sydney Royal Easter Show. 

Since being at university I have developed an extensive network through extracurricular activities and social interaction. Whilst studying at UNE I have lived at Robb college and been on their Rural Focus executive committee as the marketing coordinator and I was a residential tutor there in 2018. In 2018 I was also one of the careers fair coordinators for UNE Farming Futures and in 2019 I am Chairperson of the executive team. Additionally, whilst being at UNE I have travelled twice internationally with my degree, to China and Argentina. Separate from my degree, in January 2019 I undertook an internship with the Australian Trade and Investment Commission in Myanmar, working on identifying high potential growth areas for business cooperation between Myanmar and Australian companies in the Agri-Food industry.


There are many scholarships to support young people from rural and regional Australia to attend tertiary education. Forbes was one of the recipients of the RAS of NSW Foundation Scholarships in 2016 

I have begun to understand the broadness of the agricultural industry and particularly I have found a realization for the importance of international trade and the role it plays in the economy. I looking forward to initiating a career creating trade links in Asian markets which will generate new revenue streams for Australian primary producers.