Felicity Taylor: ahead of the pack and ready to work for a strong future for agriculture

Meet Felicity Taylor
I aspire to lead a generation of educated rural women who can spend the day on the tractor or out fencing, then come home to cook a mean roast dinner. I want to be ahead of the pack, owning my own cropping property, experimenting with varieties and innovative techniques. I want to share information with my neighbours and market my own produce. Alongside this, I dream of a rural journalism career, ensuring farmers can stand united in fair, positive and accurate media to appeal to consumers and policy makers. I want my children to be as fortunate as I was in experiencing the strength of character a rural community provides.

Today’s guest blog comes from Felicity Taylor who says she loves to chat about agriculture to everyone. Born into a farming family and growing up on a broadacre cropping property near Moree, it has taken stepping out of her comfort zone for Felicity’s aspirations to take direction. And her sights are set firmly on bringing the best knowledge and skills back to farming in rural New South Wales.

This is Felicity’s story…

My name is Felicity Taylor and I’m a 2nd year Agricultural Economics student at the University of Sydney, a long way from my home in Moree, Northern NSW.

Until age 16, I lived on a 10,000 acre broadacre cropping property between Moree and Goondiwindi. I ate my fair share of dirt growing up; I had my first day of cattle work at four weeks old, constantly quizzed Dad on all the buttons in the tractors and compensated the isolation with a profusion of poddy calves. I was raised on my grandfather’s ‘back in my day’ stories, but despite the challenges farming brings my family had great pride in our high grade grains and Hereford cross cattle.

I spent two hours on the school bus every day, before being shipped off to New England Girls’ School, Armidale, for my secondary education at age 11. As we headed down the driveway after each school holidays back home, there’d be tears in my eyes knowing I wouldn’t be back for the next ten weeks. Luckily, my attitude towards boarding school improved once I could study agriculture in Year 9, and by my final year in 2012 I finished as Sports House Captain, Tennis Captain, President of the Charity Committee and the HSC Dux.

However, by 2012, corporatisation had totally changed the social atmosphere of Moree, and like most of our neighbours’, our family farm was sold. With the machinery gone and the cattle loaded up, we relocated 15 kilometres east of Moree to a smaller grazing property. It was a massive blow, and while I’d received a place at the University of Sydney and Wesley College, I put study on hold to spend a year at home.

I used this time to master power tools as a labourer on the building site of our new house. I cooked pizzas, sold dresses, worked bars and cared for kids when the opportunities arose. I bought and sold steers. I spent a month exploring the European summer. I entered the Showgirl Competition, hoping they’d overlook my shocking sock tan, and came away with a tidy second place. I took on the oldies in the local tennis competition. I travelled the state harvesting seed trials with a research agronomy company. I said no to nothing.

I learnt very quickly that I’m a Moree enthusiast. I’d thrown myself into my hometown headfirst and loved every second of it. But at the same time I saw the community decline, noticeably so even within just a year. Shops shut and jobs were lost, families moved away. So I made the shift to Sydney in 2014 knowing that I had to bring my Agricultural Economics degree back home, and that the valuable resources of my country town needed protecting. How to do this though, I did not know.

I approached university with the same enthusiasm I lived by in my gap year. I networked my little heart out and opportunities kept presenting themselves, I often found myself in positions or at events without any real clue how I got there. I toured central and southern New South Wales with the agriculture faculty and was an ambassador at Youth in Ag Day at the Royal Easter Show. I attended the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Club and UNE Farming Futures industry dinners and University of Sydney Agricultural Ball. I went home as much as possible, continuing to work in research agronomy including harvest in Victoria and South Australia. Oh, I did a bit of study too.

I was extremely fortunate to be selected for the RIRDC Horizon Scholarship for agricultural leadership, sponsored by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation. This led to more adventures, notably a week in Canberra for a development workshop, another at the Gold Coast for the Australian Cotton Conference and soon a stint of work experience at the Cotton Australia Head Office. The more people I meet, the more I learn about progressive agriculture and the more excited I am to graduate and put my knowledge into action.

2015 so far has been yet another whirlwind. I purchased a mob of heifers to be the foundation of my future breeding stock and am keeping a close eye on the market for more. I have been appointed Residential Advisor, the head of my wing, at my college and was invited into the Economics Honours stream due to my strong university results last year. I am constantly on the lookout for networking events or work opportunities.

Just a year ago, I had no idea how to procreate change for the future of Moree, but now my studies have made my strengths clearer. I understand business and economics well and my technical knowledge of farming is growing by the lecture. I know I can chat to anyone about agriculture, and the value of this skill is reflected in the Young Farming Champions program.

Young Farming Champions and the Archibull Prize foster a successful future for agriculture through building the positivity and confidence of young people. These initiatives generate appeal and interest in rural industries by showcasing the rewarding careers the sector provides. Harnessing the opportunity to engage with consumers will ensure Australia’s fresh, nutritious food and durable, versatile fibres are not undervalued. Also, it gives up-and-coming rural enthusiasts such as myself a platform to promote their passions and develop their own futures.

And what does my future hold?

I aspire to lead a generation of educated rural women who can spend the day on the tractor or out fencing, then come home to cook a mean roast dinner. I want to be ahead of the pack, owning my own cropping property, experimenting with varieties and innovative techniques. I want to share information with my neighbours and market my own produce. Alongside this, I dream of a rural journalism career, ensuring farmers can stand united in fair, positive and accurate media to appeal to consumers and policy makers. I want my children to be as fortunate as I was in experiencing the strength of character a rural community provides.

Chris Kochanski from Southern Ag Grain stood up at the Wagga Ag Ball last year to say, “Agriculture can take you anywhere, but it will always bring you home.” That’s the perfect encapsulation of my life to date. I’m meeting people daily, dipping my toes into a number of rural industries, giving it all a go. There’s farming in my blood and work to be done and I’ll happily step up to the plate, whatever it may be, to ensure a strong future for Australian agriculture.

Follow Felicity on twitter @flisstaylor95

“Agriculture is full of talented and passionate people” and Dione Howard is one of them

Sixth generation farmer and third year veterinary student Dione Howard brings us today’s guest blog, where she explains beautifully why today’s best and brightest minds are “addicted to agriculture.”

This is Dione’s story……

Whether it’s the smell of freshly turned earth or the hum of handpieces in the shearing shed, there’s something irresistible about agriculture.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a rural community in the heart of Australia’s beautiful Riverina region. We rode on the back of the ute when Dad fed sheep, sat on the sidekick seat in the header and played hide and seek as the canola flowers towered above us.

I think I realised how important this ‘farming’ business was when I was sinking my teeth into agriculture during high school at St. Paul’s College, Walla Walla. I travelled far and wide with the sheep and cattle show team, agricultural tours and participating in competitions such as the Dubbo Speech Spectacular. In doing so, I met other young people like me. These people loved everything that the land was about – whether it was what they ran on it, grew from it or put back into it.

I’m the sixth generation on our family farm which operates sheep and winter cropping enterprises. Illawarra Merino Stud was started by my great grandfather Ernie Howard 80 years ago and today is run by my grandfather Ken and father Graeme. I’ve inherited their enthusiasm for sheep and wool and I am completing my woolclassing certificate so that I can better understand the intricacies of Merino breeding and trait selection.

There’s something about agriculture that I find a challenge. I love that we don’t know all the answers but we can work hard to find them out. That’s why I decided to study to become a veterinarian. I’m in my third year of university now and as the process unfolds we’re learning how to solve the problem, rather than just be given the answers. That’s what I want to be able to help producers to do in my professional career – provide tools to work towards the best possible methods of animal production. These may be economically, sustainably or socially beneficial, or hopefully all of these combined.

Studying at Charles Sturt University (CSU) is great preparation for life as a rural vet. We’ve gained experience with many species, from intensive pig and poultry production to sheep, beef and dairy cattle. I’ve been lucky enough to work with companies such as Rivalea, Baiada and Rennylea Angus, where I’ve gained animal husbandry expertise from the best in the business.

Extra-curricular activities I’ve participated in while at university have given me some of my most memorable experiences. In 2013 I got involved in the CSU Intercollegiate Meat Judging team and I’ve been recommending it to other students ever since! At first I questioned getting up at 5am on a freezing winter morning to visit the abattoirs, however soon realised that in this short time I would gain invaluable experience about Australia’s meat industry from paddock to plate.

I’ve also been involved in the National Merino Challenge (NMC) since its inception in 2013. I’m excited for the future of this event as it’s been able to establish itself as a key date on the calendar for youth in the Merino industry. The NMC enables youth with varying levels of experience to engage with almost all aspects of Merino production and develops skills that can be applied to wider lamb and cattle production. I travelled to Dubbo in 2013 and Melbourne in 2014 to compete in the Challenge and this year will head to Adelaide in May.

During the university holidays I work for grain brokers Agfarm. Lots of people give me funny looks when I tell them I’m studying to be a vet and work in the grain industry. What many people seem to forget is that all of agriculture is integrated. Animals have to eat and likewise plants can use animal waste products to grow. Even as vets, my peers and I have to know about plants and grains because nutrition is so important to animal production. At Agfarm I’ve learnt about the supply chain of grain from farmers’ paddocks to its many possible destinations across Australia and globally.

What I’ve realised about agriculture is that everyone is connected. If you eat food, you make decisions every day that affect Australia’s farmers. That’s why I believe agricultural engagement is so important. It’s vital that every person has the chance to access information and make an informed decision about what they’re buying. And what better place to start than at school level? This is the age where students are taught basic experimental skills in a laboratory, research processes on the internet and communication abilities in the classroom. This is the age where they can best learn to apply all of these fundamentals to agriculture and its endless career possibilities.

Ever since I’ve been involved in agriculture we’ve been told that the world’s population is growing at a rapid rate and it will be a challenge to feed everyone in the future. I believe that our youth are ready to take on the challenge. I’m incredibly lucky to be involved in agriculture at a time when the sector is full of passionate and talented people.

These people are addicted to agriculture, from the emergence of the first leaf of their crop to the scales as they get a final weight for their finished stock. The future is bright for agriculture – we’ve got a lot to be passionate about. We have a lot to celebrate. Lets do it together

Follow Dione on twitter @dione_howard

Meet Casey Onus who says choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life

It is that exciting time of year for the team at Art4Agriculture where over the next eight weeks we will introduced you to a diverse and exciting cohort of young people who love agriculture and want to shout it from the rooftops by sharing their story

These young people are lucky enough to either be studying for a career in the sector or have started an exciting journey in their chosen field

Today it gives us great pleasure to introduce you to Casey Onus ………….

Hi my name is Casey Onus and I am 22 year old Agronomist from Tamworth in NSW. Despite being a “Townie” my whole life I was born for a career in agriculture.

I attended my first agronomy meeting chaired by the infamous Dallas Parsons at Seed & Grain Sales at Croppa Creek on the morning of the 8th of January 1993 at 0 days old and was born later that afternoon at Goondiwindi base hospital.

Despite living in town my whole life I spent a fair chunk of my childhood with my father bouncing around paddocks being paid with lollies to identify weeds and weaving my way through what seemed like forests of cereals and sorghum, trying not to lose myself down Moree’s heavily cracked black soil plains in the process.

Throughout school I never really focused on what I wanted to do as a career. I assumed at age 12 that I was going to be member of the Saddle Club and that would be my job, but I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen.

Gave up my childhood dream of being a member of “The Saddle Club” to chase a career in Ag

In years 9 & 10 at St Philomena’s we had the option to pick our elective subjects and being the outdoors kid that I was I picked Ag because I didn’t want to be stuck in a class room for any longer then I had to be. I was fortunate enough to have a very passionate Ag teacher who really made me see how important agriculture was not just to me but everyone, if you had to eat or wear clothes then you needed something from agriculture.

I was lucky enough to not only enjoy Ag as a subject but also turn that enjoyment onto results which saw me win the Dallas Parsons Memorial Agricultural Award in year 10 as well as taking out the CMA property planning competition on “Nullamanna station” in 2008.

During year 10 I also attended a Rotary Youth in Ag Cotton camp which really opened my eyes to how big the cotton industry is and the endless opportunities that were available to someone like me. I got so much out of the camp that I volunteered to help in the running of the camp in subsequent years and ended up presenting the marketing and moisture management sections of the camp. It was great to see so many young people, especially from costal backgrounds coming along to see what the local cotton industry was about and if they took away half of what I did from the camp then it was well worth the time and effort.

Students from the Rotary Youth in Cotton Camp (RYAG)

During years 11 & 12 at Moree Secondary College I unfortunately didn’t have the option to study agriculture as a subject as there were simply not enough students at my school for it to run. This didn’t concern me overly until it came down to crunch time. All of a sudden I was headed for the HSC with no idea of what I was going to do at the end of it.

As luck would have it I was offered a job as a bug checker by the branch manager at Landmark in Moree over the holidays. I spent endless hours out in the cotton fields getting muddy, bitten, sunburnt and couldn’t have loved it more.

My first cotton crop

Although my father is an agronomist I wasn’t convinced that all agro’s loved their job as much as he did but this cotton season showed me exactly how rewarding it was. I got to see the tiny plants that I’d checked for months on end finally produce these white fluff balls of gold and that was a feeling of satisfaction that I couldn’t find elsewhere.

White fluff balls of gold!

I applied to study a Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE in Armidale and decided I was going to chase my dream of becoming an agronomist. Uni is hard and I certainly lost count of the amount of times I wanted to throw in the towel, but heading home for cotton season kept me going and rekindled my motivation to get me through another year. I completed the UNE/CRDC Cotton Production Course as part of my degree and even managed to get an article “finding cottons next generation” published in the 2013 Cotton Grower magazine yearbook.

Despite only having one unit left to complete as part of my degree I applied for the Landmark Graduate Agronomy Program and was accepted for a position in Tamworth, under the watchful eye of their agronomist Cameron Barton.

Despite already working for Landmark for 3 years, my graduate year taught me a hell of a lot at an incredible pace. I managed to squeeze in a trip to the 2014 Cotton Conference thanks to a scholarship funded by Cotton Australia.

There is no denying Agriculture is full of characters and I was lucky enough to meet Sam Kekovich at the 2014 Australian Cotton Conference

I also flew to Albury with Heritage Seeds to learn about pasture systems and varieties and learnt a lot from countless field days and industry updates. As well as joining the local Duri Ag Bureau and taking on my own clients with a range of new crops, not just the cotton and broadacre crops I was used too. All of a sudden I was trying to grow ryegrass not kill it!

I was lucky enough to stay on at Landmark Tamworth and am now a fully-fledged agronomist working with a great group of farmers from all backgrounds as well as providing precision agriculture services such as NDVI imagery, variable rate maps, capacitance probes and everything in between.

Growers attending our pasture demonstration trial walk at Woolomin.

Confucius says “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and I firmly believe he was talking about jobs in Australian Agriculture. Because I certainly haven’t “worked” a day in my life yet.

Exploring Precision Agriculture 

The team behind Art4Agriculture are mainly from a livestock background and don’t know much about Precision Agriculture so we jumped at the chance for an expert to give us a Precision Ag 101 Lesson

This is what Casey shared with us

Precision what?
Precision Ag (PA) is no longer the complex and expensive exercise that it used to be. There are many products and even in-built features in today’s farm machinery that are sitting there on-farm just waiting to be used.

Did you know most tractors and headers these days already store data automatically? Most people don’t. A lot of farmers are aware their machines are collecting all this data but they don’t know how to access and use it. That’s where I come in, one of the more technical sides of my job involves spending a bit of time in the office to utilise technology to help growers and myself make better on farm decisions.

How?

As farmers are driving their GPS guided farm machinery through the paddocks a lot of them are already (or can easily be set up for) collecting various information. Such as grain yields and changes in elevation across the paddock. As the machine is going along its packaging this data and tagging a gps point with it. This means we can tell exactly how much grain has been grown in certain parts of the paddock and even look at how high or low that exact same spot is compared to the rest of the field.

 Why?

There is only one thing farmers love more than rain, and that’s making money so they can keep on doing what they love. By collecting all this information we can help farmers manage parts of their farm and even parts of their paddocks separately. This means money in the form of seed and fertiliser can be spent on the parts of the paddock that are more likely to grow more grain and make more money.

 So what’s involved?

The very first step is mapping the growers farm so we know exactly how big each paddock is, and this provides us with a base map on which to overlay all that data and information. There are several ways of using PA and this will vary greatly depending on what the farmer wants to achieve. The two main ways I currently use Precision Ag as an agronomist is by processing on farm-yield data and satellite imagery. To make this as easy as possible for the farmers I need two things from them. 1 – their time, half an hour, to map their place so I know what im working with. 2 – The data from their machines, usually a usb or equivalent simply removed from their machine post harvest and dropped into the office.

For the yield data

Growers bring in the data information card from their header/picker/tractor etc. This provides me with the data I need to unravel and turn into something useful. I start by removing any faults in the data, areas where headers have; changed speed dramatically, turned around, etc. as these influence the end result and can throw out the data. I then adjust the data to represent what has actually happened, this involves adjusting the total tonnes of grain recognised by the header to then represent the total that was physically removed from the field. Once that has been done we can then delve further into the data by creating elevation maps, multi year yield and temporal stability maps which can all be turned into management zones and variable rate application maps.

 For the imagery

Growers and agronomists select the pre-mapped paddocks that they require imagery for. Then I get to work placing an order utilising  LandSat8 as well as a variety of other satellites or even planes to gather images depending on the type of imagery we need. I then receive an image (first one below) which is georeferenced for me to ground truth in the paddock. Once I have determined what is causing the variation in the paddock I can then divide the image into management zones. These management zones can also be converted into variable rate application maps. NDVI data is most useful in-season when a quick reaction is needed such as a variable rate application of growth regulators or nutritional products in cotton.

Maps like these help growers to quantify gains and losses across variable paddocks as well as focus their inputs to areas that are more likely to provide a higher economic return. It can help us better manage; nutrition, irrigation, weed populations and even plant growth. The more data a grower has, the more reliable the management zones become which equates to increased productivity and profitability in the long-term.

Thank you Casey we think its just as well there are people like you around who can help farmers make the most of the modern farming technology and the data it provides