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.

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!

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