Lesson Learnt Five – The world of volunteering

National Volunteer Week runs from 20-26 May. Many of our Young Farming Champions donate their time as volunteers and the plethora of volunteering opportunities can be overwhelming. In this edition of our Lessons Learnt series we talk with Lucy Collingridge to find out how to choose the volunteering role that is best-fit and how to amplify this role for maximum results.

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The qualities of being a great volunteer

Volunteering is time and expertise given willingly, without financial gain, for the common good. It is not enough to have a desire to volunteer, volunteering is about believing a real difference can be made and it is about turning that desire and belief into action.

Young Farming Champion Lucy Collingridge is a Biosecurity Officer with NSW Local Land Services and a lover of all things agriculture. Lucy was not born into the industry. and made her connection to agriculture through the show movement as part of her high school’s show team – presenting beef cattle and competing in Young Judges competitions. Agricultural shows have become Lucy’s best-fit volunteering role.

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Lucy as part of  RAS Youth Group run events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show like Agrichats ( with host Costa in 2018) 

“Each year we are alive we get to enjoy 8760 hours, and we can choose exactly how we spend those hours. There is work – 2080 hours. There is sleeping – 2912 hours. So what do we do with the remaining 3500?” says Lucy 

For Lucy a lot of those hours are spent volunteering. Today you might find her as the social media and website manager for the Cootamundra Show, convening the Young Judges Competition at the Narrabri Show, co-ordinating showgirls at the Wee Waa Show or free-ranging as a steward at the Condobolin Show.  In addition she works tirelessly in her role as a member of the RAS Youth Group at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

For Lucy there are six main contributors to a successful volunteer experience: desire, belief, focus, teamwork, commitment and action.

Desire: “If you find something you love and something that drives you to do better, you will find that is it less work and more fun. As they say, if you love what you do then you will never work a day in your life.”

Belief: “Think about the difference you can make and what aligns with your values and lifestyle; think about what is going to give you the most enjoyment and make the most impact.”

Focus: “It is better to do a fantastic job at one task, meet your deadlines and have fun rather than trying to do too much and ending up not finishing tasks, having people waiting on you or picking up the pieces.”

Teamwork: “At the end of the day volunteers are all part of the same community working to benefit the same thing, so showing respect and working together as a team is important.”

Commitment: “Finding something you have a deep passion for will help you give 110% to everything you do in that area. If you find something challenging, you have that extra spark to push you through. If you are unsure of what to do next, you have the eagerness to find a way to a solution. If you can see there are gaps in that area, you have extra drive to go over and above.”

Action: “Be the person you want to work with. Call when you say you will, email the documents someone is relying on you to send, meet deadlines and be the best you can be.”

Volunteering is Lucy’s way of ‘paying it forward’ and inspiring others.

“The rewards I get from my involvement with the show movement and Picture You in Agriculture far outweigh any financial benefit I could receive. I get to network with some of the industry’s best, I get the opportunity for personal and professional development, I get to see so much of our amazing country and visit overseas destinations, I get to educate the general population on the amazing things happening in our agricultural industry. I enjoy being involved with the show movement as it still provides me with these, but I love that through my involvement I am able to give other young people the same opportunities that led me to falling in love with agriculture.”

Volunteering can be enormously rewarding. Energy and passion such as Lucy’s is infectious.

“It is a pleasure to serve alongside Lucy on the RAS Youth Group. She is someone you can rely onto to do what they say, respond to communications in a timely manner, and when required, get in, roll her sleeves up and do the hard yards”.  

“Lucy’s dedication to the agricultural industry and country show movement is second to none. She is committed, incredibly passionate, and a great ambassador for our industry. Lucy’s exemplifies what it means to volunteer, and to give your absolute best to the roles that you put your hand up for” says Aimee Snowden Vice Chair of RAS of NSW Youth Group 

Picture You in Agriculture is also run by volunteers and we are very grateful for the ‘doers” the organisation attracts. Our leadership team know that it is important young people do not over commit. If think you maybe unable to deliver  then saying no to a volunteering request can be the best course of action,

With this in mind PYiA has developed a volunteering checklist. You can find it here

It helps our Young Farming Champions, like Lucy, be the best volunteers they can in order to amplify their voices and turn actions into performance and results.

Lessons Learnt Number Four – Using Social Media to Amplify Youth Voices

Social media is all around us. Facebook pops up onto our screens with notifications, we spend hours admiring Instagram images and we check in with the twitter-verse. In the ten years since Picture You in Agriculture (PYiA) was born we’ve used social media to share our stories, create conversations and build relationships over countless interactions. In this edition of our Lesson Learnt series we talk to Young Farming Champions Bessie Thomas and Anika Molesworth to find out how social media can be used to amplify youth voices.

Bessie Thomas uses Facebook as her social media platform of choice to share her life on Burragan Station in western NSW. “I like Facebook for its ability to be short or long form,” she says. “I’m primarily a long-form writer and enjoy Facebook’s ability to allow me to explore my thoughts thoroughly, use language as it pleases me (especially for writing with comedic affect) and then add visuals to suit.”

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Just as Bessie enjoys Facebook for its long-form option Anika prefers the brevity of Twitter. “Twitter demands less wordiness and is relatively easy to use,” she says, “and I can use short sentences and one link or a picture.”

Whatever the choice of platform both girls agree it is connecting to your audience that is most important. “Having a public Facebook page is like creating my own little community,” Bessie says of her audience who come to her to experience real-life on a sheep property. “The one aim of my Facebook page has always been to show the human side of farming, show that I/my husband/our family/farmers in general are real people with the same everyday hopes, dreams, problems, desires, challenges, illnesses, brain-farts, morals, ethics and ideals as everyone else. I want to show that we are individuals who care, not just mass production food factories. We are not perfect; we are just as human as everyone else.”

For Anika using social media is about connecting with people who can spread her environmental and climate change messages. “I think Twitter is well used by farmers, researchers and politicians who are connected to the topics I am talking about,” she says, “and I like you can tag anyone, no matter who they are. For example I sometimes engage in a Twitter conversation with policy makers and where else could I do this?”

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Using images and video is a trademark of many social media platforms and both Bessie and Anika use these to great effect. Bessie recently created a video after drought-breaking rain fell at Burragan. The video reached over 20,000 people and was picked up by the Sky News Weather Channel. See footnote

Anika has recently compiled short videos to share on Twitter where she talks about such subjects as renewable energy and climate change. “I am really interested in amplifying the voice of rural Australia, so I asked myself, how can I project my story further and raise awareness of topics I believe are important? I decided to make a series of short videos of me on my family’s farm. Walking around my paddocks I try to give observation and insight on my life in Far West NSW around a central theme of climate change – both its impacts and how it can be addressed.”

Anika admits, that although she is familiar and comfortable with Twitter and has built up an engaged audience and has being identified as the most influential agriculturalist on Twitter , there is always more to learn. Bessie too, finds it a continuous learning process but has these tips for creating successful posts:

  • Create authentic content. Don’t use give-aways or ask for likes and don’t post just for the sake of posting. Amplify your voice in a curated way.
  • Respond to comments and private messages and, in doing so, build trusted relationships.
  • Know your purpose, or aim, and stick to it.
  • Create an emotional connection. My best posts are the honest ones where I am celebrating the highs and also admitting vulnerability. Whinging and complaining posts tend not to do so well.
  • Spell-check! See footnote

Picture You in Agriculture provides all Young Farming Champions with training in social media skills during their immersion workshops and encourages them to share their experiences. Young Farming Champion Alana Black has recently contributed to this by creating a social media strategy document, sharing with YFC how to create engaging content. Just like Bessie and Anika, Alana’s believes it is about connecting with an audience to start a conversation and deliver a positive message about agriculture.

Footnote

That moment when Sky News wants to put your video on national TV and your dad rings to remind you of the ” i” before “e” rule except after “c”

A reminder we should all aim for progress not perfection

Lessons Learnt Number Three – Leadership development is an evolution

 Young People may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future.

Too often their voices aren’t heard.

At Picture You in Agriculture we are providing them with the skills and opportunities to earn a seat at the decision making table.

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Welcome to next chapter in our Lessons Learnt series. At Picture You in Agriculture we are big fans of the concept of Communities of Practice where people who share our vision and are getting great stuff done come together and share their lessons learnt, their successes and work together to amplify each others voices, pool their expertise and make more great stuff happen. This blog post in our Lessons Learnt series shares how we are supporting the leadership development of our Young Farming  Champions using Anika Molesworth as a case study. 

We believe leadership development is an evolution. In the initial workshops of the two-year Young Farming Champion program participants are taught the basic skills – how to tell their story, how to reach audiences, how to interact with media, both print and social. They then use The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas as a safe environment to hone these skills and are encouraged to take them into the wider community.

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Young Farming Champion Anika Molesworth is using her voice, the skills she has learnt, the accolades she has garnered and the networks she has created to amplify youth voices and mobilise a movement for #ClimateActionNow .

Pivotal to the success of this leadership journey is a continuum of support, networks and opportunities. In this edition of our Lessons Learnt series we look how Anika Molesworth is using her voice, the skills she has learnt, the accolades she has garnered and the networks she has created to amplify youth voices and mobilise a movement for #ClimateActionNow .

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In the last eight weeks Anika has been the keynote speaker at the NSW Geography Teachers Association Conference, Prime Super International Women’s Day lunches and the Rotary District 9520 Conference, talking about her love for her semi-arid property near Broken Hill and the way in which it is being affected by climate change.

Anika Prime Super

How these conferences came about is a lesson in networking and communication. For Rotary it was availing themselves of local talent at their conference held in Broken Hill. Prime Super invited her to speak after sponsoring the NSW/ACT Regional Achievement and Community Award for Agricultural Innovation, which Anika won in 2018.

“While all the award winners are special, sometimes one comes along that stands out,” General Manager Distribution, Prime Super Mark Ashburn says. “We think her work on sustainable agriculture is inspiring and directly contributes to the success of tens of thousands of our members directly involved in agriculture.”

The Geography Teachers conference was an amalgam of many avenues.

“I saw Anika present at the Brave New World Agriculture to 2030 Conference in Sydney in November 2018,” president of the Geography Teachers Association of NSW Lorraine Chaffer says. “Much of what she said had links to topics in the NSW Geography Syllabus. I was impressed by Anika’s positivity about the future and her message about taking action and later found a TED TALK she had made the previous year. The link to geography was very strong so I approached Anika, via Twitter, with a request to present at the GTANSW & ACT Annual Conference in Sydney – using a mix of her Brave New World and TED talks. We were not disappointed.”

Although all of Anika’s recent presentations have followed a similar theme, she finds it important to tailor each talk for the organisation. “To be impactful and give a memorable presentation, it is important to tailor every presentation to the specific audience and have a clear vision on what you want to achieve by giving your talk,” she says.

“The whole process of presenting is adaptive and ever-evolving. I always ask myself, who are my audience? What do they want to hear? What is the message I want to convey? How do I want them to feel and what do I want them to do when they leave my presentation?”

Education needs to go beyond changing what is inside people’s heads. It also needs to facilitate action by providing supportive infrastructure and practical know-how. Anika’s presentations inspire and give people tangible actions they can make as individuals, and this becomes evident at question time. “I often get questions from the audience on big global challenges, which cannot be given quick, easy answers,” Anika says.

“My response is often that I don’t know all the answers and that’s why we need all-hands-on-deck working collectively to find the solutions. Having audience buy-in is very important to me. We are all responsible in trying to find the answers to these big questions, to work together in doing that, and I am pleased if I can help start that conversation.”

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Feedback from Anika’s presentations has been positive and encouraging. Geography teachers described her as engaging, highly inspirational, informative and relevant to the curriculum they are teaching. Prime Super believes her positive outlook for the future will translate to their members having a positive outlook for their financial future.

“We have been thrilled with the event feedback, much of which has included a request to bring Anika back after her trip later this year,” Mark says. “When you get an ‘encore’ and you’re a super fund something has gone right. Anika is a delight to work with and we hope to continue to work with her in the future.”

The trip that Mark alludes to is Anika’s acceptance into the esteemed leadership program Homeward Bound and her travel to Antarctica later in the year. Remuneration from these speaking engagements will go towards Anika’s fundraising for the program, but Anika feels the speaking opportunities go beyond financial contribution.

“They provide me with a platform to share my story and topics I believe are important and they further hone my communication skills, helping me practice and learn so I can do it even better next time.”

This is proof that leadership development is indeed an evolution. Picture You in Agriculture provides transformational leadership training for young people in agriculture between the ages of 20 and 35 and young people in schools between the ages of 10 and 18. Our programs use agriculture as a foundation to inspire students and young agriculturalists to think critically and creatively about real-world issues and work collectively to take action and create real-world impact.

#ClimateActionNow #StrongerTogether #YouthVoices #YouthinAg

 

 

Lessons Learnt No 2 – Creating Confidence to Share your Story

One of the cornerstone programs conducted by Picture You in Agriculture is Young Farming Champions, which trains and encourages young agricultural professionals to share positive stories with all stakeholders, whether that is community, industry or government bodies. In our ten years of operation the methods by which this is achieved have been evaluated and refined, as the YFCs have spread their wings to share their stories – from classrooms to the international stage.

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On commencement of the YFC journey participants attend workshops held by some of Australia’s finest communication, marketing and professional development experts including Lead Workshop Facilitator Jenni Metcalfe from Econnect Communication and Greg Mills from GoAhead Business Solutions.

“Some YFCs are very nervous about speaking in front of their peers, school kids or other audiences,” Jenni says, “but once you give them a structure to follow, some tips – reinforced by video analysis – on how they can appear more confident in front of an audience, and some guidance with visual aids they actually start to enjoy presenting. At the end of the day, if you’re enthusiastic about what you do, people can’t help but listen to your story.”

The aim of the workshops is to not only create confident, independent and reflective thinkers but to equip them with skills to tackle difficult subjects and audiences. In the safety of a controlled environment new YFCs are challenged.

“It says something about the YFCs that one of the most requested training sessions is the one that is designed to be the most uncomfortable. It is awesome to work with a group of young people who are always looking to step up to new challenges,” Greg says. “The ‘Dealing with Difficult Questions’ session is designed to put YFCs in a very uncomfortable and unrelenting situation where they are challenged to answer some of the most difficult questions of agriculture in a high-pressure environment. It gives them the opportunity to practice their communication skills while getting candid feedback on their performance and they gain the confidence to handle any of the real-life situations they may encounter.”

Lucy Collingridge was one YFC to take on Greg’s session in a mock interview with The Land journalist Alex Druce.

“Due to the topic being a highly contentious and emotional issue in regional NSW, I was initially nervous about my replies to Alex’s questions,” Lucy says. “However, I remember as the interview went on and I became more comfortable with using my own experiences to answer questions, I became more confident in myself. In the end, I really enjoyed the interview and being challenged on the topic, as well as being given the opportunity to share my experiences.”

Completion of the workshops leads to YFCs entering schools with The Archibull Prize to put their new skills to the test for the first time as they stand in front of students and teachers. And from here the opportunities are endless. YFCs go on to speak at industry conferences, to the media, to give TEDx presentations, to engage with the public at agricultural shows, to speak eloquently to politicians and to put their hands up for any chance to share their messages.

Lucy now conducts media interviews in her job with NSW Local Land Services and knows the training she has received has given her the skills to tackle contentious issues with confidence.

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PhD student at Murdoch University in Perth and YFC, Calum Watt is another who credits the training with helping his career. As a barley researcher Calum is regularly called upon to present his findings to industry conferences.

“I feel confident speaking generally,” he says, “and I feel practice is a critical part in getting it right and reducing nerves. The YFC workshops have helped me articulate my thoughts far better than before.”

Perhaps the best example of how YFC creates confidence to share comes from Jo Newton who has spoken at national and international events and who recently discussed her career journey in her first podcast with Josh Farr on The Campus Experience. In the 40 minute interview Jo discussed her involvement with Enactus, while studying at the University of New England, and with Young Farming Champions and told of her journey from a nervous presenter with palm cards to today’s confident alumni who walks about the stage without any notes.

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As always, Jo paid tribute to the YFC program in the podcast.

“It’s a pretty special experience getting to work alongside these tireless, passionate, dedicated young people where we have common values and shared passion,” she said. “I feel like every day I open up my emails and see another fantastic achievement of one of our team and it fills me with so much pride to see these other young change-makers standing up for what they believe in and going out and making a difference.”

Josh identified the top quotes from Jo’s interview as

Saying thank you isn’t enough for the opportunities you can have as a young person.

In Australia less than 1 in 3 leadership positions are held by women. In agriculture its less than 1 in 7 leadership positions held by women.

I got real world project management experience hosting an event for 300 people & bringing 20 companies to Armidale. These practical real-world skills help you stand out when you’re looking for a grad job. 

We’re a group of students. We’ve discovered that we don’t really know what we’re going to be next year & we’d like to change that. This is what we’re going to do. 

I said yes to any opportunity to get up in front of people. The nerves are still there & now I see them as a good thing. A colleague said, “The butterflies are a good thing, because it means I care & if I ever get up in front of people to speak & I don’t have that’s when I’ll worry because it means I’ve stopped caring.” 

If you equip a whole team & bring the whole team on the journey you are paying it forward by giving other young people access to opportunity & they pay it forward again & you have this amazing ripple effect.

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Do you want to have the confidence to share your agricultural story?

Applications for the 2019 YFC program are now open. Find out more here 

Application Closing Date 4th April 2019

Contact Program Director Lynne Strong E: lynnestrong@pyia.com.au for an expression of interest form

 

Careers in Agriculture – offer real world skills to solve real world problems and an opportunity to have a positive impact on the world

2019 celebrates 10 years of The Archibull Prize.  The foundation strength of the program is the rigor with which we monitor and evaluate and tweak it. Creating a culture where review and evaluation are seen as critical steps to gather evidence for agriculture to make informed decisions and allocate resources smartly for community engagement activities is at the heart of everything we do.

To celebrate ten years of highly insightful data the Picture You in Agriculture team will be sharing their lessons learnt via conference presentations, blogs, posters, infographics, animations …….. All the ways the wonderful world of communication has to offer people who live in the 21st Century

LESSONS LEARNT – ONE

OPENING YOUNG EYES TO CAREERS IN AGRICULTURE

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Opening young people’s minds to the diversity of careers in agriculture that offer an opportunity to provide  practical real world skills to solve real world problems and have a positive impact on the world is a key objective of The Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions programs

Research shows the traditional source of inspiration for careers is family, friends, television celebrities and high profile sports people . Research also shows children leaving primary school have closed their minds to up to 70% of careers. Our challenge has been how to open their minds to be curious about the world of work and tap into  what motivates young people .

Research shows young people highly value careers where they can make a difference The Archibull Prize entry survey question reinforces this desire

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In their January 2018 report Drawing the Future UK charity Education and Employers explored the career aspirations of primary school children from around the world: “Early intervention can be a very cost effective, targeted way of raising children’s aspirations and broadening their horizons,” the report says. “The evidence suggests that giving children the chance to meet volunteers from the world helps them to see the meaning and relevance of the subjects they are studying at school. Embedding experiences of the real-world in learning and the school curriculum can lead to increased motivation resulting in increased educational attainment.”

The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas programs employ these strategies by assigning each school a Young Farming Champion (YFC), a young agricultural professional who is perceived as speaking from a vantage point of real authority as they earn a wage and grow a career within the industry.

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We have found the YFCs also play a key role in providing young people with role models and tackling stereotyping around gender and ethnicity, which opens their eyes to possibilities not previously considered.

We have also learnt that offering a careers competition, in conjunction with The Archibull Prize, is a positive way to extend our reach and engage students not directly involved with the program. Our annual National AgDay Careers Competition asks students to identify their strengths and interests, choose a career in agriculture and research the educational pathway to that career. In 2018 over 30 entries were received for the competition from primary and secondary schools in urban, rural and distance education environments, and 22 unique careers were identified.

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Elders wool broker and AWI YFC Samantha Wan is an example of the calibre of young professionals working with school students to encourage careers in agriculture.

Sam mentored students at Picnic Point High School in 2018 with The Archibull Prize and teacher Lisa Gourlay was particularly impressed.

“Sam arrived with three suitcases full of her own clothes that were made from 100% wool including shoes and jackets. She came with loom and finger knitting and pom poms. She came with a ball of energy and was so genuinely passionate about sharing her career and this project. She really was an inspiration.

When we looked at what jobs were available in the sheep industry we were very narrow minded thinking of the farm and the sheep. Then we meet Sam who is beautiful and young, from Blacktown, who is now working across rural Australia and internationally.”  Lisa says.

The Archibull Prize use of entry and exit surveys of students and teachers allow us to monitor the impact our Young Farming Champions are having on the students they are building relationships with.

Within these surveys word clouds are used to collate responses. The following word clouds illustrate the change in agricultural career definition from the beginning to the end of the program.

Identifying the issue 

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The Archibull Prize entry surveys show students struggle to name a career in agriculture and only identify farming related activities

Identifying the messenger and what success looks like 

Exit survey

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The Archibull Prize exit surveys year on year highlight the impact our Young Farming Champions are having on the students 

Teachers value The Archibull Prize for its capacity to provide students with the real world skills to be ready for the jobs of the future.

Join the team of teachers and students who are part of the solution. Expressions of interest for the 2019 Archibull Prize are now open and can be made by contacting Art4Agriculture National Director Lynne Strong at lynnestrong@art4agriculture.com.au

 

 

Floods, Fire and Droughts – Why would a young person enter agriculture?

It’s been a dramatic summer. Devastating floods in the northwest Queensland, fires in Tasmania and northern New South Wales and the rest of the country seemingly desiccated by drought. So why would a young person want to enter life on the land? Continuing our drought series, today we talk to Young Farming Champions James Kanaley and Martin Murray, who are both agronomists with aspirations of one day owning their own farm.

James is a consulting agronomist working with AGnVET services in Griffith with clients across southern NSW and the Riverina in a range of cropping systems. His “part-time” job is on his family’s mixed farming operation at Junee where dryland crops grow alongside merino sheep.

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Martin is based at Armatree and James’ family farm is at Junee

Martin is an agronomist for Amps Commercial based in the tiny village of Armatree in central NSW where winter cropping, including wheat and barley, generally dominates. Since his posting here last year there has barely been a crop grown. Though there have been neither floods nor fires around Armatree the country has been in drought for several years.

“It’s testing them,” Martin says of his clients. “It’s the worst one they ever experienced, the lowest rainfall they’ve ever had. It will end one day and so it’s about trying to manage the situation to get yourself through it so you are still here when it does break.”

Watching their clients work through the current drought both James and Martin have come to appreciate the need for good management and planning.

“Management is the key and this becomes even more prevalent and important in drier years,” James says. “Maximising the amount of crop or pasture out of every drop of rain and irrigation you receive is critical. A grower’s appetite for risk and their decision making can be the difference between getting themselves out of a tough situation or into serious debt.”

So what do agronomists do when there is little to no crop to look at?

“It’s a great time for upskilling,” Martin says. “There’s no reason to be sitting in the office twiddling your thumbs or driving around the same old bare paddocks so you might as well use your time productively and gain what skills you can while you’ve got the opportunity.”

To this end Martin has been attending workshops and conferences to increase his knowledge base.

Despite the quieter times James and Martin remain buoyant about agriculture’s future. Although they see ongoing problems, such as water usage in Murray-Darling, they have also seen high stock and land prices during this drought.

“If I had the money I’d definitely be buying in,” Martin says. “I’m confident there is a strong future in agriculture and the drought has really driven home the importance of risk management and having strategies to mitigate risk for when times like this come along.”

James’ agrees and cites new technologies and changes in farming practices as ways to move forward.

“Seeing what technology has enabled us to produce even in very low rainfall years like last year, gives me comfort,” he says. “Knowing that we can produce more off little rainfall going forward will give us confidence with the variable climate and rainfall events predicted. When it comes to attitude toward the drought you know the older farmers have weathered and endured a few, but the younger farmers bring enthusiasm to the table and that aids the ongoing evolution of agriculture in Australia.”

#YouthinAgVoices #strongertogether

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James and his family are looking forward to the rains and seeing the farm look like this again soon

Can you imagine hand feeding 20,000 mouths in a drought?

Continuing our Lessons Learnt from the Drought series with Young Farming Champions Peta Bradley and Bessie Thomas

Firstly some background for this story.  In Australia, a large land holding used for livestock production is known as a ‘station’. Most stations are livestock specific – classed as either sheep stations or cattle stations depending upon the type of stock raised – which is, in turn, dependent upon the suitability of the country and the rainfall. The owner of a station is known as a grazier, or pastoralist and, in many cases, Australian stations are operated on a pastoral lease. Australian sheep and cattle stations can be thousands of square kilometres in area, with the nearest neighbour hundreds of kilometres away. Some stations have over 20,000 sheep in their care.

All stock workers need to be interested in animals and handle them with patience and confidence. They need the skills to make accurate observations about livestock like judging an animal’s age by examining its teeth, and experience in treating injuries and illnesses as well as routine care requirements such as feeding, watering, mustering, droving, branding, castrating, ear tagging, weighing, vaccination and dealing with predators.

Those caring for sheep must also deal with flystrike treatments, worm control and lamb marking. Pregnant livestock need special care in late pregnancy and stockmen may have to deal with difficult births.

Apart from livestock duties, a stock person will also to inspect, maintain and repair fences, gates and yards damaged by storms, fallen trees, livestock and wildlife. Source

In the first two instalments of our drought series we talked to Young Farming Champions predominantly involved in cropping operations. Today we speak to Bessie Thomas and Peta Bradley who represent sheep and wool, and discover the strategies they have employed to survive, the changes drought has enabled and the importance of mental health and family.  Bessie and Peta’s family farms are both in NSW but very different in terms of topography , sheep carrying capacity (10:1)  and acreage  (20:1)

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The last two years have reminded both urban and rural Australia that drought is an inevitable part of the Australian landscape and its impacts are wide reaching.  Both Bessie and Peta’s families know their first priority is their families and the animals in their care and its imperative to access drought response resources promptly and maintain wellbeing.

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Bessie and husband Shannan from Burragan Station, 100km east of Wilcannia* in western New South Wales, run a merino operation in partnership with Shannan’s parents.

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Team Bradley 

Peta comes from Armatree, 100km northwest of Dubbo where her parents, Jenny and Craig, run a Border Leciester Stud and commercial merinos (with cereal and pulse cropping).

For both properties 2017 and 2018 were years of below average rainfall. “In 2018 we had 83mm for the year which is less than 30% of the annual average, and the year before was also only about 60% of the annual average,” Bessie says. “It has turned the countryside to dust and dried up dams, and the heat waves have cancelled any moisture from showers we have had.”

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Feeding sheep at Burragan Station 

Similarly Armatree has been reduced to a 300mm annual rainfall (down from the average of 520mm). “This equates to our farm being relocated to Broken Hill,” Peta says. “2019 has commenced with January being the hottest on record and zero rainfall recorded on the chart.”

Strategies common to both operations are reducing sheep numbers and feeding stock they have identified as drought resilient. At Burragan they have de-stocked by 50% and sold all of their 500 cattle, while at Armatree stock have been reduced by over a third.

“We’ve been feeding for more than 18 months which affects finances, creates time pressures and puts pressure on vehicles and trailers. It becomes mentally and physically exhausting,” Bessie says. “Feeding out hay in heat, wind and dust is some kind of torture.”

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The Bradleys ( Jenny and Craig pictured here in 2014 ) are looking forward to seeing barley crops like this one when the rains return Source

“Our farm stores enough fodder to feed all stock including finishing lambs for a full twelve month period, well beyond a normal drought,” Peta says, “but we used all stored fodder in 2017 and have had to purchase fodder for 2018. To accommodate this cost we have maintained selected breeding stock only. We have also sold lambs as early as possible after weaning, undertaken measurements on stud stock lambs as early as permissible and selected the stock we want to keep  well ahead of normal time frames.

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Some lambs getting ready to be weighed through the automatic drafter/scales at the Bradley’s farm.

The measurements the Bradley’s take before they decide which animals they will keep include:

  • Body weights (weaning – 12 weeks of age, 5 months and 7 months)
  • Ultrasound fat and muscle measurements
  • Scrotal circumference on rams

In total an animal that is retained as a breeding ewe on the Bradley farm has in excess of 50 measurements recorded in her lifetime. These measurements are taken to be put into the genetic evaluation for sheep – allowing them to choose the animals that are genetically the best to breed from.

Weaning early, utilising confinement feeding and drought lots and always remaining flexible in our management decisions have been ways of dealing with this drought.

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The Bradley’s select their sheep for productivity. Every now and then you come across a special sheep. This ewe is having triplets again – for the fourth year in a row! She has reared 9 lambs in three years. 

Weaning early in drought is important as lambs are competing with their mothers for grain. This allows the ewes an opportunity to get back into condition faster and also removes the competition for grain and fodder from the breeding ewes on the lambs.

Even the wool clip has been negatively impacted. Heavy, dust-laden wool sells for fewer dollars per bale.

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But surprisingly the drought has had upsides. For years the Thomas’ had been discussing keeping Burragan purely as a merino property and transitioning Shannan’s parent’s property into dorpers, and that is a vision the drought has enabled/forced them to do. The drought has also highlighted the need for planning and flexibility in plans, and the critical need to put people first.

“Ensuring that we make time for ourselves and the family whether it is maintaining exercise routines, weekends away or taking family holidays are as important, if not more so, as practical farming,” Peta says, “as is the importance of networking to ensure we are operating at best practice.”

Bessie copes with the drought by downloading her thoughts and images through social media and this compilation of her 2018  year has led to the family being offered a week’s holiday at Port Stephens, courtesy of the huge generosity of Alloggio.com.au owners Will and Karen Creedon, the Port Stephens Council and Hon. Scot MacDonald MLC

And although the constant raised dust is destructive to the land – filling grids and yards, blocking gateways and covering fences – Bessie can still find joy.

Dust

“The dust storms are ominous and interesting, I quite enjoy the dramatic skies that come with them – as long as I am safely in the house!” Bessie says

*Think it’s hot at your place? A property near Wilcannia broke the record for Australia’s highest overnight temperature in mid-January, reaching a minimum of 35.9C.

Thanks Bessie and Peta we know that by you sharing your stories you will give hope to others facing similar challenges

#StrongerTogether #YouthVoices19 #ThisisAusAg #YouthinAg

See Andrea Davy’s wonderful story on Bessie in the Rural Weekly here 

Read Peta’s story in The Land here

Visit the NSW DPI Drought Hub here for more information