Find your passion and follow it says Rozzie O’Reilly

From the family farm to commercial feedlots, today’s guest blog from Rozzie O’Reilly takes us on a journey through what it takes to put a great steak, or lamb chop, on your plate. Rozzie says, “Agriculture is my passion and my life, and this is my journey to date…”

Here is her story…

My agricultural journey began twenty two years ago when I born the daughter of a fourth generation sheep and cattle farmer in the beautiful Riverina of southern NSW. Needless to say, agriculture is in my blood. Our family farming enterprise is no stereotype though. Dad was tragically killed in an accident when I was a toddler, leaving Mum to raise four kids as well as manage her livestock. In addition to running livestock on our small block of land at Narrandera, we primarily agisted stock on surrounding properties.

Hanging out with some of our cows at home

It was Mum’s determination and courage, as well as her ability to include us kids in the farming enterprise, that lead me to instinctively develop a passion for agriculture and in particular a love for sheep and cattle. From the time I could walk I was in the yards helping Mum draft stock, in the woolshed penning up sheep and rouseabouting, and on the back of the ute helping supplement feed stock. I simply loved getting out and about to help Mum do the daily jobs of producing both food and fibre.

Helping feed out hay with my brother on the left & feeding poddy lambs on the right.

At the end of Year 12 in 2010, I followed my passion and applied to the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale to complete a Bachelor of Animal Science, majoring in Livestock Production. The following year I moved to Armidale (950km away from home) to begin study and have never looked back since. This was possibly the greatest life decision I have ever made! Throughout the four years of university, not only did I learn a great deal, ranging from livestock nutrition and genetics through to plant pathology (and everything in between), but I was also exposed to an array of amazing opportunities which strengthened my interest in the industry.

During my first year of university I also completed a Certificate IV in Wool Classing at TAFE. Not only did this provide me with a recognised qualification, but it also allowed me to gain work in shearing sheds during holidays to help pay for university fees. At this same time I began taking part in sheep fleece judging and was fortunate enough to compete for the Armidale Show Society at local, regional and state level. Let me tell you, judging fleeces at the Sydney Royal Easter Show is certainly much more stressful than the home woolshed, but nonetheless very enjoyable and a great networking and learning experience.

In 2012 I competed for UNE at the Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) competition, which is an annual conference that exposes university students to all sectors of the red meat industry. While training for the competition I learnt how to assess market suitability, meat quality and yield in beef, pork and lamb species. Though getting up early to stand in meat chillers for training does not sound like a hobby nor great fun, I certainly learnt a lot and gained an appreciation for the most important part of the red meat industry: the consumer.

Me and a fellow UNE team mate judging a beef carcase class.

I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the 2013 Australian ICMJ Team who toured the United States for four weeks. This was an incredible opportunity! Our team competed in three major US meat judging contests, travelled across ten states and gained a unique insight into the US meat and livestock industry through a number of tours. Visits included the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the USDA Meat Animal Research Centre, three major US packers, as well as feedlot, ranch and retail visits. Essentially, the tour was a complete paddock to plate insight into the US, and allowed comparisons between Australia and the US to be made.

The 2013 Aussie ICMJ Team in the US; on the left we are outside the JBS Headquarters in Colorado, while on the right is the awards we gained following one of the competitions we competed in.

I am forever grateful for what I have personally gained from my ICMJ experience and would love for as many people as possible to gain what I did. To help achieve this, I co-coached UNE ICMJ teams for two years following my participation and am now currently a committee member of the Australian ICMJ committee. My role on the committee is Careers Expo Coordinator, which is something I am very passionate about as the youth of today are inevitably our future.

2014 UNE ICMJ Team which I was lucky enough to be a part of the coaching team.

Another wonderful opportunity was the 2014 Indonesian Beef Production Tour, a three week tour coordinated by the University of Adelaide. It was certainly was an eye opener, giving a fantastic insight into each sector of the supply chain in which Australian cattle are exposed to in Indonesia. A significant highlight of the trip was visiting one of TUM’s new abattoirs (TUM is the company that was exposed on Four Corners, which lead to the closure of live export to Indonesia in 2011). The new facility clearly demonstrated that animal welfare is of utmost importance. This had a great positive impact on me, as it is quite contradictory to how live export to Indonesia is portrayed by a number of groups in Australia. Ultimately, this experience gave me the confidence to be able to promote live export upon returning to Australia.

2014 Indonesian Beef Production Tour; left is a research feedlot we visited, while on the right I am pictured with Febrina, an Indonesian Animal Science university student.

During my final year of university I undertook an Honours research trial in the field of sheep genetics. I tried to determine whether sires re-rank, in terms of their performance, in different environments. Honours certainly was not a ‘walk in the park’; I analysed tens of thousands of data recordings and spent hours in front of the computer. However, the process was rewarding and I gained a very strong appreciation for scientific research, and now understand the vital importance of research to our agricultural industry. I concluded the project with some significant results, which I found exciting and motivating… (and maybe one day I’ll be back to complete a PhD). Overall, I was awarded First Class Honours for my project.

Pictured with Mum after graduating with a B. Animal Science (1st Class Honours).

I was very fortunate for the support of a number of financial bursaries to help fund my degree including the UNE Country Scholarship and the NSW Royal Agricultural Society Foundation Scholarship. I also gained an Horizon Scholarship for the duration of my degree, which not only financially supported me but also aided in leadership, personal and professional development, supported attendance to industry conferences which broadened my agricultural knowledge, as well as organised annual industry work placements. This wonderful program enabled me to broaden my networks and certainly helped shape the person I am today.

Attending the 2014 Northern Australia Food Futures conference in Darwin as a Horizon Scholar delegate.

One particular Horizon work placement proved to be very influential in my career progression. In my second year of university I completed work placement at a 32,000 head beef feedlot. Prior to this I had never set foot on a beef feedlot, let alone considered a career in the lot feeding industry. This placement completely changed my perspective of intensive agriculture and I became intrigued with the industry. Since then, I have completed a Feedlot Management unit at university as well as work placement at two other feedlots, and was also fortunate to gain a Meat & Livestock Australia scholarship to attend the 2013 Australian Lot Feeders biannual BeefWorks conference. Most recently though, since finishing university last year, I have begun a Beef Supply Chain trainee position with Kerwee Lot Feeders. This position allows me to combine the knowledge which I have gained at university and through the ICMJ program to help produce tasty beef of the upmost quality. I find this an exciting concept and I am even more excited to see where this role takes me in the future.

In the pens at Kerwee Feedlot

The world population is continuing to rise at a very fast rate and I believe that intensive farming, such as lot feeding, is going to play a significant role in feeding this ever increasing population. I want to actively help the lot feeding industry to continue moving forward by promoting the importance of high animal welfare and environmental standards, as well as help ensure that lot feeders are up to date with emerging best management practices. Eventually I hope to harness my passion for livestock nutrition and genetics to help maximise production in the most sustainable manner.

Ultimately I wish to be part of the Young Farming Champions program so that I can tell my agricultural story, as well as market, promote and engage consumers with the great products that the Australian agricultural industry produces. I also want to help raise awareness of the diverse range of career opportunities available in agricultural and inspire the young people to consider them.

Australian agriculture is an exciting place to be and has endless amazing opportunities available for people who have drive and passion. So find and follow your passion, seize opportunities and enjoy the ride; you never know where you might end up.

Jamie Thornberry shares his love of agriculture and technology on the farm via twitter

Our guest blog today comes from keen communicator and ag advocate Jamie Thornberry. A trials agronomist with a focus on farmer extension, it’s Jamie’s knack for explaining agronomic concepts and online communication which has allowed his skills to blossom in that difficult line of communication between researcher, farmer and consumer.

This is Jamie’s story….

I remember way back when I was a little tacker in year 3 and we first moved out to the farm in Central West of New South Wales. It was quite different from the small town life that I was used to. For one, my back yard got a hell of a lot bigger. Thinking back I didn’t seem to notice the isolation from my friends as I always had my little fox terrier Muttley by my side. Our farm of 700 acres was relatively small at the time, although at that age I didn’t mind; it was big enough for Muttley and I to go hunting for mice and rabbits.

Presenting our research at Tottenham Ag expo

Around the same time that we purchased the property between Canowindra and Cudal my Nan and Pop bought a small farm at Cargo. I soon found myself split between the two properties which were two very different farming systems. My Dad had a main focus on wheat production and he spent the majority of his time carting wheat throughout Northern NSW, whereas my Pop decided cattle was the way to go. At that age of course the cows appeared to be more interesting to me, and my pop would always take us to see the new calves.

Burning research trial plots with a drip torch

As time pressed on we started to work more and more on the farm at Cargo as well as our own. My Dad quickly grew frustrated with the cows walking over pop’s fences so sheep quickly became an alternative. Around that time I was in my final years of high school, with my favourite subject being Agriculture – of course – as well as a touch of biology and a dose of primary industries to get me out of the class room. These subjects built a strong foundation for a university degree in Agriculture.

In 2009 I commenced my Bachelor of Agricultural Science with Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga. I remember making the decision on which university I would attend; I could study agribusiness in Orange just down the road, or completely throw myself out of my comfort zone and travel to Wagga Wagga. In hindsight it was the best decision I have ever made. The degree at CSU was quite diverse, split between agronomy, agribusiness, soil and animal health. This played a large role in shaping me for the industry as well as starving off boredom when tasked with 2000 word assignments. I graduated in 2013 and, like a typical graduate, began the tiring search for my ideal job in the industry.

With the job market a little harsher than I expected, I started part time work as a freelance web designer and online marketer. So there I was with my Ag degree in one hand and a passion for communications in the other. It wasn’t long until I began to bring the two together, noticing there was huge communication breakdown between farmers and the consumers of their products. This led me to Twitter in search of online discussion around agriculture and there built an online network with local agribusinesses.

Stubble conference in Melbourne

With my ideal media job in mind I applied for a job with Central West Farming Systems (CWFS) as a trials agronomist with a focus on farmer extension. CWFS is an independent, non-for-profit farmer driven organisation delivering agricultural research by farmers, for farmers. Working there I found my career rapidly changed as my role in the team was to play to my strengths in online communications and explaining agronomic concepts.

Looking back at the time when I was deciding on a career path, I think the best advice I could give myself would be a quote from Richard Branson: “If you are presented with a good opportunity and you’re not sure that you have the right skills for it. Say yes and learn the skills later.”

We are in the information age and that gifts us all the tools to learn the skills we need at our fingertips. Looking at the Young Farming Champions program my goal would be to learn the skills I need to build confidence in young agriculturists. While farming in the paddock will always require practical skills, the younger technology driven generation has more to offer the industry than they think. Building communication avenues between farmers and consumers is just one vital step.

To follow what I’m doing, follow my regular updates on Twitter @cwfsystems

Solicitor, farmer and blogger Amy Gullifer wants everyone talking about Ag

Amy Gullifer describes herself as solicitor by day and an aspiring young farmer at all other times. Through advocacy and communication Amy strives to help other people start a conversation, further their understanding of agriculture and get started in the farming sector

This is Amy’s story…

Bathurst, in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, is the place I call home. Bathurst was put on the map by its internationally renowned racetrack Mount Panorama. To me, the significance of Bathurst has nothing to do with racing and everything to do with agriculture.

I grew up on a mixed grazing farm just north of Bathurst under the watchful eye of both parents and all four grandparents. My parents owned and ran a rural merchandise business that was the hub for many people involved in agriculture in region.  My father certainly taught me most things I know about the industry and I have been immeasurably lucky to be brought up under such a forward thinking and moving man.

My knowledge and involvement in agriculture has certainly grown and diversified since the above picture (as has my fashion sense) – a direct result of my parents encouraging me to get involved and be the difference that you wish to see. I am now involved in my local show society, Landcare committee, Agricultural Societies Council Next Generation committee and am on an advisory group to the Board of the Central Tablelands Local Lands Service, as well as being a beef producer myself.

In an age where information can be shared at the drop of a hat I believe young people moving into agriculture should take advantage of this. For an agricultural community to thrive it must have a high level of connectivity and I think the youth of today are the best people to facilitate networking, communication, and information dissemination between generations.

I remember attending wether trial days, fencing demonstrations or just lunches with my father, or even hosting them at our property and the conversation and interaction would be a bigger focus than the sheep or demonstration themselves. This will always be the way that I will remember my experiences with agriculture and I think there’s something we can take forward from this interactive approach.

I have become involved in quite a few groups that facilitate connectivity, whether that be locally or internationally. The Agricultural Societies Council Next Generation has provided me with an amazing platform to meet people from all over the world. I was lucky enough last year to be the recipient of a scholarship to attend the Royal Agricultural Societies of the Commonwealth Conference in Brisbane, gaining infinite opportunities to network with like-minded people and take in knowledge that I took back to my own enterprise, Show Society and hometown.

Quite a while ago now, I made the big decision to leave the nest and venture off to university to complete a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Environmental Science. University was one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. It really made me aware of the struggle some people had been through and still go through in agriculture but it also made me aware of how strong the industry is, both socially and economically.

I have now completed my double degree and have been admitted to practice in New South Wales as a Solicitor specialising in property and family law.

My new career move has provided me with a lot of training in communication and advocacy and I wish to channel that into providing easy to digest information to those, both younger or older than me, that wish to get into farming but are not quite sure how to go about it. This desire saw the creation of my blog raisinggreenerpastures.com with the purpose of documenting my journey of getting set up and running as a grazier, offering handy tips in other areas with a focus on sustainability, as well as some light hearted entertainment.

I hope that my journey so far can inspire someone, even if it’s only one person, to pick up a book, to open a link or to have a conversation and further their understanding of agriculture.

The opportunities are endless in Agriculture says Laura Phelps

Today’s guest blog comes from Laura Phelps from Australian Pork Limited who says the opportunities for young people in agriculture are everywhere. From international travel, to eye-opening experiences and life-long friendships, Laura thinks agriculture has it all – including a bright and vibrant future.

This is Laura’s story…

Laura in a wheat field in Indonesia

Growing up on a farm outside of Moree, I always assumed that agriculture would form part of my life in some capacity. It was this mindset that I took with me when my family moved south from Moree to the urban fringes of Melbourne. Vast open golden brown paddocks were traded with rolling green pasture and five acre blocks in picturesque towns with the bright lights of the city just up the road. While there was a significant change in lifestyle, football code and climate, my interest in Agriculture has never waned.

My father is a vet and my mother an agricultural scientist – they have always supported my passion for agriculture and the opportunities that it presents. When my school friends were getting ready to attend university in Melbourne, I was packing up my bags to head north to begin a degree in Ag Science at the University of Sydney in 2010, graduating at the end of 2013.

Graduation with my brother, mum and dad

While at university my eyes were opened to the places that agriculture can take you, and in my second year I was lucky enough to travel to Indonesia with Syngenta to work with local university agricultural students, educating farmers about pesticide safety management. In groups we would set out each day to work with local farmer groups, village leaders and farmers to assemble lockable boxes for farmers to store chemicals and to talk about pesticide safety management. This experience was unforgettable and ignited in me the understanding that no matter the cultural or language barriers, agriculture transcends these barriers.

The Australian agriculture students who were a part of the Syngenta program

My village group from the Syngenta program

In my final year of university, before beginning my honours in soil science, I was able to travel to Laos as part of a subject looking at agriculture in developing countries. Keeping to the south of Laos, as a class combined with agricultural students from Laos’s national university, we toured the various agricultural industries of Laos, looking at subsistence farming, community farming projects funded by the Asian Development Bank, and large commercial coffee plantations. Along the way we stayed with locals and in guest houses. The difference in agriculture was astounding and the relationship that farmers have with the land is a completely different mindset to the one that Australian farmers have. I was also struck with the relationship that all people have with agriculture, as the subsistence farming culture is high.

Rice farming in Laos

When I finished university I honestly had no idea about what I wanted to do, or where I wanted agriculture to take me. I had always known that I wanted to be a part of agriculture – but exactly where and doing what had always stumped me. When I saw a policy job with Australian Pork Limited (APL) in Canberra, I jumped on it and was very excited to join the team. Working for APL I have discovered a passion for pigs that I never knew existed. A major part of my job is talking to producers on a daily basis while manning the pig industry’s national traceability phone line. I find this part of my job extremely rewarding and it reminds me constantly who I am working for and why I am there.

Working for the pork industry has cemented in me the value that Australian farmers are passionate, about their animals and environment. It has also struck me how innovative our producers are. I believe that I am lucky to work for a forward thinking organisation, who are constantly seeking the outcomes which have a positive impact on all aspects of the industry. The people I see in every aspect of the pork supply chain are committed to achieving the best outcomes in terms of animal welfare, environmental issues and production. I am extremely proud to work in the pork industry and am excited about its future in Australia.

I believe that there is a bright future for Agriculture in Australia, but we will face some challenges along the way. The growing disconnect and misconceptions between the country and city, climate change and variable rainfall and weather events, and competing pressures for viable farming land are all challenges that we need to face together. With the right work ethic, support and collaborative effort, I believe we are more than capable of building a vibrant future.

Agriculture has taken me to some amazing places and given me some amazing opportunities. From traveling to the terraced mountains of Indonesia, to the rice paddies of Laos, and extensive soil tours of the western plains of NSW. I have been able to compete the Grain Grower’s cropping competition in Temora, intern at the ABC and trail harvest crops in Shepparton. But most importantly I have had fun and made some amazing friendships along the way.

Out delivering pesticide safe boxes in Indonesia

A cattle girl turned cotton, Kate Lumber wouldn’t have it any other way

Today’s guest blog comes from final year Rural Science student Kate Lumber who is on track to career in cotton agronomy, but it wasn’t always going to be that way. Thanks to a summer spent bug checking crops around Moree, Kate’s interest moved from cattle to cotton and her career aspirations were quickly solidified by the mentorship of some “professional and passionate” agronomists.

This is Kate’s story…

Hi, my name is Kate Lumber and I am a fourth year Rural Science student at the University of New England. I grew up in the small country town of Quirindi on the Liverpool Plains in North-West NSW but now call Tamworth home. Despite growing up in town I spent a great deal of my time on family properties. I have wanted to be involved in agriculture all my life and I can honestly say with such strong role models in the industry, I feel as though I was destined for a career in agriculture.

Growing up, my fondest memories were on farm riding horses, doing cattle work or tinkering in the shed with Grandad. I loved getting my hands dirty and was always the first one to volunteer to jump in the ute to go out fencing or feeding. I was a very competitive horse rider and became heavily involved in showing beef cattle and livestock judging throughout high school. I have such fond memories in the sheds at small country shows, with Sydney Royal the highlight of my year; the lead up was considered Christmas Eve excitement for an “Aggie.” Whether it was talking to breeders about their stud genetics, networking and forging friendships or competing to great success, I loved every second of it.

Photo: Carcase judging, fleece judging and beef cattle paraders

It was high school that truly opened my eyes to the endless opportunities in agriculture. I was fortunate to have a fantastic support network and teachers that encouraged me to explore every opportunity and move out of my comfort zone. I studied agriculture from year 9 to year 12, receiving the academic excellence award for best in subject throughout my studies.

In 2011 I was offered the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) Industry Placement Scholarship through the University of New England at the Animal Genetics and Breeding unit (AGBU). This was a fantastic insight into the number of opportunities to work with livestock and related industries.

From here I was selected as one of 10 students nationally for the 2011 PICSE Think Tank Forum in Canberra. This was a great opportunity to meet and network with like-minded students and well respected industry leaders. We addressed issues such as food and fibre security and feeding a growing world in a changing landscape. This forum truly inspired me to be part of the generation of agriculturalists to find possible solutions to these challenges and implement change. From here I chose to study a Bachelor of Rural Science at UNE, with the intention of a livestock focus.

On Industry Placement at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) Scanning Cattle at Bald Blair Angus, Guyra NSW.

It is amazing what life can throw at you. I was offered my break into the cotton industry following the completion of my first year at university. Although I simply stumbled across the position, I am so grateful I did because it honestly changed my life. I started working as a bug checker with Integrated Crop Management Services Moree (ICMS) in the summer of 2012/13. What started off as an opportunity to earn some money over the summer holidays quickly evolved into a great passion and way of life.

My first day on the job was also the first day I had seen cotton grown in the field and I tell you, I was like a kid in a candy shop and have been ever since. My job involved completing crop assessment, field data collection and tissue sampling. This data was then utilised to assist in nutrient application decisions, irrigation scheduling and the recommendation of pesticide and herbicide applications. This was an incredible introduction to cotton agronomy and I feel so privileged to have been mentored by such professional and passionate agronomists.

 In the field bug checking at Moree NSW

I returned to university with a new found focus, a great desire to further my knowledge, and dreaming of the black soil plains and sunshine, a stark contrast to Armidale’s bitter winter. When the 2013/14 bug checking season came, I went to work with ICMS again. I was constantly learning and adapting in order to meet the needs of the grower and the dynamic nature of the crop. It is amazing how invigorating an early morning, the feeling of mud between your toes and the comforting brush of cotton on tanned legs is. I loved the lifestyle the cotton industry offered. I met so many passionate young people and was part of an incredible community brought together by their love of agriculture. I was having the time of my life, where work wasn’t even work. How many people can say they truly love their job? I am so lucky to be one of them.

 Heading out into the field to check a whitefly trial in Moree NSW

My third year bought about great opportunity. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Cotton Australia Scholar to attend the 17th Australian Cotton Conference (2014). This was an amazing experience! Not only did I get to meet and network with passionate and like-minded students but also key leaders within the Industry. I was involved in some amazing youth in agriculture activities and learnt so much about all things cotton. This experience really illustrated for me the importance of research and development in the cotton industry where I was able to discuss current research opportunities with leading scientists and as a result it was a significant contributing factor in my decision to undertake honours in Cotton Agronomy.

Catching up with friends Dee George and Laura Bennett at the Wincott stand, Cotton Conference 2014.

The summer of 2014 saw me take my agricultural passion international, travelling throughout South East Asia for a two week agricultural tour of Cambodia. This was an incredibly eye-opening experience for many reasons. I was not only exposed to agricultural policy and AID projects being undertaken in a developing country but also various cropping and livestock production systems that highly contrasted those seen in Australia. Through this trip I recognised the great opportunity for economic growth and increased productivity and the growing market for quality Australian product going into South East Asia. The incredible generosity of spirit and entrepreneurial attitude of the Cambodian people was truly inspirational and is something I hold so close from my trip.

Traditional rice harvest, Phnom Penh Cambodia

I then went on to spend two weeks in Thailand where I completed an internship with international chemical manufacturing company FMC, in the agricultural department of its Asia Pacific regional office in Bangkok. Going to work in a high rise building was a distinct change of scenery from the fieldwork I have come to know and love. At FMC I was exposed to commercial chemical registration, regulation and product development. I was also involved in the work behind chemical field trials throughout Thailand and the processes of running and reporting on commercial field trials, which I believe to be invaluable. This has given me commercial knowledge of agricultural chemicals to complement the technical knowledge I have learnt throughout my degree.

 Looking at FMC herbicide trials on Sugarcane near Kanchanaburi, Thailand

In February 2015 I was awarded a PICSE internship with the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute (ACRI). I completed a one week internship at ACRI where I was fortunate enough to work in a number of departments including entomology, pathology, agronomy, breeding and semio-chemicals. During this internship I was able to sit down and talk to the leading researchers in each department then work with the technical officers to see first-hand the research currently being undertaken. It involved everything from field work such as scouting and leaf sampling to pathogen isolations in the lab.

I loved my time at ACRI and was offered casual work as a technical assistant for picking with the breeding team which was an incredible experience. I saw the whole process associated with picking through to the ginned and tested samples, even finding time for a little handpicking.

 Field work at the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute

As an honours candidate for Rural Science in 2015 I am undertaking a project that that forms part of a trial looking into phosphorus availability in dryland cotton. My thesis looks at the correlation between whole plant nutrient content, indicator leaf tissue sampling and phosphorus uptake in dryland cotton. My field trial is being conducted at the Incitec Pivot “Colonsay” long term trial site on the Darling Downs. Alongside my project partners, I have completed all plant sampling at five sampling dates throughout the season.

I have found it very rewarding, pushing me to problem solve as I continue to find the project both challenging and interesting. It has given me first-hand experience in running a commercially focussed field trial which I see to be of great benefit for me into the future as I pursue a career in Agronomy. I very much look forward to analysing our results and providing information that can be of benefit to the cotton industry.

Field work sampling in Toowoomba for my honours trial

As I move through my final year of university study I am looking forward to finishing my degree and entering the workforce. I cannot wait to be able to pursue cotton agronomy as a career and continue to learn all I can about the Industry I love.

I can’t imagine a summer without siphons, helies, black soil and cotton. I am a cattle girl turned cotton and wouldn’t have it any other way.

 What a view, how could I want to be anywhere else?

James Kanaley lives to work, breathe and love agriculture in rural Australia

Today’s guest blog from James Kanaley highlights the diversity, excitement and huge range of opportunities available in agriculture. From family farming in southern NSW, to following the harvest trail from Texas to Canada, James has taken the road less travelled to reach his current home among the cotton crops of Moree.

Here is James’s story….

Agriculture is my life. My name is James Kanaley and I am a 5th generation farmer and agronomist from Illabo in southern NSW where my family has been farming for over 100 years.

Farming dominates my earliest childhood memories. Whether it was clunking around riding in the dusty old header cab harvesting wheat with dad or steering the old truck without reaching the pedals as the sheep followed behind gobbling up their rations of barley and lupins.

Me with my two younger brothers and father, “helping” him plant trees in creek lines in the early 90s. This was common on our farm and others, aiming to improve vegetation areas whilst decreasing salinity and erosion problems initiated by previous generations.

I spent my childhood on our family farm, which is a mixed farming operation. On half of our farming area we grow crops of wheat, canola, lupins and barley. The remaining 50 percent of the area is sown down to lucerne-clover pasture for our merino sheep flock to graze on and produce fine wool. The entire farm is worked in rotation, each paddock will go through a cropping and a pasture phase. Our farm is set on picturesque undulating red-brown earth with a winter/spring dominant rainfall pattern – although we take it when we can get it!

Like any farmer’s son I grew up learning from my dad and was lucky to have an intelligent, hard working father who has taught me a lot over the years and still teaches me plenty today! I am the eldest of three boys and a farm is the perfect place for three brothers to run amok on, most of the time at the expense of our parents’ tolerance and energy. Although three boys with a lot of energy can come in very handy when you the kelpie working dog is out of action and the sheep need to be mustered up.

I have always had a love for growing crops ever since I can remember. There’s nothing quite like growing a crop from seed, nurturing it through to harvest and turning the land you work into a productive food bowl. I can still remember how excited I got each harvest as a young fella as the headers fired up and burnt diesel day and night to bring the year’s crops in.

Planting a crop of grazing wheat on our family farm after some good autumn breaking rain, to be grazed by sheep and then taken through to harvest grain.

I also know how important our livestock are to our mixed farming system and will always have a soft spot for our merino sheep. I am a strong believer in diversification in farming systems and believe the strongest farming operations are able to optimise climatic and economic forecasts for agricultural commodities and manage their cropping and livestock enterprises to complement each other.

My first job outside the farm was at our local rural store. I sold agricultural chemicals, animal supplements, clothing, dog food and everything in between. We had one agronomist who would come back into the store covered in mud up to his knees telling us about what was going on out in the paddocks and enjoying having a laugh with the farmers. At the time I was only just learning what an agronomist was but this was the moment I realized the career I wanted to be in: Agronomy.

I attended the local high school in Junee and when I went to choose agriculture as one of my year 11 and 12 subjects I was told I was the only student choosing it. It was then I thought, why? We are in a strong agricultural area, how can I be the only student interested in agriculture? Agriculture is a way of life for our region and is the backbone of the local economy. Agriculture has always been one of my greatest passions. Why was an area that was rich in agriculture and dependent on the industry not attracting young people? By sharing my career journey I am hoping I can buck this trend and inspire other young people to aspire to agriculture related careers.

Inspecting a very good canola crop flowering during September, spring is a spectacular time of year when all the canola is flowering.

After gaining entry to Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga to study Agricultural Science I decided to take a gap year and work for a year…

Then, on New Year’s Day 2006 a fierce and terrifying bushfire ripped through over 25,000 ha of prime farmland and our property, leaving nothing but ash and dust behind it. It was the middle of the drought and we had just had the first decent spring rainfall in years, which only added fuel to the fire. I spent a good portion of my gap year clearing trees, re-fencing and fixing up our devastated farm. The drought had already pushed and tested many farmers but even after the bushfire everyone remained positive. They kicked the charred earth and barren landscape but knew the autumn rains would come again and trigger a rush of green to blanket the slopes and plains once again.

The bushfire and millennium drought showed Mother Nature at her worst, putting farmers under sever emotional, financial and physical pressure but it showed the resilience of our farmers and their determination. It made me proud to be part of an industry that could go through so much and work so hard without much reward, sometimes only to wake up the next day and do it all again until the drought breaking rains came.

During my study in Wagga Wagga I was lucky enough to travel to Vietnam with our 3rd year Agriculture class for a tour through farming regions in the Mekong Delta. The trip was amazing and a real eye opener getting off the beaten track to look at farming operations in third world regions of a developing country. It did make us feel very lucky to live and farm in Australia but at the same time it was interesting to see people who were less fortunate, and with less access to technology, productively use the land to feed their families and communities.

I spent a lot of my uni holidays working for a corporate cropping farm close to home. It was a great experience coming from a family farm environment to see the differences in how the corporate farms operate. Corporate farms are run with a lot less emotion than family farms and treated more like business investments.  The company I worked for which was a large asset management group called Warakirri Pty Ltd.

The sheer size and scale of corporate farms appeal to young people who may never have the opportunity to own their own farm and realise you don’t have to own the farm to farm the farm. They are also be a fantastic experience for young graduates like me keen to take strong business skills and a diverse knowledge bank back to the family farm. Foreign investors employ local people and spend money in local communities and whilst it is important to recognize the role the corporates play in the industry I believe the future of agriculture in this country will always ride on the back of family farming businesses. .

After I graduated from university I travelled to the USA in 2011 to work on the wheat harvest trail. It was a fantastic experience working from the Texas plains to the Canadian border harvesting wheat, corn and soybeans. It was great to learn a lot about the American style of farming but what I think my trip highlighted most was how underrated Australian farmers actually are. My American experience made it clear to me just how adoptive, adaptive, innovative and resilient our farmers are.

Waking up to an unusual morning during corn harvest in Kansas, USA for me and the other Australian workers.

Harvesting wheat in the rolling hills and plains of Montana, USA.

After getting some of the travel bug out of my system I started working as a dryland agronomist in the Henty area in southern New South Wales, working with mixed farmers to advise them on their crop and pasture systems. This is where I started learning the ropes as an agronomist or ‘clod kickers’ or ‘plant doctors’ as we are affectionately called. I get a kick out of interacting with farmers and enjoy helping them get the best return on investment from their businesses.

I found I was extremely excited by the cotton industry and was keen to learn more about it. To do this I left Henty in 2014 to work as an agronomist in Moree, northern NSW. The Moree region is a very diverse farming area and I’ve had the chance to work with everything from cotton to faba beans. Irrigated cotton is grown as an opportunity crop whenever growers have access to water and is the lifeblood of the area. I love working as an agronomist and working hard to produce as much as possible from every millimeter of rainthat falls or every megalitre tof water that is siphoned down a field during irrigations.

Checking wheat during the winter, tools of the trade for an agronomist, Quad bike, moisture probe and iPad. Technology enables us to record and send data from the field saving extra office time

Working in the agricultural industry is not the only perk, the lifestyle and community that comes with it is something that I would never change, whether it’s trotting around on the rugby paddock or water skiing on irrigation dams. We are all in it for the same reason to work, breathe and live agriculture in rural Australia.

I want to be able to share my passion and knowledge of working in an industry that feeds and clothes an increasing world population.

I want to be able to share how exciting the constantly changing technology and science is in the industry.

I want to inspire other young people to aspire to careers in the agriculture sector.

I want to raise awareness of how important agriculture and farming is to our communities and create a wider appreciation of the role our farmers play.

Agriculture is my life and it is a diverse industry that I can’t imagine not being a part of.

You reap what you sow, a fantastic wheat crop at home approaching harvest and filling well with large plump grains of wheat.

Cotton enthusiast Liz Munn believes in reaping what you sow

Liz Munn brings us today’s guest blog which takes us on an 800km journey that begins and ends with cotton. The 21 year old technical officer with the DPI lives by the motto “You can only take out what you put in” and believes the more people show their confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry, the more it will become contagious!

Here’s Liz’s story…

My name is Liz Munn, I am 21 years old and I’ve just moved 800km across the state to work in the field I love – cotton!

Home for me is the rural community of Moree in the North West Slopes and Plains of NSW. It’s the centre of a large agricultural area, known for the rich black vertosol soils which allow crops such as cotton to thrive and is also renowned for its natural hot springs. In the past few years the community has been brought together in crises of major flooding, fires and drought, but the people always manage to come out stronger.

At the Sydney Royal Easter Show, about to accept the Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship in 2014.

I believe that for a rural agricultural region to survive it needs a supportive, cohesive community – and I love to get involved! I work with groups such as the Moree Show Society, Leeton Show Society, NSW Farmers, ASC Youth group, ASC Group 14 Ambassador, and the Young NSW Farmers group. I love that show events bring the whole community together to experience all of the rural and agricultural aspects of the area. Getting amongst the hive of activity not only keep me up to date with what is happening in the agricultural industry at a regional basis, but also at a legislative and national basis.

My love of the land came from my grandfather. Some of my best childhood moments was the time spent following him around the farm and learning as I went. He had a mixed farming enterprise, so my parents and I helped with jobs such as lamb and calf marking, shearing, tractor driving and harvest. Over the years the farm changed to focus more on grain growing.

My grandfather taught me that you can only take out what you put in; which is a good motto not just for agriculture but for life in general and I have followed it throughout my life.

Looking after a poddy lamb named Claire after it lost its mother.

At school in Moree I was the type of kid that enjoyed getting involved with everything. I was sporting house captain in year 11 and a school leader in year 12. I was active in a range of sports from horses to soccer, and was lucky enough to compete at state level in Sydney for athletics. I also loved learning to play classical violin for five years, and won a few awards along the way.

When it was time to think about university degrees my interest in agriculture lead me to a Bachelor of Environmental Science at University of New England.

I lived at St Albert’s College where made many friends and was introduced to several sporting, academic, and cultural groups. I was highly active in the college’s netball and chugby (women’s rugby) teams and also held the position of pastoral advisor (PA) where I supported my fellow students in any way possible and helped organise events.

On the far right of the top row, after we played our first game of chugby in 2013.

My Environmental Science degree has given me a deeper insight into the need for a partnership between the needs of the native landscape and productive landscape and instilled the importance of preserving the productive farmland that we are lucky enough to have in Australia.

Agriculture is a constantly evolving industry and there is an important place for leaders who are up to date with the latest technologies and techniques to give the best protection against our unpredictable seasons while also enhancing competitiveness on the world market. The cotton industry in particular is at the forefront of innovation, and so I took my first steps to become involved.

During my first two summer breaks at university, I worked for a local agronomist as a cotton crop scout. When I first applied for the position I considered it purely a learning experience. But the more I learned, the more I enjoyed myself. I found the cotton industry fascinating! Now I’m striving to become an agronomist.

In just a few years I have worked with many great people who were as enthusiastic about the industry as I now am too. Last year I toured one of the local cotton gins where we were shown all of the aspects of the ginning process. I also completed two subjects directly related to cotton and its management.

My dedication to regional communities and agriculture was last year rewarded with the 2014 Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship for my work in agriculture and my local show society, as well being appointed as an ambassador for the Agricultural Societies Council (ASC) group 14.

Checking some of the first open bolls for the 2014/2015 season.

This year my career has taken off. When I finished my degree in late 2014 there was a drought around Moree so I had to move to southern NSW, almost 800km away to a town I had never been to, to start my career.

In January 2015 I began working with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at Yanco in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area doing research into integrated pest management in cotton. Cotton is a relatively new crop for this region, so I am at the forefront of its progression and success. I am a technical officer, collecting field data, managing and organising others in the field, consulting with growers, and assisting in the creation of trials and data collection methods of those trials.

To most people involved in agriculture it is not just an industry, but a lifestyle that travels down the generations. According to the National Farmers Federation, 99% of all Australian farms are family owned.

Agriculture influences every person in the world even if they are purely a consumer.

With a fast growing population and unpredictable climate, I believe we must protect farms for future generations, and it must be done sustainably and profitably.

I would also like to help change the stereotypical image of the average Aussie farmer. Agriculture is a great industry for young people and women. There are so many fantastic things to attract young people and as an industry we need to make sure we are looking after our youth, helping them survive and flourish so the industry can too.

Agriculture provides 1.6 million jobs to the Australian economy, but there is still miscommunication between farmers and consumers. I believe we need more communication to build support from the community and it is vital our farmers are supported in every sector.

People involved in Australian agriculture put everything into it and I want to make sure that they can always get out what they put in.

There are so many young agriculturalists in Australia trying to make their voice heard, as I am. I want to be involved in advocacy for the cotton industry, particularly through engaging with consumers of Aussie cotton. I believe the industry can reach its goals. The more people who get involved and strive to enhance their skills, the more our confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry will become contagious. We will get out what we put in.

Katherine Mann’s mission to build the next crop of ‘Ag-vocates’

Today’s guest blog comes from Katherine Mann…

In 2013 Katherine graduated from a Bachelor of Natural Science (Agriculture) in a class of just three students. Now she’s telling her story in the hopes of inspiring other young people to get involved with agriculture. And like a lot of young ag enthusiasts, her love really started with her school’s show cattle team….

My name is Katherine and I am an agvocate.

From a very young age I remember being immersed in the country lifestyle. Without a doubt, time on my uncle’s Southern Highlands property ‘Clydesdale’ played a large role in my enthusiasm for agriculture today, but there has been 21 years of adventures between then and now.

Sydney’s western suburbs aren’t the typical place you would go looking for a young girl interested in agriculture but that was where you would have found me. Growing up in Castle Hill, I attended Northholm Grammar School which was the first stepping stone into a somewhat whirlwind adventure. As soon as possible I immersed myself in all the agricultural possibilities the school could offer- the one with the biggest impact, still to this day, was the cattle show team.

I loved the whole atmosphere surrounding showing cattle. There was an overwhelming sense of being involved in something bigger than just cattle showing, like knowing that we have the capability to change the future of an already strong industry and make it even better in the future.  Knowing that I was one of the young Australians growing up and becoming involved in the agriculture industry at the same time as the big push to get more youth involved was great!

I also loved seeing the entire paddock to plate process behind beef cattle. Along the way I would sometimes meet people who didn’t understand why I would raise a steer to ultimately slaughter and eat it, but for me knowing this was the cycle of life and was keen to respect the process and be well informed.  Being involved in each stage of the process really allowed my passion for the industry to grow in many different directions.

After my first year with the show teams I made it my mission to involve as many people as possible in the school’s agricultural program and received an Agricultural scholarship for my efforts. It wasn’t long before I was known as ‘That Ag Girl.’

Showing with the school cattle team took me to various agricultural shows throughout NSW and provided me with the opportunity to network and represent other studs across a wide variety of breeds. Along the way I meet so many amazing, inspirational and wonderful people who shared my passion and enthusiasm for the industry.  I am still in contact with many of the people I met through showing cattle today!

I was fortunate enough to be nominated for the Angus Australia Norman Lethbridge Award which is named in memory of the NSW State Committee past Secretary (1983-1994) and well-known stock and station agent and open to 16-25 year olds throughout NSW. I was awarded runner-up within an amazing group; even though I didn’t win, the opportunity opened my eyes to how much I loved encouraging youth involvement within our school and the industry.

In year 12 I undertook a prefect roll in Northholm’s leadership team with a particular focus on the agricultural portfolio and was awarded the Duncan Prize for Agriculture.

After school I enrolled in a Bachelor of Natural Science (Agriculture) at the University of Western Sydney while also working as a farm hand. Farm working during my first year at university kept me very busy but I wouldn’t have changed a thing because I was able to connect with enthusiastic young people and coordinate the show team.

However after 18 months I decided to move on to my next calling, working at the local CRT store whilst completing my second year at university. For two years I worked and studied simultaneously, gaining not only an enormous amount of knowledge and experience but also a massive sense of pride in seeing farmers and producers striving to create the best produce possible.

In the final year of my degree I took on a sub-major in Animal Science at the same time as accepting the marketing position at that same CRT store. This meant that I was completing a year-long field project with Seed Distributors Ltd testing palatability of pasture species, completing another six full time subjects, working in agricultural sales at CRT as well as coordinating and creating all the store’s marketing material and field day attendances (including Agquip 2013). To say I was busy was an understatement but I still made sure I always had time to show cattle at local shows as well as the Sydney Royal Easter Show!

I finished my degree at the end of 2013, as the only female in a ‘class’ of three people. It was then that I knew it was imperative for the youth of Australian agriculture to speak out, get active in the community, engage with other young people and get involved in the decision making processes in agriculture.

At the CRT store my background and knowledge in show cattle allowed us to build up the product range on the shelf. As one of the youngest people on staff I became the ‘go to person’ in the shop for new young customers and anyone who came in asking anything about showing cattle. I was also able to connect our clients selling cattle with students I had met through school cattle shows who had expressed to me that they would like to start up their own cattle studs. It was great to see them developing and growing their studs! I still try and stay in contact with them as much as possible and this year I even visited one of the girls at Sydney Royal with her speckle parks!

We also sponsored many local cattle shows including the Hawkesbury Small Breeds Show at the Farming Small Areas Expo, allowing that show event to go ahead for two years when it couldn’t have without sponsorship.

Fast forward six months and I now live in Terramungamine, NSW, about 30km out of Dubbo. I always knew I wanted to experience working in agriculture in areas a bit more west than Sydney’s western suburbs, so when my partner – who I met working at CRT – was offered a managerial position at another rural supplies store in Dubbo, I jumped at the opportunity to go with him. At the moment I’m working in retail while still striving towards my dream career goals.

It has been great to get to know the community in Terramungamine. It was difficult moving without really knowing anyone however I love it now and wouldn’t have it any other way! Waking up and looking out the bedroom window to paddocks as far as the eye can see and hearing the cows bellowing- there’s nothing like it! Even just living out here is a dream come true. It has cemented in my mind this is where I want to be and we now have many dreams for the future.

One thing that I would absolutely LOVE to do is to organise a steer show for the schools surrounding Dubbo, similar to the UniSchool Steer Show for the schools around the Hawkesbury. The UniSchool Steer Show was what really got me interested in agriculture and what made me fall in love with showing cattle. In my experience my entire school liked hearing about the steer show, so I believe it’s a great chance for kids from all backgrounds to get hands on experience with cattle and agriculture.

This year I’ve put my hand up for the Showgirl event at the local show with an aim to open up the possibilities for young aspiring agricultural professionals to get involved and have their voices heard! I hope to take ideas from my local hometown show in Castle Hill, which has a large focus on schools from the area, and tailor them to the Dubbo region.

It’s important to me that youth get involved with agriculture because they are the future of the industry. When I was at school there were a select few people who took the chance to show a 14 year old city girl the ropes and I intend to pass that encouragement on as much as I can. All it takes is one positive remark, congratulations or even a ‘better luck next time’ to someone who is starting out in the industry and it can make all the difference between them pursuing their goal or giving up! I always try my hardest to encourage and help people with their dreams and aspirations.

Ultimately, I would love to start my own cattle stud in the future when I have some of my own land! But until then I have been living my dreams through my friends who have set up their own studs. I try and get involved with the shows as much as possible- if I’m not there helping out with the cattle then I love watching the judging.

I encourage all young people with a story and a passion to speak up and share their experiences in the hope of inspiring a whole new generation of agvocates, because with them the future will be bright.

Take the plunge into Agriculture says Kate McDonald, it’s worth it!

Kate McDonald has been a farmer in England, a teacher in Australia, a governess in outback Queensland and now works in the world of stud cattle. She loves the community of agriculture, the spirit of the people and believes in the value of coming together for a common goal. She now hopes to inspire people to take the plunge and follow their dreams.

This is Kate’s story….

Some of my earliest memories are from visiting my grandparent’s farm in England, digging potatoes, bottle feeding lambs and bucket feeding calves. Up to our elbows in dirt, my brother and I were eager to help our Grandad with the planting and harvesting of all sorts of vegetables in his garden. Because of the distance we cherished all the time spent with our grandparents and during the few visits when I was a child, any chance we got we were out in the fields with Grandad in his van, checking stock or in the shed helping feed silage to the cattle.

Growing up in a rural community on the Mid North Coast of NSW community events such as Beef Week and the local show were always a great experience. Whether I was watching or taking part, I always enjoyed attending these events. At school agriculture classes, whilst a chore to some, was a lesson I thoroughly enjoyed. Visiting friends’ dairy farms and helping with milking is something I remember fondly.

While many of my friends made the trip from high school to university, I flew half way around the world to England to live with my grandparents on their sheep and cattle farm in Somerset. I worked for a local company that prides itself on the paddock to plate experience and spent eight months packing cheese for supermarkets.

Within my first two weeks in England I was taken to a local Young Farmers meeting. My grandparents were founding members of the local society and my mum, aunty and cousins had all been involved. It was like a rite of passage. With an age range of 10-26 this group of people became my life and I still remain friends with them 12 years later. Young Farmers Club allowed me to develop leadership skills, as I was appointed Chairman of the Club in the summer, despite having only been there for four months.

My grandfather and great-uncle taught us vital stock judging skills that we used to compete against other Young Farmer clubs at the local County Rally. Every week brought new adventures of progressive dinners, tug-of-war competitions, car rallies and horse riding, just to name a few. Sport meets on the weekend saw some of the older members of the group arrive in their tractors, play the game of hockey/soccer/rounders, get back in their tractors and go back to work. The motto of Young Farmers is “you don’t have to be one to be one” and this rang so true. There were farm kids, town kids, city kids and we all just mucked in together and had a good time.

Upon returning to Australia I completed a teaching degree at UNE, Armidale and then taught history and geography for four years. But something was missing. I really wanted to work in the agriculture industry and so decided to make the plunge and take leave from teaching.

After spending a Christmas in the UK and being snowed in at the farm for two weeks I decided that I was more suited to Outback Queensland and took a job as a governess on a cattle station in the Channel Country. Being a large station, there were lots of people to interact with so the isolation was not an issue. When I wasn’t in the school room I was outside tending to my small herd of dorper sheep, helping in the yards or around the compound. I learnt many new skills, not limited to but including horse riding and tailing weaners, cattle yard work, how to fix windmills, generators and busted pipes.

Wherever I went I had my camera with me, documenting this great experience and even blogging about my time so my friends and family could try to see and understand what I was experiencing. Twelve months turned into three years and it was during my second year up north, with the support of my employers and family, that I decided to go return to university and completed a Graduate Certificate in Agribusiness via correspondence.

I truly loved living in the outback. The wide open spaces, the big skies, the changing colours and the sense of community. Whenever there was a local event such as a gymkhana or rodeo, everyone made the effort to attend, even if that meant completing a 1200km round trip. The work is often hard and the days long and the conditions are tough, but having these events to look forward to kept everyone going.

One great initiative that I became involved with is Channel Country Ladies Day, a mental health initiative to bring women together, giving them a break from their daily routine and have a weekend of fine dining and pampering. For some women this was the first time away from their families in years, the first time they had done something for themselves. Many commented on how nice it was to talk to other women face to face and just sit and relax and be looked after.

To help me with my agricultural studies, it was suggested that I apply for the Rural Ambassador Program. Not really sure what I was getting myself in for I applied through the Longreach Show Society and ended up at the Ekka competing at the Queensland State Finals. Being ‘just a govie’ it was a daunting experience meeting industry and state leaders but one that was very rewarding.

I spent a week with nine other like-minded people, people who were as passionate about agriculture as I was and saw a future in the industry. I came away with the Community Spirit Award and a whole group of new friends and contacts around the state. One of the greatest ‘compliments’ I received was from the 8-year-old I taught who said, “Wow that’s a big trophy but I don’t know why you got a saddle bag, you don’t even ride a horse!” Station kids are taught resilience from a young age, but they are also taught respect for the land and animals. They are often old before their time but, like their parents, are some of the most genuine people I’ve met.

Leaving the station behind and driving off into the sunset was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but it was time; time to spread my wings and reunite myself with civilisation. 2015 has brought new adventures, new challenges and new experiences. Graduating with my new qualifications and gaining a job in the agriculture industry is one of the best feelings. Working for a cattle breed society has opened my eyes to the world of stud cattle and a different side of the show movement (apart from just fairy floss and handicrafts).

I thoroughly enjoy meeting people that are as passionate about agriculture as I am. It brings me hope that the future of agriculture in Australia is in safe hands. I hope I can inspire people to take a plunge and strive for what they believe in, strive to make a change in their communities and help people along the way.

I also want to be successful and achieve as a female in a traditionally male dominated industry. My Gran said to me once, “We’ve got all these Grandsons but it’s our Granddaughter that wants to be a farmer.” I also hope I can honour the life of my Grandfather who has recently passed away and enjoy a long life in the agriculture industry, engaging and inspiring people along the way.

Follow Kate on twitter @kateymac_kate

Emma Ayliffe says agriculture in the outback is the journey of a lifetime

Today’s guest blog from Emma Ayliffe starts on a sheep station in outback South Australia and takes us to the lush lakebed cropping fields of one of New South Wales’s most unique cotton operations. She’s a girl from the bush who’s found her way back again as on-farm agronomist, an enthusiastic photographer and a lover of all things crops and cotton.

This is Emma’s story…

I have always had a love of the bush and that is where my journey began, on a station in the North-West Pastoral District of South Australia. I spent my childhood riding my horse behind mobs of wild merinos on stations west of Port Augusta and grew up a typical station kid. In between School of the Air lessons my days were spent outside on water runs, mustering and ‘helping’ dad and the station hands out in the shed.

So how exactly does a station girl from half way between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy end up growing cotton on the bottom of the Menindee Lakes…?

My father has always been passionate about agriculture and I guess that rubbed off on my mum and me too. When I was 12 my parents moved me and my two younger sisters closer to a town so we didn’t have to go to boarding school and this opened up a whole new world to us. Along with the introduction of ‘normal’ school we were introduced to world of cropping. And although we had moved from a world of station dust to tractors and green paddocks my father was as keen as always to get us involved where ever possible.

At the end of school I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and began studying a Bachelor of Science (Agricultural Science) at the University of Adelaide. I went into the degree thinking I would end up doing something livestock related but, like most kids, changed my mind. I enjoyed agronomy much more and changed the direction I was heading.

As part of Uni my year helped set up an “Ag Experience” trip overseas. It was a lot of hard work but we successfully got sponsorship for our trip to India and it was amazing. We toured research facilities and met with farmers. We viewed community farming groups and toured rural villages. It was amazing to see the variation in this country from the richest farmers who owned tractors and employed workers, to the poorest of farmers who were still planting their crops by hand. I had a go at cutting rice straw, which is a lot harder than it looks, as well as visiting some of the tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal.

After completing Uni I began working in broad acre agronomy in the mid-north of South Australia and spent a lot of my time in fields of canola and wheat. I had a great boss and mentor who really helped me to get even more excited about the career path that I had chosen. After a little over a year I decided that it was time for a change of scenery and a new challenge, so I began hunting for my next big thing.

I stumbled across an advertisement for an on farm cotton agronomist working in the bush, and I though what a perfect combination of the career I have chosen and my love for the outback so I applied. Tandou is an amazing place to see for the first time. I still remember driving out for my interview, 140 kilometres south of Broken Hill, in western NSW, rounding a bend and over a sand hill to see the fields of green…

I had only seen cotton once in my life, so I had no clue about how to grow it, but I got the job, packed up my stuff and moved in to my one bedroom Jayco unit (in the middle of 24 other units!) and had my first experience with irrigation and cotton. Nearly two and a half years later, it is the best decision I have ever made!

I am an on-farm agronomist working at Lake Tandou, 50 kilometres out of Menindee at the bottom of the Menindee Lakes. My job includes everything from rotation and fertiliser programs, irrigation scheduling, insect and weed management and picking through to driving tractors, loading seed trucks, taking people on farm tours and fixing things. It is an amazing job that has helped grow my skills as an agronomist, but also my general life skills. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with a range of amazing people!

As part of my job now I have found a love for photography. I spend some time every week taking pictures of the crops and the operations around the farm to document the growing of the crop, as well as the unique operation that we run here at Tandou.

Cotton is an amazing crop and an an amazing industry to be part of. Coming from SA – and downstream of the Murray-Darling river system – I grew up hearing many misinformed negatives about it. But it’s not until you immerse yourself into this world that you truly appreciate how the industry is so open and excited about sharing its story. There is great comradeliness and flow of information between growers and everyone is willing to help everyone else out and share their success stories.

It is hard not to have love, enthusiasm and motivation for a job that is so diverse in an industry that is at the forefront of many aspects of agriculture and provides so many opportunities to learn, network and get involved. I find myself talking to anyone who will listen about the good stuff and the challenges and the opportunities; I am sure that people must get sick of me talking cotton!

While working here I have also become the secretary of the Menindee and Lower Darling Cotton Growers Association, one of the most unique as we only have one grower, which is us! Through this I have been able to start sharing my love and passion for the job with the future agriculturalists of Australia as we often support events at the local school in Menindee as well as facilitating farm visits for other schools from cities like Mildura. This gives kids an opportunity to see what agriculture is actually about and helps dispel many myths that people still have about the cotton industry.

 I love my job, I love the outback, I love sharing what I know and enjoying this journey!