Meet Adele Offley whose greatest passion is wool

Hello I’m Adele Offley and my greatest passion is wool.

Adele Offley (10)

Did you know the Woolmark symbol is the second most highly recognised symbol after Coca Cola. No, well I am making it my life mission to ensure everyone values and appreciates the qualities of Australia’s fabulous wool and the Woolmark logo rolls Coca Cola for the number one spot.

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I am lucky enough to have been born and raised and still live on the family property near Crookwell, Southern Tablelands of NSW.

Adele Offley (7)

Adele Offley (6)

Me and my Gran 

I have always loved all livestock, particularly sheep and can remember having poddy lambs from an early age and calling them Matilda 1, Matilda 2, Matilda 3 (my favourite movie at the time). I always had a poddy lamb to look after throughout my childhood, and even today I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I see a lamb wiggling its tail when it is having a drink of warm milk!

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When I was young I would spend all my spare time with my Dad helping out with whatever needed to be done on the farm. Once I hit school, I can recall racing home from school to go help Dad.

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As I grew up, I got more involved; instead of watching sheep being shorn from the pram,

I was rouseabouting in the shearing shed.  I can recall the many times when shearing was on I just so happened to have a ‘sickie’ from school so I could help out in the shed. The alternative was that my school absentee notes would say ‘I was required to help in the shearing shed’, Surprisingly a lot of teachers didn’t find it to be an acceptable excuse, but I sure did!!!

me with wool

I can even remember in year 11 requesting my exams be moved forward so I could be in the shed at shearing time. I even missed a school excursion to the snow rather than miss a week in the shearing shed at home.

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Sheep in the snow on the farm

There is nothing quite like a shearing shed; the smell of lanolin, the feel of wool and the atmosphere is amazing, and not to mention the yarns the shearers can tell.

Adele Offley  (1)As part of my HSC I undertook a Certificate II in Agriculture and a Certificate II in Animal Studies in order to further my agricultural knowledge. Once I had completed my HSC, and in between exams, I helped out on the farm in every way I could – jetting sheep, lamb marking, drenching sheep, you name it I did it… all bar the shearing! There is a lot of work involved with sheep but it’s very rewarding at the same time, and I’ve never stopped learning while I work with them.

I then attended TAFE where I undertook a Certificate IV in Wool Classing. It was a great experience to interact with all the other students who shared my passion for wool. The age range varied from mid-teens to later 50’s, signifying that a passion for wool can cross the generation gap. I thought it was fantastic to learn with a group who were so driven to learn more about the wool industry too!

Whilst studying at TAFE, I was lucky enough to help out with a Careers Day for the Goulburn district’s high school students. I was assisting with the shearing demonstration to try and encourage these kids to consider doing a wool classing course or shearing course, and to educate them about the skills shortage within the industry.

Whilst attending TAFE we got the opportunity to go on an excursion to Fletchers in Dubbo where I got to see the Wool combing plant, and WOW what an experience that was!

For someone who had grown seeing wool on a regular basis, e.g. on a sheep’s back, on the wool table, etc. it was remarkable to see this wool being turned into tops (see picture below – no, not an actual top…yet) and the processes it takes. Unfortunately it has since closed, which I think is devastating for the Australian wool industry as most of our wool is being processed offshore.

I also went on to complete a Certificate III in Business Administration and have just recently gained a Diploma of Agriculture. Whilst studying the diploma I was very disappointed to see the low numbers of students enrolled in the agriculture courses

I have had an exciting start to the year being recently named the Crookwell Showgirl for 2013. Having being born and growing up and now working in the area I was very honoured to represent my small country town.

Another added bonus of the showgirl experience was going to Dubbo for a Personal Development weekend, where I learnt so many new skills from public speaking, to good posture and met so many other young women with a passion for agriculture. It was just fantastic

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Me presenting the Kevin Coves Memorial Trophy to Alan McCormack Jnr (Walwa Stud), the ram in this photo was the winner of this trophy at the Crookwell Show 2013 .

Whilst I didn’t make it past the zone final it has inspired me to tell other young girls to give it a go and whilst they at it why not purse a career in agriculture

Another highlight for 2013 was the opportunity to help set up the South East Queensland district exhibit for the Sydney Royal Easter Show this year.

‘Why South East Queensland?’ you might say.  Because they asked that’s why   They put a message on social media asking for help and I jumped at the chance! I didn’t  know much about the different produce grown in Queensland compared to Southern New South Wales e.g. sugar cane so it was a great opportunity to learn and have amazing experience!

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I would like to encourage everyone, regardless of background, to seriously consider agriculture as a career option There is a huge diversity of roles and opportunities on offer in the agriculture sector.

Watch this great video by Adele here

 

The Georgia Clark chicken and egg story

Earlier in the year I had an email from Simone Neville who is the Agriculture/Primary Industries Teacher at Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College – Berkeley Vale Campus. TLSC were runners up in the 2012 Archibull Prize and Simone is very dedicated to nurturing next Gen Food and Food.

Simone’s email was to introduce me to two exciting young people she had met through TLSC involvement in the poultry section at the Morisset & Lake Macquarie District Show. 

This is just some of what Simone had to say about Georgia Clark 

Poultry have not been shown there for many, many years. In fact it would not have been introduced again if not for the tenacity of a young lady called Georgia Clark who not only competed for the Showgirl award but almost single-handedly organised the poultry section. Georgia is 19 and has just the type of enthusiasm and “get up and go” that I think you are looking for in your fantastic future Young Farming Champions.

She is doing a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience  degree at Sydney Uni and is in her second year there. She is very passionate about Agriculture.

As yet we don’t have sponsor for a Poultry Young Farming Champion nor a sponsor from the Chicken and Egg Industry. So I asked Georgia to share her story and maybe just maybe the industry will see the wisdom of investing in this wonderful young lady who is doing an awesome job of sharing their story

The Georgia Clark story ………………….   

Agriculture and animals have been in my heart and my life from a very early age.

First pair of work boots

My first pair of work boots

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First drive of the tractor

I now live on a small farm in Lake Macquarie where I breed purebred poultry and Huacaya Alpacas. In the last few years, I started my own poultry stud Rocklilly Downs Poultry with a focus on rare dual purpose breeds.

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I am also developing and maintaining genetics of bantam breeds. With a strong focus on sustainability, I am always looking at new and innovative ways to further our genetic developments to ensure our rare breed birds continue to thrive.

Champion 2013 Jap

This year I won Champion Japanese Male at the Sydney Royal Easter Show Champion Blue 2013 royal

and Champion Pekin Blue

I am currently moving my production methods to a more organic approach. Through my research and studies at university, I have been able to see the results of both traditional and new, organic methods and I have found that a complementary approach is achieving the best results.

My family has also expanded into breeding Huacaya alpacas with a focus on coloured genetics.

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I also making plans to expand into beef cattle, and return to my family’s roots of beef farming.

I am very heavily involved in my local show society and currently the chief steward of the poultry section in the Morisset Lake Macquarie Show Society. This year I was successful in returning poultry to our schedule. The sounds and sights of chickens on show have not been heard at the Morisset Lake Macquarie District Show Society for the last 30 years, so as the chief steward, having over 100 birds being exhibited was a huge achievement and huge draw card for show patrons. I also assisted with the running of the cattle showing, which also made a big comeback after many years. I also competed for and was runner up in the showgirl competition.

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At the Show Ball

As a showgirl, I was able to promote agriculture as a career for young people and encourage them to share their passion for the rural community. My passion for my local show stems from both my love of competing and agriculture and combines these perfectly. Horse riding, poultry, cattle and alpaca exhibition are just some of the things that have tied me to our local show.

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This year I was also the runner up in the Show girl competition.

I am also in the process of starting the Lake Macquarie Poultry club and I look forward to seeing how the local community will respond.I  work with my local primary school, developing a heritage breed poultry unit to be implemented in the coming year.

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First chicken to hatch at Blacksmiths Primary School

Sadly  I have found many students are very unaware of how the food they eat and the fibre for their clothes is being grown. At my sessions, I ask students many questions about where they think many everyday food and fibre items come from. The children would not believe me when I explained that the cotton in their clothes and in cotton balls was in fact the same thing, and it grew on a plant !

Another class in the poultry section had many questions, and most had never seen a chicken in the flesh before. When the year 6 class was practicing handling the hens, I began to watch a girl who was searching furiously through the chooks feathers and tipping it upside down. In the end she stormed up and said, “This one is missing its udder!” She then went on to explain that the hen’s chicks would not survive as there was no way for them to get any milk!

Dairy also seemed to stump the children. When asked about where yoghurt comes from a little boy bravely answered with ‘from a cow’s belly’. Unfortunately, the rest of the class began to laugh, and one young boy stood up and stated with no uncertainty, that “you just get it from the shop, like bread and cakes.” Trying to help children understand the whole process that gets food from the farm to the supermarket, especially when they have developed their own ideas, is sometimes no easy task!

My love of the land and livestock has now turned into an agriculture career pathway ambition. I am currently studying Animal and Veterinary Bioscience with a focus on agriculture at the University of SydneyIMG_8441

I hope to work with an agri-science or primary industries company, researching animal production systems and working one on one with farmers in the field to them identify and implement actions to remove production constraints and improve productivity and profitability, whilst ensuring sustainability with our production industries.

I also hope to continue working with children and schools. I feel it is vital that young people are encouraged to become involved in agriculture and ensure communities are continuing to play an active part in developing rural NSW. It is this ongoing interaction with school children has opened my eyes and highlights the need to embed agriculture across the curriculum.

I believe it is critical that agriculture is introduced into education from an early age, particularly to reach young people who would otherwise have no contact with these ideas. This is why programs such as the Archibull Prize and Young Farming Champions  are so important as they give agricultural industries access to schools in innovative and fun ways to reach students that the more traditional approaches have failed to deliver  If I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be a Young Farming Champion it would allow me to share my knowledge and raise awareness with the students, whilst developing their understanding of environmental sustainability issues and the role of rural Australia and how they can be involved.

As a Young Farming Champion I could inspire more young people like Tara

 

This awareness raising has the potential to spread to students’ families and the wider community, ensuring the sustainability of our rural environment. I will also be able to offer a more scientific insight, opening up different career paths for students, rather than just the traditional “farmer” ideas most would associate with agriculture. I believe that the mix of both my science degree and higher education study path along with traditional agriculture, working with my own stud will provide a new approach.

I am a strong believer in the use of relationship building as a communications tool.  Relationships with the community are a perfect opportunity to promote agriculture as a career for people both young and old, and to connect and encourage young minds to the important opportunities and challenges of food and fibre production. By reaching out to all communities, both rural and regional, we will help bridge the divide between city and country and ensure our message of the importance of agriculture and sustainable living is being heard.

Well said Georgia

If you want change then you need to participate

Today’s guest blog comes from Art4agriculture Young Farming Champion and founder of Ask an Aussie Farmer Kylie Stretton. Kylie shares with us this highly entertaining presentation she gave on International Women’s Day

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Rural women are gaining momentum; we are at the forefront of change in how the rest of the country views rural Australia. And our first step is building connections with our urban counterparts. They want to know more, they want to support us, but we need to make the first step. And please know that when I speak about rural Australia, I don’t just mean those working in Agriculture. We need our rural communities as much as they need farmers. Charters Towers is considered “rural”, you are in essence rural women in a rural community, supported by and supporting rural families. A title I wear with immense pride.
The rural population of Australia stands at 11% of total population; we need to find ways to make urban Australia including policy makers aware of us. We want them to understand that our numbers may not be huge, but our importance is. We are essential to Australia’s vibrant economic health, natural resource management and producing some of the highest quality food and fibre in the world.

I haven’t always been so vocal about my passion for rural Australia, but it’s obviously been lying dormant within in me, a culmination of having the land in my blood for hundreds of years.

I have a fairly interesting family history, men who were famous watchmakers, opera singers, written about by Charles Dickens and what not. The first of my family to come to Australia were considered pioneers of the Hunter Valley. But there is very little mention about the women. But from what I’ve found out they’re pretty amazing too. There was my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother, a farmer’s daughter who sailed with her husband and children from England to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826. They bought with them one of the first purebred Devon heifers to grace Australia’s shores, starting off a legacy in the Australian beef industry, of which I am now 7th generation in.
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We’ve just moved further north each generation and the preferred choice of breed is no longer the hairy Devons but the sleek Brahmans. And apart from my grandfather, that line of the family tree has been passed down through women.

Then there was my great-great Grandmother on another branch of the family tree who was apparently a four foot, fiery haired, Irish woman who raised her family among the sand dunes of Cameron’s Corner and was respected (or possibly feared) by many. Then my Grandmother from another branch left Sydney as a young woman and travelled to a station near Boulia in Outback Qld to become the first female bookkeeper that those parts had ever seen.

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Aberglassyn House, Hunter Valley. This was built by my great-great-great-great Grandparents in the 1840’s

Then there’s all the other amazing women like my mum, aunty, sister and cousins who probably don’t think they do anything special. But they do. Rural Australia can be a beautiful place but can be harsh and unforgiving for those that eke out a living producing enough food and fibre to feed and clothe 60 million people worldwide each year. These “everyday” women bring a softness into this environment, they bring love and grace to temper the mood swings of the awe inspiring Mother Nature.

Like all bush kids I learnt just how fickle Mother Nature could be. I grew up on a station south east of Charters Towers, down near the Burdekin Dam. (My maiden name is Barnicoat for those of you trying to work out exactly where I fit into Charters Towers) and my schooling was done through the School of Distance Education and Blackheath and Thornburgh College as a boarder. We went from having a massive wet season in 1991 to barely seeing a drop of rain until my first day of Boarding school in 1994. It had been that dry that on my first weekend home from school, I was kept awake by this awful noise. It got the better of me in the end I ran crying to Mum. It turns out that at 13, I’d forgotten what frogs and toads sounded like when they had water to play in.

When I finished school I decided to follow in my Grandmothers footsteps and head west. Not to be a bookkeeper though, my sister got more than her fair share of those sorts of brains, leaving absolutely none for me. Which is scary as we run our own business and I do the books…..

Nor was I going to be a Jillaroo as cattle and horses scare the bejeezus out of me if they get too close. I was going to be a governess and had been offered a job on Gallipoli, which is an Outstation of Alexandria. On the wide open spaces of the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory, Alexandria is one of the biggest cattle stations in the world, it is about a quarter of the size of Tasmania and can run up to 55 000hd of cattle.

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The Land of “Nothing”, Barkly Tableland

At first glance it seems to be a “land of nothing”. All blue sky and brown treeless plains. It’s like being in a western movie and you expect a heard of bison to trundle past. But then a massive flock of wild budgerigars wheel over head or some kind of poisonous snake tries to sneak into the school room and you remember exactly what country you’re in.

It’s also isolated by road in the wet season. Which meant I had to fly in on the mail plane. Which was this little sardine can of a Cessna. I had never been on a plane before and it scarred me that much that it took me another 12 years to get on even a 747 heading to Brisbane. I stumbled down the metal shonky steps of this little box of hell, pale as a ghost but still very green around the gills to stand blinking on the rocky dirt airstrip. I squinted through the glare and tears at my welcoming party which consisted of two little brown eyed, blonde haired kids and their dad. And as I shuffled to the left a bit my fuzzy eyes noticed this huge strapping lad. “Oh dear god, please do not let me vomit on his boots.” No, I didn’t disgrace myself, in fact I still must have cut an alright figure. Or maybe my frailness touched this young man’s heart. Or maybe he just moved quick before all the other young ringers came back from holidays as women are scarce out there. Because we’ve been married for nearly 12 years and have two blonde children of our own.

Kylie and Shane

After moving around a bit, we came back to Charters Towers for the kids to be closer to their Grandparents and cousins. And it was good to be home. I’ve heard it said before that you don’t have to be indigenous to feel an affinity for the land. And I get that. My heart lies in the sandy creeks with paper bark tea trees, milky water and black basalt rocks of the Burdekin region. I am so pleased that our little block has a couple of these creeks. They may be hard work with the noxious weeds in them, but I hope Ella-Beth and Clancy grow up appreciating the true beauty and vitality of this district.

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And a few years after that we decided to bite the bullet and start our own livestock agency. Now in case anyone’s confused about what a livestock agent does, it means we buy and sell cattle on behalf of our clients, trying to source the best market for them. Like real estate with cattle. Not trying to get them acting gigs like someone has suggested before. Our client base extends across the Southern Gulf, Burdekin and Fitzroy regions, all in the top five beef producing regions of Australia. Because of the diversity, our clients also supply all different types of markets, including live export.

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Assessing cattle for Auctions Plus, an online livestock marketing tool

But then came the Four Corners episode “A Bloody Business”, showing horrific cruel treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia. The footage sent shock waves through Australia, urban and rural. And within a week Minister for Agricultural Joe Ludwig bowed under the pressure and suspended live export to Indonesia even to first class facilities, effectively shutting down Northern Australia. And what followed, and still happening today on our own shores is just as heartbreaking as the cruelty inflicted on our beautiful cattle.

Families just like yours, families such as mine are still floundering in the aftermath. The most viable market that many cattle producers had in the north has been halved. And it’s the smaller, family owned stations that are suffering the most. Many are saying that they can’t go another two years at this rate, they will be forced to leave the land they love so much. Property prices have plummeted and in some areas are unsaleable. Without an income, producers cannot run their properties, which will in turn lead to a decrease in natural resource management and animal welfare. As these things don’t come cheap. Many have had to put off staff and bring their children home from boarding school. They are spending less and less in their local communities which means these communities have a declining population. And with smaller populations it’s harder for these communities to hold on to essential services such as education, emergency services, health and aged care. The effect goes much further than a few rich pastoralists as many would have us believe.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, there has been plenty of positives to come out of it. At that time, I used Facebook to keep in touch with old school friends and other friends from towns I’d moved from. But then I noticed the prevalence of all these anti live export, anti livestock production and anti farmer groups. And I got mad. Be damned if I let an animal rights organisation in Melbourne tell the world how we raised our cattle and ran our business. Social Media played a big factor in taking the industry down, it would be an important tool in building it back up again. Gone were the days where we just went about our work, we had to build those connections; we couldn’t let anyone else tell our stories.

And I started to stumble upon people on Facebook and Twitter who had the same idea as I did, and not just live exporting sheep and cattle producers. Farmers from all sorts of industries, all over the country. Wool, dairy, pigs, chicken, cotton, rice farmers, just to name a few all had the misinformed condemning finger of small but very loud groups pointed at them. And we realised that we had to be proactive rather than reactive, we had to learn how to engage with consumers and the general public better. Agriculture and farmers are among the highest trusted industries and professions in Australia, we need to keep it like that.

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So a group of us started up Ask An Aussie Farmer, a Facebook and Twitter initiative where consumers can come and ask farmers directly why and how they do things rather than relying on Google and anti farming sites. The support we’ve received from people is overwhelming and every positive connection makes a difference. I have learnt so much about all different types of farming. Every system has its pros and cons. But the biggest thing I’ve learnt and would love to share with everyone is that we as consumers are extremely lucky in Australia to have a such a choice in farming methods that we can choose a product that best suits our values, needs and circumstances.

Ask and Aussie Farmer

I was also accepted to be an Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion representing beef. Which meant I had to get on a plane and go to Sydney for the first time in my life. Being a YFC has been an awesome experience. I should explain that in the farming world under 35 is considered young. The average age of Australian Farmers is 59, compared to 40 of other professions. We get to meet other young people from other industries and learn important skills such as public speaking, engaging with the community, promoting our industry in a positive manner and handling the media.

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Then we go into schools, in Brisbane, Sydney and their greater regions and talk to the students about our industry and the enormous opportunities for careers in Agriculture available to anyone regardless of their past or future.

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I also talk about life on a cattle station in North Queensland as it’s a very different world. The schools in return have to complete blogs and videos about what they’ve learned. And the best bit is that they get to decorate life sized, fibreglass cows, the best winning prizes.

These children are amazing, they are so switched on, they love hearing about what we do and some keep in touch and try and soak up everything they can about agriculture. This program, known as the Archibull Prize has been opened right up, so if there’s any teachers here that are interested, or you want your child’s school to participate, please see me afterwards for more details.

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Then I was nominated for Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network (or QRRRWN for short) Strong Women leadership awards. My nomination was for my dedication in encouraging others to tell their stories, to stand up and be heard but most of all to believe in themselves. It was very humbling to be nominated, I love what I do and to be recognised for it gave me a huge confidence boost.

So I packed the kids in the car, and drove over 1000km to St George where the annual conference was being held. I finally got to meet all these wonderful women I only knew from the internet or media interviews. I attended a series of workshops, built a huge network and even got to meet foreign correspondent Sally Sara and listen to her speak .

QRRWN is a fantastic organisation dedicated to building stronger rural communities. The support network they have formed for the farmers devastated by floods in South East Queensland is tremendous. They have two new recent initiatives, one being the Strong Women Leadership Awards. Nominations for the 2013 awards opened today, I have brought along some fliers, so please nominate those you think deserve that recognition. The other new initiative is the Strong Women Webinars. Every month an inspiring woman talks about her journey and her vision. I have also brought along some fliers and registration forms for the Webinars. There is also a form to sign up for the QRRRWN E-newsletter. Everyone who puts their name down to receive that goes into the draw to win a yearly subscription to the Strong Women Webinars. I listened to the amazing Catherine Marriott, runner up for Rural Woman of the year in 2012 this morning. Some upcoming webinars will feature chef Maggie Beer, clothing designer Liz Davenport and amazing business woman Miriam Silva The QRRRWN 2014 conference will be held here in Charters Towers, so keep your eyes peeled for upcoming details.

One thing I’ve learnt through all of this is that if you want change, you need to participate. If you want better education, health, safety, understanding for your cause or whatever your community needs don’t be afraid to stand up and say your piece. We can’t sit back and expect industry bodies and government to change everything for us, it’s up to us to get the ball rolling. It is up to us to affect change. Believe in yourself, your community and your cause and others will support you. Three years ago I would have never of believed that I would be doing the things I am.

Everyone has a gift, just not everyone has opened theirs yet.

Elizabeth Stott – Finding my cotton roots

Today’s guest blog post comes Elizabeth Stott.  Liz’s story remind me of the James Ruse Agricultural High School Archibull Prize entry which tells the story of cotton and draws you in through powerful imagery that focuses on the roots of the cotton plant and cotton’s commitment to using Australia’s scare water resources wisely

James Ruse Ag High School

This is Liz’s story ……..

Born in Sydney and growing up in Canberra, I am not what you would call a typical “Country Gal”. While my roots are very much in the city, my heart is definitely in the country… let me tell you how I ended up living on an irrigation farm, hundreds of kilometres from everything I have ever known.

Growing up

I grew up in Canberra with my two younger sisters. We lived in a typical family home on a ¼ acre block in the suburbs. Our spare time was spent playing sport, swimming in our pool and riding bikes around the neighbourhood with the other kids in our street. I attended Canberra Girls Grammar School from Prep right through to Year 12, graduating in 2000.

Our school holidays were often spent visiting my Grandma who still lived on the sheep farm in Berrima where my mum grew up. I have vivid memories of adventures in the nearby bushland with my cousins, going out on foot, alone, to herd sheep from one paddock to another just to feel “farmie” (really it was a fruitless exercise as there were no gates on the paddocks anymore) and fossicking through junk left in the rundown, old family home next door. I remember trying really hard to get my hands dirty so I could be just like my uncle who was a farmer on another property nearby. I suppose it was then that the country girl deep inside began to emerge.

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The old farm-house where my mum grew up in Berrima, NSW was a great place to find hidden treasures

“When I grow up, I want to be…”

After year 12, I decided to take a gap year and travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland, with my best friend from high school. We lived and worked in Scotland for five months before travelling around Europe. After returning to Australia, I started my Bachelor of Science degree at the Australian National University majoring in Zoology. I have always had a love of animals, so decided to take a part time job as a veterinary nurse while I completed my university studies. This was both an enjoyable and useful experience. Until I started working in a vet hospital, I had always wanted to be a vet. In fact, I was planning on using my science degree as a stepping stone into studying veterinary science at university. However, my three years working as a vet nurse soon changed my mind. Not because it is a bad job, but because I realised vets spend 5 years at university with a 1st year out salary of  around $45,000 a year and work around 70 hours a week. Yes, call me lazy… but I thought perhaps there is more to life than just work.

Having completed my studies in 2004, in 2006 I made the move to the “Big Smoke” (Sydney) where I started working at a specialist veterinary clinic, the Animal Referral Hospital. Instead of nursing, I worked in customer service and eventually progressed to the role of Operations Manager. Whilst working full time, I decided I needed to supplement my science degree with something more specialised, so I completed a Graduate Diploma in Applied Science majoring in Wildlife Health and Population Management at Sydney University. The best thing about this degree was that we mainly undertook field based study on a large sheep farm, Arthursleigh, near Marulan. Again, I loved being out in the wide open spaces, getting my hands dirty setting Elliot and Pitfall traps so we could study the native mammals.

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My university studies provided me with a many amazing experiences including spending a week at Taronga Zoo in Dubbo where we went behind the scenes with the zoo veterinarians.

How a chance encounter can change your life

So, how did I go from frolicking around with native wildlife and working in a veterinary hospital in Sydney to a cotton farm 700 kilometres away? Well the answer is simple, I met a farmer.

I met my husband, Dallas, in 2008 while I was visiting my family in Canberra. It was pure luck that he and I happened to be in same pub one night when we locked eyes across the room. The rest, as they say, is history. I quit my job in Sydney, packed up my cats and my meagre furniture and moved to the farm Dallas ran with his mum and dad the following year. Since then, I have immersed myself into the agricultural industry working in Policy and Public Relations at Murrumbidgee Irrigation during the week and driving tractors and changing siphons on weekends.

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Helping out driving the tractor on the weekend

On our farm we grow around 600 hectares of irrigated cotton during summer and various cereal crops during winter. Cotton is a relatively new crop in this area, which is traditionally the heart of the Australian rice industry. We started growing it three years ago as it was the most profitable water efficient crop for us to grow. Being an irrigation farm, water is our most precious resource and we are currently putting a lot of time and investment into  changing our farm layout to be as water efficient as possible.

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When I first met Dallas and he told me he was an irrigation farmer, I thought this meant he had lots of little sprinklers in his paddocks. I was soon to learn I was completely off the mark with this and a load of other things I thought I knew about farming…. and so were a lot of my friends. Having grown up in the city, I realised that I didn’t really have any appreciation of where my bread, milk and clothing came from or the hard work, commitment and high level of technology work that went into producing it. As far as I was concerned, it simply appeared in the store and the most I thought about the products I was buying was whether they tasted good and how much they cost.

Since moving out here to the farm, I have come to appreciate the knowledge, experience and multi skills needed to produce the items we take for granted every day. Farmers have to be machinery operators, agronomists, scientists, mechanics, meteorologists, and financial planners just to name a few. There are no set working hours, often no weekends and holidays are as rare as hen’s teeth. I can’t think of any other profession that requires such dedication and diversity of high level skills and knowledge.

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Picking the cotton last year with our new round bale picker

Doing things I never thought I would do

The last four years have provided me with a number of fantastic opportunities to educate fellow city slickers about where their food and fibre comes from, what is involved in producing it and how important the agricultural industry really is to each and every one of us. I have been lucky enough to attend a couple of workshops in Canberra which have taught me a lot about how to effectively communicate with politicians and other decision makers to help them understand some of the issues facing the agricultural industry and regional Australia so they can try and do something to assist us.

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I met with Senator Barnaby Joyce to discuss issues facing young farmers in 2012

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Explaining the impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan on our farm to Minister Tony Burke in front of 12,000 people in Griffith, NSW

What next?

Late last year, I was awarded the Cotton Industry Leader Scholarship for the Australian Rural Leadership Program which I will complete over the next two years. This program like the Young Farming Champions program aims to provide participants with a once in a lifetime to develop skills, build influential networks and help those who are not involved in agriculture understand that all the fresh fruit, vegies and comfortable clothing they take for granted does not just magically appear in the stores. It only happens as a result of many dedicated people involved in the supply chain including our farmers committed to producing affordable and highly quality food and fibre. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to mentor other young people and help them realise that there are a huge range of career opportunities available to them and encourage them to pursue a role in the agricultural industry.

How lucky is agriculture this city call spotted a farmer in a pub!!!!!!

You can follow Liz on twitter @lizzystottson

Lets get back to our roots

Todays guest blog comes from Kristy Stewart whose family farms in the foothills of the Otway Ranges in Victoria

“It’s time to get back to our roots & realise the importance of agriculture to the people of Australia and by extension, the world”.

Australia is now the most urbanised country in the world and farmers and the people they feed and clothe are getting further and further apart. Its nobody’s fault its just the way Australian has evolved.

It saddens me that our culture has become almost detached from its umbilical cord to life?. For me connecting agriculture with the community is a priority, without one the other cannot exist. Often people look for the cheapest food options without reflecting on the commitment and care that goes into producing high quality nutritious Australian grown products and the consequences of buying imported goods produced with low cost labour and unsustainable farming practices.

On the other hand there is growing support for farmers markets in our cities and people are responding to the personal experience of buying direct from the grower. They place considerable value on being able to talk directly to the farmers and hear how the food was produced and where it comes from.

It is my hope that as an industry we can create a much greater and stronger connectivity between Agriculture and the community. A great way to do this is by creating more and more opportunities for personal connections (especially with the younger generation, primary and secondary age), education, art and music.

So a little bit about me…

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.L-R Michelle, me and Hannah (my big sisters)

Born and raised on a grazing and integrated agroforestry farm on the north-eastern foothills of the Otway ranges. Our farm is named ‘Yan Yan Gurt West’, after the Yan Yan Gurt Creek that flows through the property.

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I’m a 5th generation farmer on our 580 acre property. I’ve loved the land since I can remember. Running around the farm on epic adventures with my two big sisters, following dad and mum around (probably hindering more than helping) with farm work are cherished childhood memories, I remember the first year I was old enough to work in the woolshed as a roustabout, my excitement was palpable!

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Me and my two big sisters Michelle and Hannah on our trusty old horse Shannon outside the woolshed

We’ve run both sheep and cattle (mostly sheep in my time). We have horses, alpacas, chickens, a pet magpie, ( mum’s a wildlife carer) as well as a vet nurse AND a farmer. I don’t know where she finds the time! She also train’s working dog’s.

My family has been involved in the WWOOF Organisation (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) since I was about 5 or 6 years old. Basically travellers can join this organisation and receive a book full of descriptions of different host farms around Australia, receiving board and keep, in exchange for helping out on the farm. It is a fantastic organisation and a great way to travel. Through this I have met many amazing young and enthusiastic people. It has taught me a lot about different cultures and left me with many lifelong friends who I hope to visit when I travel. The people that come and stay are interested and work hard, enjoying the experience of our culture and way of life on the farm. Every time a wwoofer comes to stay I realise how lucky I am to have the lifestyle that I do. Many don’t want to leave!

We run a prime lamb operation with first cross ewes, white Suffolk and poll dorset rams. I love all the aspects of running sheep on our farm, the big operations; lambing time, lamb marking, dagging, crutching and shearing are always guaranteed to be great fun, especially seeing the looks on the wwoofers faces when they first see a lamb being born!

Take a tour of the farm with dad

We apply sustainable farming practices to our farm operation. My dad (also has plethora of jobs to his name) conducts tours as part of the Otway Agroforestry Network (OAN) on integrated agroforestry farming systems, promoting the use of trees to make farming more environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding (In short, trees for both conservation and profit) to a wide audience

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Trees for conservation and profit

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Some of the OAN team leaders left to right: Andrew Stewart (my Dad), Mike Robinson-Koss, David Curry, Rowan Reid.

We love to share our story with the many visitors we host at the farm. From fellow farmers to the Minister for Agriculture

Mum and Dad being interviewed by Minister Tony Burke

To the leader of the greens party and visiting delegates from South America, China and Africa.

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L-R Kristy and Hannah Stewart; Christine Milne (Greens leader) in centre

The tours generally involve going around a variety of different farms in the district involved in the OAN. It is a fantastic network that encourages strong relationships of learning and growth between all types of farming people.

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The tours also encompass school groups, university classes and TAFE education groups

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Morning tea and a lecture in the shed by Rowan before taking off on a walk around the farm.

This is the kind of thing I hope to see spread throughout the Industry, bringing people onto farms to understand the challenges and constraints, connecting farmers with farmers to consult and learn from each other to improve their land management practices. I’ve seen the vast improvements and plethora of information and interest that people take away from these ‘farm tour days’.

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Me and my cousin Nick planting trees!

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This is a photo of my sister Hannah, taking a group of local primary school children on a tour of our farm, organised with our local Landcare network.

I think it is so important to get young primary school aged children out on the land so they can have a good understanding from a young age where there food comes from, how it grows and mist importantly have a connection with the land.

The farm tour was a huge success; Hannah devised fun activities such as bridge building competitions and many others. The kids came away from the day having had a great time getting muddy and creative, but at the same time they were learning the importance of looking after the land and understanding where their food comes from!

Currently we are looking into value adding, experimenting with Australian bush food and native cut flowers to create more revenue for the farm. My parents are constant sources of inspiration and strength for me, encouraging me to promote the Agricultural industry to the next generation, as a sustainable conservation aware industry full of opportunities for a fulfilling career.

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L-R Mike Edwards, Christine Milne(Greens Leader) Senator Richard Di Natale and Jill Stewart presenting Christine Milne with native farm grown flowers and bush tucker plants.

My sister and I were lucky enough to be two of 16 young women from around Australia to participate in the AWiA (Australian Women in Agriculture) leadership and decision making course in Canberra. A fantastic organisation raising the profile of Women and the next generation in Agriculture. For me it was a real eye opener, it was such an empowering thing to meet and network with other like-minded young people from around the country, this experience renewed my confidence and hope for the future of Agriculture in Australia. There are many supportive organisations out there for young people interested in Agriculture, this is one of them.

Currently I have just moved into my second year at university studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences. I still go back home on holidays for shearing and other big farm events!

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Our shearer attempting to teach me how to shear a lamb properly!

Once I’ve finished my degree I’d like to travel for a few years, perhaps doing some work in the industry overseas, visiting other cultures and seeing the way they care for the land. A trip to the Philippines visiting farms two years ago sparked off that particular interest. It is fascinating to see the way other cultures care for their country, I think we can a learn a lot from them and they in turn from us.

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Rice terrace farming in the Philippines

Eventually I think I would like to work as a sustainable farming systems consultant, especially for small scale farms as well as work in facilitating connections between country and city people. Also (of course!) run a farm of my own  (but who knows where I’ll be really, somewhere in the industry anyway!).

I see the problems that the Ag industry faces (increased population, less Agricultural land, soaring fossil fuel prices, conservation and sustainability concerns etc.) as exciting challenges to be taken up by the next generation.

Challenge drives innovation and the growth and diversification that will shape the future of our Agricultural in Australia. With the many bright young people involved in Agricultural, the industry has a positive future with much to offer.

The next step is getting more people (like you readers!) to be involved in the diverse career pathways agriculture encompasses. From finance, marketing & politics to farming the land, environmental work and scientific research. Or even just going out and visiting a farm, seeing how it works and what life is like out in the country.

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A shot of our farm

I believe that the Australian agricultural industry has huge potential to be one of the world leaders in taking significant steps towards conservation farming practices, increasing productivity, addressing food security and promoting environmentally sustainable management techniques and I look forward to being part of the growing movement of young farmers signing up to turn the challenges into opportunities.

Guess whose in the moos

Today’s guest blog post comes from 2013 Dairy Young Farming Champion Cassie MacDonald. This young girl from the burbs has turned her talents into a winning formula to fight the good fight on behalf of dairy farmers everywhere

I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story

I wanted the message to reach as many people as it can.

I wanted to show that if you have an important story to tell people will listen

I hope consumers will stop and think about what exactly is happening.

I hope they think about the choices they make

I grew up in suburbia on the South Coast of NSW, born to a chef and a TAFE teacher/mechanic. We lived a typical ‘city’ life, small house, small backyard; no real exposure to agriculture.

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My older brother and I in front of our family home in Albion Park Rail, early 1990s

Except for the odd trip to a family friend’s farm where I was too mesmerised by the Clydesdale horses to notice if anything else was going on. We rode our pushbikes until the street lights came on, and we were warned about stranger danger. We had one tree on our block. The closest thing I came to agriculture was gawking out the window on our many trips to see family in Bungendore. And still, the cattle were too far away to really see anything!

I developed a fascination with animals at a young age, especially livestock, however this was completely unlived. I was lucky enough to be given a pony at this stage- which was the closest chance I had of getting up close with a large four-legged animal. Except at ANZAC day parades where mum would threaten to leave me homeless (jokingly of course) if I didn’t leave the Lighthorsemen alone, after standing staring at them all day, when it was time to go home.

In 1999, a massive family move to the Snowy Mountains when I was ten saw the start of the the change in my life, most significantly moving closer to the opportunity to be exposed to agriculture. I still couldn’t quite get my hands on it, but we were a step closer, living on a 15 acre block, astride my trusty little Welsh Mountain Pony, staring at the neighbours Herefords over the fence. The galahs and cockatoos would entertain us at breakfast time, and I loved for the first time in my life not having next door neighbours breathing down your neck. I was hooked on that ‘country’ thing! The fresh air, the space, the freedom. Walking down the driveway took no more than 2 seconds to catch the school bus, and mum would let us play in the paddocks all afternoon after school. My longing to return to the place where we grew up was quickly forgotten and replaced with the knowledge that the country was where I wanted to call home. Although, changing from a school of 800 students to one of 300 certainly came as a shock!!

The final push came when I went off to boarding school at age eleven. After hearing about an agricultural high school when in year six, I decided I wanted to go there to learn about farming so I could become a vet. On my first day there I was eager to sign up to the Rural Youth Club and enrol in the calf rearing program. I got to look after my first show heifer, an Ayrshire named ‘Agapantha’. I spent months teaching her how to lead and tie up, spending all my spare hours on the school farm. From memory, some of the teachers were concerned that this behaviour was abnormal and antisocial. How wrong they were! If only they can see where this has got me to now.

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Showing cattle at Sydney Royal ( me on the left) with Hurlstone Agricultural High School

At the end of that year I attended my first show, a calf show at the school- I was hooked! I didn’t miss a show from then on. I broke in a heifer, or two, every year and after learning the ropes, in my senior years I ran the group, organising young students, heifers and even the show teams.

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Winning the Semex Youth Challenge at Sydney Show in 2011

Those six years of living on a farm alongside a great agricultural education and involvement in the Rural Youth club and the stud Ayrshire cattle team built the foundations for my love and commitment for rural Australian and our agricultural industries. I  desperately wanted to become a veterinarian to continue my work with cattle, and ultimately agriculture.

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Ayrshire calf day as an older teenager

After finishing high school I began studying Animal Science after being knocked back from entry into Veterinary Science. I started showing cattle for an Ayrshire stud (Mayfield Farms), and was mentored by my great ‘second family’, Paul and Vicki Timbs. They saw something in me and subsequently helped me every step of the way to gaining experience in the show scene, on the farm and in animal husbandry. These foundations have allowed me to come such a long way. In this time I also started working at the Working Dairy at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. After learning the ropes I graduated to Assistant Manager in 2008 and love every moment of educating the public about where our milk comes from, from looking after the health and wellbeing of the cattle to the harvesting, processing and marketing of milk and its products. Education is something I am extremely passionate about, as I believe we need to form partnerships with consumers so can work together to ensure agriculture has a bright and sustainable future.

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Milking on the Timbs’ farm

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Learning about calf husbandry at the Timbs’

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 Working hard at the Sydney Royal Easter Show Working Dairy

After a second knock back in 2007, I finally gained entry into Veterinary Science in 2008. I am now in my 5th year of my degree, and graduation just around the corner. I am a proud member of Ayrshire Australia, the ASC Youth Group, Wagga Wagga Show Society and the RAS of NSW. Representing Wagga in the Sydney Royal Showgirl competition finals in 2011 was a particularly proud moment. I am very happy to tell my friends that I earn my money milking cows (and I am happy to persuade them to have a go at it too!).

I am also very happy to stand up for the industry that I have become so passionate about. When I saw the Coles’ video “Our Coles Brand Milk Story”, I was infuriated with the way they had spun the truth and misrepresented the facts. I suppose any dairy farmer or dairy industry employee could tell you this too. I wanted to reply but knew that words, especially to Coles, would get me nowhere and would get to no one. I thought about it for a second- how can I reach the consumers and have an effect?

I decided to put a skill, that usually only made my school teachers angry for ruining my books, and my mother for using all the paper up in the house, to go use. So I put pen to paper, sitting on the living room floor, underneath my iPad balancing carefully on the edge of a chair. Fifty-two clips later I had completed all the drawings. Five hours worth of work over two afternoons. Two weeks later my video has attracted almost 16,000 hits on YouTube

“The response has been unbelievable, but it’s exactly what I wanted

I wanted to show people everyone can make a difference by sharing their story

I wanted the message to reach as many people as it can.

I wanted to show that if you have an important story to tell people will listen

I hope consumers will stop and think about what exactly is happening.

I hope they think about the choices they make if they buy supermarket brand milk, and how it affects others.

Ultimately it would be great if more people boycotted generic brands and bought branded milk products instead so we can really combat the problem.

I also want shoppers to think about the information they are being fed, especially by such big powerful companies.

As you can see I am extremely passionate about the dairy industry, its future and the opportunities it can give you. I am a walking talking example of the joy you can get from working in and the doors that it can open for you. I will continue to advocate for this wonderful industry that has made me who I am, so that other people can see the exciting  opportunities out there. The dairy industry is full of amazing, talented and supportive people and I want to help make a difference to someone else’s life like the people I have met in the dairy industry have made to mine.

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Giving the thumbs up to a career in dairy

Cotton Pickin – the Boggabri Blog

Today’s guest blog post comes from Heather Gow-Carey one of our Eco Champions

But firstly a little bit from me to put it into perspective 

One of the things that still fascinates me is despite the vastness of our country just how little of it we can grow food on and how precious our natural resources are to sustain our standard of living now and in the future.

Yes we all know Australia is a pretty big place and what most of us don’t realise (including me until recently) is believe it or not over 60% of it is owned, managed and cared for by Australian farmers. To put this into perspective the white bits on the map below are the 40% of Australia that are classified as non agricultural land.Agricultural-Land-in-Australia_thumb,

What’s even harder to believe is that only 6% of our agricultural land is suitable for growing food. This means our 134,000 farmers have a huge amount of land between them that doesn’t generate an income It therefore goes without saying that Australian farmers are at the frontline of delivering environmental outcomes on behalf of the Australian community and they have a very big unpaid gardening/park keeping gig in any man’s language. I was as flabbergasted as most people when I found out these statistics that overall 94% of what farmers own and manage returns them no direct in your pocket benefit. As one of those farmers of which 50% of our farm is pristine rainforest it does however give great satisfaction and warms your heart to see it support diverse native vegetation and wildlife.

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Can you just imagine what its like following the cows home through this – I can tell you its doesn’t get much better

However its very clear as many of our farmers readily admit they don’t have the skillsets nor the time to do all of this gardening alone. Luckily Australia has a whole team of very special professionals called natural resource managers who partner with farmers to help them get the best outcomes for Australia’s scare natural resources.

Last year with support from the Australian Government’s Caring for our Country Initiative Art4Agriculture accessed funding that would allow our Young Farming Champions to train and work side by side and go into schools as part of the Archibull Prize with Young Eco Champions. The outcomes can only be described as phenomenal. Today’s guest blog post comes from Heather Gow-Carey

The Boggabri Blog……………………………..

As part of the Young Eco Champions Program I have developed a strong interest in agriculture and learning more about our industries that feed and clothe us. Even though I grew up in a rural area, I have found my knowledge of agricultural production is quite limited – so I decided that if I wanted to follow a career in natural resource management and agriculture, I really should get some inside knowledge of what is involved on the agricultural side of things.

My first farm visit was cotton!

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I was lucky enough to have the help of Sophie Davidson from Cotton Australia in tracking down a working cotton farm that had been improving both their on-farm efficiency and the health of the surrounding environment. She arranged for me to visit John and Robyn Watson who have been farming since 1979 on their farm “Kilmarnock” at Boggabri in Northern NSW.

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When John began farming here it was the first cotton to be grown south of Narrabri, along the upper Namoi River. 

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Both John and Robyn live and breathe cotton. When I first got to the farm, we jumped in the car and started driving around their property. I was amazed! To be honest, I had hardly seen any form of broad-scale cropping before. While John and Robyn have had lots of visitors to their farm, John mentioned that it was very rare to have someone like me who had almost no knowledge of the industry. So at least I didn’t feel too stupid asking the basic questions! I chatted with John about the production of cotton, right from the beginning when they sow the seeds all the way up to harvest – and even about the ginning and export process.

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Their property is 1500 hectares plus extra land that they lease from adjoining properties. It is a mixture of cotton, grain and cattle grazing, with about half of it under crop (both irrigated and dry-land). Kilmarnock was one of the first farms to take up the Best Management Practices (BMP) Program and John chaired the Australian Cotton Industry Council’s BMP Committee for three years. 

BMP Cotton

He also played an active role in the implementation of BMP in the Boggabri area, encouraging other local growers to get on board with the program and John and Robyn have been active members of their local Landcare group. Robyn has even written a paper titled Restoring the banks of the Namoi on ‘Kilmarnock’: Success arising from persistence

In 1995, they started a program of improving the riparian areas because they were concerned about bank erosion and pesticide contamination of the river. From this time they have revegetated more than 20kms of riverbank, stretching alongside their property, along with encouraging neighbouring properties to undertake similar work. Robyn has been the driving force behind the Landcare work on their property, she would collect seeds and propagate them in a small nursery that she had set up. In talking to Robyn, she mentioned that there had recently been a few fish surveys undertaken along the Namoi River and there was a sharp increase in both the diversity of species along with the overall counts of fish along the revegetated sections. So not only has their work stopped the erosion of their property and loss of fertile soil, it has improved the environment in a number of ways.

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From a farming perspective, the Watsons have been improving the overall efficiency of their production which means they are using less water, pesticides and herbicides and getting higher overall yields. There are a number of ways that they have been doing this:

  • Having designated dry-land cropping areas, which rely only on rainfall reduces overall water consumption, along with having extensive channel and dam networks to recycle flood irrigated areas. They have also recently got an overhead pivot irrigation system which moves slowing down the crop rows to prevent extra water loss.
  • All cotton is GM so as to be resistant to round-up and cotton pests. This means that they have reduced the amount of pesticide that is used, so they very rarely have to spray at all. Being resistant to round-up results in reduced soil cultivation and lower amounts of herbicide required on cotton crops to control weeds and facilitates healthier soils through less soil disruption and reductions in residual herbicides.
  • They ensure that there is always a few ‘refuge crops’ (usually pigeon pea) sown each year, so this allows insects that would be affected by GM cotton to have the ability to persist and not alter their population structure or effect the birds that feed on them.

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Robyn is also very talented at spinning cotton, and generously taught me how to do it. I found out firstly you have to pull the bolls away from the cotton plant and pluck out the cotton seeds. This is essentially what happens at the cotton gin, though on a much larger scale. You end up with a bowl full of fluffy cotton balls and from here you can start to spin.

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Using an ordinary spinning wheel, it is possible to end up with a range of different thicknesses of hand-spun cotton which can be dyed and then knitted or woven just like wool. I was very impressed and even got to take a few bolls so I could give it a go at home. Robyn is one of the few people who spins with cotton and I think she may be going to go to the Royal Easter Show to do some demonstrations – she is one talented lady!

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While I was up north, I was also able to visit the Namoi Catchment Management Authority (CMA) at Narrabri and go out in the field with Lauren Wilson and Megan Davies to conduct some vegetation surveys. One of the target areas that the Namoi CMA is working on is the protection of riparian areas that are not in poor condition, though need some assistance (eg. through fencing out livestock) to ensure that their condition does not worsen. I found this a great experience to have a look at regions that are so climatically different from down on the South Coast of NSW, and find out about the challenges that these regions are facing from an environmental perspective.

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‘I really did have a great time visiting Boggabri and Narrabri, even though it was only short, I learnt so much and had such wonderful experiences. Coming into this program, I had the opinion that most people hold about the cotton industry – that it used huge amounts of water and sprayed chemicals all over the place.

From learning from the other Young Farming Champions and this visit to Kilmarnock, I really have changed my perspective of the industry. It is a vital industry to Australian agriculture and is one that is innovative and always changing to promote efficiency and ensure overall productivity.’

 

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I now know the story of cotton – it is how this little plant turns into the pair of socks on your feet.’

*Heather has just finished an International Bachelor of Science (Geoscience) (Hons) and gone to Canberra to join the DAFF Graduate program

You can share stories with Heather on Twitter here  @HeatherGowCarey

Agriculture…is like an onion…it has lots of layers!

Today’s guest blog comes from Liz Lobsey, a very exciting young lady introduced to the exciting and diverse world of careers in agriculture whilst at school

Hi, my name is Liz Lobsey and I am 26 years old.

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I’m an agronomist by day, and a closet agriculture advocate, also commonly referred to as an agvocate the rest of the time. I am a firm believer in the agriculture industry and it is not only my occupation, but it is also my passion.

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On top of this I am lucky enough to I live in Toowoomba in sunny Queensland

Now, I’d like you to think about this.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about agriculture?

  • Livestock?
  • Crops?
  • Food?
  • Clothing?

Fair enough but these are stereotype images. To me agriculture is so much more than the food you put in your mouth or the clothes you wear on your back clip_image004

When I think about agriculture I think about people

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I think about innovation

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I think about passion and commitment

Committment.

It wasn’t always this way When I first started high school and found out I had to do agriculture in year 7 the first thing I wanted to do was run away and hide. This was because my perception of what agriculture actually is was completely wrong. I thought of agriculture as dirty and, to be honest, boring; not something I was really looking forward to having to do. However, when I actually started learning about what it involved, my passion for agriculture surfaced and I have never looked back.

I’m not from your typical farming family, in fact, you could probably refer to me as a townie. My family connection to the land is minimal. But my passion for the industry is enormous! I have pottered about, I have studied a different degree, I even sat in an office for a good 3 years, and it was then that I realised that agriculture was where I wanted to be. So, I went back to uni and started studying agronomy. Some might think that I am a glutton for punishment after completing 6 years of university going on to my 7th, which tends to be a running joke with my friends. But when asked why I wanted to study agronomy, by one of my friends, my response was thus.

How many jobs are there, where you can sit on the front veranda of your clients’ home, have a beer and talk about the day while watching the sunset?

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Do you get the chance to watch a storm roll in over the flat black soil plains at your job?

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Do you have laugh while you’re helping a grower pull out that silly agronomist who got the tractor bogged? (Yes, I am talking about myself).

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Does your job give you the opportunity to actually have relationships with your clients where they become surrogate families?

How many jobs do you know of where you have the chance to be constantly learning new things?

How many jobs do you know of that are involved with an industry that is one of the most sustainable, innovative and productive in the world?

A lot of people will associate agriculture with long hours, hot dusty days, and a lot of hard work. And I will openly admit, it is a lot of hard work, and it can be dirty and dusty, on the other spectrum even muddy at times.

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But it is all part and parcel of the experience and I wouldn’t change a thing for the world.

I am involved in the cotton and grains industries and the growers I work with are some of the most innovative and passionate people I have ever met and most likely ever will know. Both of these industries are constantly looking for new ways to be sustainable while remaining productive. It is inspiring to me to be involved in industries where the industries themselves are making the active effort to be better at what they do and making a conscious effort to implement change and be on the front foot to avoid outside influences impacting on what they do and can achieve.

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Earlier I mentioned when I think of agriculture, I think of passion and I strongly believe no matter what you are doing with you, life has little meaning unless you have passion for what you do.

Sadly I also believe that agriculture is a misunderstood industry; it is so much more than what you see on the surface. I was recently at a committee meeting where our vice-chairperson was describing her role as a farmer’s wife: she did the books, looked after the kids, fed the workers, drove the tractors and the list goes on. There is so much more involved with working on a farm or within the industry than what appears on the surface.

While agronomy is my primary job I also do business analysis and management; sometimes I am even a farmhand.  My boss constantly says to me that while we are agronomists and think we are mainly working with soils and plants, its the people who make change so we also have to be psychologists and know what drives change.

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Within agriculture you are so much more then what your title defines you .As an agronomist on a daily basis I assist growers make decisions about how to nurture their crops and produce the best yields possible while keeping production costs low, keeping the levels of chemicals used to a minimum and being friendly to the environment.

On a daily basis I learn something new, I change the way I thought about a process and I help implement these new processes into the production systems that I work within. The interesting part of this is that one idea, is never implemented in the same way, that one idea can result in 6 or 7 different production processes dependent on how that grower runs their farm. While all farming may look the same from the outside, their a subtle differences on each farm that make it operate in the productive way that it does.

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I am proud to say I work in an industry that

  • produces enough food to feed 60 million people.
  • produces 93% of the food we consume.
  • produces enough cotton to clothe 500 million people.

Did you know?

  • one 227kg of bale of cotton is enough to produce 215 pairs of jeans and 1,200 shirts.
  • Australian agriculture produces some of the highest quality food and fibre on the world market, and does so with a decreasing amount of land and water.

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Agriculture is an essential part of the economy, but I also think agriculture is an important part of our society’s way of life. We are blessed to have the agriculture industry with all it offers and it is time for a revival of sorts. It is time for everyone who has the potential to get involved with agriculture in some way to peel back the layers of what agriculture is and take a serious look. It is not just a career choice; it is a lifestyle choice as it offers a wonderful way of life.

The passion of the people in this industry is infectious and the resilience of the people in this industry its own life lesson. I’ve only been in the industry for a couple years now and the way I look at life has changed dramatically.

So, when you think about the word agriculture, have a real think about it and tell me what comes into your mind?

We are all born superstars

Art4Agriculuture Young Farming Champion Jess Monteith is a walking talking testament to phrase “life is what you make it”.

She was recently awarded the prestigious Shoalhaven Young Citizen of the Year Australia Day honour for her inspiring AGvocay for Agriculture and her work with the Hands Across NSW Charity

Jess Monteith Shoalhaven Young Citizen of the Year 2013

In today’s guest blog post Jess shares her work with the Hands Across NSW Charity

For 7 years I have been an ambassador for Hands Across NSW. Hands Across NSW began as a charity organisation during the severe droughts to assist farming families and their communities.

Our vision and missions statements are to

“assist the rural communities in NSW affected by the drought and any other issues by providing help with dignity and to be a dynamic organization dedicated to assist those in need as well as providing a hand of friendship in times of distress, thereby ensuring our prominence as one of the leading, friendliest, and effective charitable organizations in this field originated in the Shoalhaven”.

Over the years we received donations of financial help to support our farmers to be resilient through grants of up to $5000 per individual. We also took donations of fodder and other feed products to provide for livestock in areas severely affected.

In 2009 we received a massive donation from the Bonds factory which supplied 30 different families with new underwear. Something we may take for granted, yet something so important as some of the women in remote communities could not afford new underwear  and were too embarrassed to even visit a Dr because of the state of their underwear.

Between 2007 and 2012 we used donations from local communities to provide children with Christmas presents. It was so rewarding to see the looks on their faces

Hands Across continues to provide financial support to those in need through monitoring progress. This is essential as it indicates the degree of help that needs be provided in the future as well as monitoring the changes in the type of help required. This means our charity is under constant review so it can deliver what farmers need on the ground as soon as thye need it

I am very excited by the next phase that ongoing donations and support has allowed us to develop a program that provides scholarships for students in my local community who face financial hardship in transferring from primary school through to high school. The scholarship program is run in conjunction with the Berry-Gerringong Rotary club who have also raised funds

Check out Jess’ latest video which shares her amazing journey to date

 

 

FOLLOW JESS ON TWITTER https://twitter.com/jm4589

No fence sitting here

“SOME PEOPLE WANT IT TO HAPPEN, SOME WISH IT TO HAPPEN, OTHERS MAKE IT HAPPEN.”

Last year Art4Agriculuture introduced you to Jordan Kerr a young man who is making things happen. Jordan’s strong social conscience, sense of community and commitment to be the change that needs to happen had already seen him represent Australia at the Global Young Leaders Conference 2011, where he had a speaking gig at the United Nations 2011 in New York.

Having now finished his HSC he is having a gap year before he embarks on a degree in Social Inquiry and International Studies at UTS. With this degree under his belt he will then be looking at a career in international politics and diplomacy.  I am confident people like Nick Xenophon would be grateful indeed to have someone of the ilk of Jordan watching their back 

Jordan has accomplished a great deal in the last 12 months including represent Australia at the Presidential Inaugural Conference in Washington DC in January 2013.

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He has also set up Youth Link Australia (YLA) in 2012 . The aim of YLA  is to connect youth across Australia with youth services 

I personally see Jordan as a socially conscious leader. I see someone who is aware of the issues facing both local and global communities and is actively trying to correct the problem and providing opportunities to nurture others to do the same. 

Today Jordan gives us an update on the last 12 months. I am just not quite sure what to say when I read his story and see what he has achieved in such a short time. I just wonder what I have been doing with my life. If only the world was full of people the calibre of Jordan Kerr 

The story so far can be found here and the next chapter follows ……

During the six years I spent at Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Glenfield NSW I was lucky enough to meet a number of fellow students who share my values and priorities and then find a supportive teacher body who encouraged us in our endeavours to find and trial new and different ways to connect with and contribute to the wider community.

Having personally benefited from the many opportunities for Australian youth locally, nationally and internationally, I was keen for other young people to share the benefits as well. So last year six of my fellow Hurlstonians got together and set up Youth Link Australia with the purpose of connecting young people with services and opportunities within their community.  By providing a single website Australian youth now have access to a vast variety of resources in one place.

As an organisation we aim to:

  • Enable youth to easily access national services online in one website.
  • Encourage youth to get actively involved within their local community.
  • Provide information in relation to youth volunteering and extra-curricular activities.
  • Provide information in relation to leadership opportunities locally, nationally and internationally.

We are also very partnership focused and work with other organisations to help promote their work to Australian youth, so if you like what you see when you visit our website we would love to hear from you.

Now to the highlight of my 2013 year so far and that of course is being selected to represent Australia at the Presidential Inaugural Conference which was held in Washington DC during January 2013.

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Sponsored by the NSW Government, Xstrata Coal, Dick Smith (the individual not the company) and the John Edmondson VC Memorial Club I participated in the 5 day conference that celebrates the inauguration of the President of the United States. IMG_1064

The conference also explored how President’s run winning campaigns and the roles of Presidential staff. Through practical simulations and hands on seminars we actually got to take on the role of presidential staff and run mock campaigns. The conference also explored the history and the controversy surrounding former US President Richard Nixon. A special screening of the movie All the Presidents Men explored the breaking of the Watergate scandal and can you believe it I later had the opportunity to meet with Bob Woodward one of the United States most acclaimed reporters responsible for revealing the scandal to the public.

Jordan Kerr with Bob Wooward

Guest speakers at the conference included Dr. Condoleezza Rice, General Wesley Clark and Mr Claes Nobel.  Dr. Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor to the President spoke about her insider’s perspective of the US Presidency and also about growing up in a segregated community. General Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, four-star general and Presidential Candidate spoke about his leadership experiences on and off the battlefield. Mr Claes Nobel the grandnephew of Alfred Nobel founder of the Nobel Prize addressed the conference about the importance of youth leadership.

The conference also included an evening performance by The Capitol Steps, a former group of congressional staffers turned songwriters. Along with this a black tie Gala Inaugural Celebration took place at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Center, home to thousands of aviation and space artefacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery.

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Inauguration day was of course the biggest highlight of the conference. Standing amongst the among the hundreds of thousands of people watching the President take the Oath of Office was a truly unforgettable experience. The national pride and American patriotism was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Jordan was there … he saw history and he was part of it …… I have a feeling he will be making history himself in the not too distant future