The world needs creative, innovative and courageous young people who can connect, collaborate and act. We know that youth may only be 20% of the population but they are 100% of the future. The time is now to let them share their dreams and design the future they want to see.
This week’s Young Farming Champions stories from around the country
In the Field
Cotton Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens takes out this year’s award for the most fields visited having covered over 6000km from Dalby, QLD, to Hay, NSW, and up to Kununurra, WA, to pick the world’s strongest and whitest cotton.
What a way to see Australia, driving very big toys! We can’t wait to hear more about cotton picking on the Ord River, Alexander.
Wool Young Farming Champion Emma Turner spent last week home on the station collecting data for her honours thesis looking at the differences between 6 monthly and 12 monthly shearing. It involved lots of colour:
YFC Anika Molesworth jetted off to Argentina this morning. By invitation from the Argentine Agriculture Minister, Anika will be visiting farms, running workshops with young farmers and presenting on global agricultural challenges and opportunities.
This program coincides with the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, and part of her brief is to collaborate with young South American farmers to prepare a report for the Ministers on the vision of strong and resilient farming sectors, enabling young farmers, and promoting future industry leaders. Anika will be working with Australian Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and visiting farmer groups to discuss collaborative relationships between countries and tackling the industry’s big challenges.
YFC Sam Coggins has just returned from Myanmar where he reviewed three Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) projects looking at pulses, soil mapping and nitrogen fertiliser efficiency. The three projects aim to improve food security and farmer livelihoods. Read more about what ACIAR is doing in Myanmar here
We are very excited to announce the Rice industry has joined the Art4Agriculture team and our very first Rice Young Farming Champion is Erika Heffer. Welcome Erika and thank you the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia. We’re really looking forward to working together. Read the story here
Yesterday our MOO MOOVERS delivered their 30th Archie for 2018. This means all schools participating in The Archibull Prize 2018 now have their big white canvas for inspiration.
Cartage of these big white canvases is one of the major costs of The Archibull Prize program and one big reason the program is not yet Australia wide.
Our MOO MOOVERS are very special people and moving the Archies is one of their favourite deliveries. This is because the arrival of Archie brings so much joy to the schools.
This year it was especially tough to decide who would be participating. We had some excellent entries from schools well outside our current funding partner zones and we reached out to potential partners who could support those schools.
Educating our young people is the responsibility of the entire community, not just schools. The Archibull Prize encourages schools, businesses, farming industries and communities to form partnerships to improve outcomes for young people and to recognise that by working together they can achieve far more than working alone. Partnerships can lead to better morale among teachers and the better use of resources within schools, leading to improved education outcomes for young people. Business can also experience improved staff morale, better awareness of their industry and community recognition.
Thank you so much to the organisations who came on board you will be well rewarded with lots of Archie love in your community. For other organisations who would like to support schools in far flung places in rural Australia in 2019, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Here is just one example of what your support can do
“Bovinity has been a focal point of the school community and the entire town of Murwillumbah. Her staged travels throughout the town were published on WordPress and then transferred to the school Facebook account. Our following was very well received and highly talked about. We have had offers of additional help to the school farm and the show team from our tours around Murwillumbah. This school farm and parts of township were devastated by floods in 2017 and Bovinity has become a local icon. School cohesion and pride were the most important factors brought forward from the students. Bovinity is what our school needed after the floods. A little bit of silliness and tongue and cheek made the school and town smile. Her story is important to so many students and their families.” – Murwillumbah High School Secondary Teachers David Anderson and Diana Martin
This year a special shout out to Riverina, Northern Tablelands and Hunter Local Land Services who go above and beyond and University of New England for supporting schools in rural and regional NSW.
And a huge shout out to our MOO MOOVERS. As some of our Archie recipients know they have some hysterical stories they could tell about what happens on the road and in squashed goods lifts in very tall buildings but their lips are sealed.
Young people are in a unique position as they face the reality of an uncertain future but potentially they are bestplaced to push for and define the long-term societal response to the planet they envision. They are also the most vulnerable to the legacy of decisions made by older generations. Although young adults arguably have the most to gain and the most to lose their voices are not prominent, and too often engagement with this crucial demographic is in many ways limited. The Archibull Prize seeks to enable and empower students to make decisions and take actions that contribute to creating a sustainable future. To assist the students on their journey we pair them with young professionals (Young Farming Champions) from the agriculture sector.
Around half the world is under 30 and nine in ten of these young people live in developing countries.
Some are calling it Peak Youth – never before have there been so many young people in this world.
Due to this, their voices are going to be heard, and their actions are going to be felt. Their presence in global to local issues will be known. Why do I think this? Because the young generation are now more educated, tech-savvy and connected than ever before. And they care about their future.
This is why youth coalitions are growing and hashtags like #YouthVoices18 matter.
Young people restless for change are striving for fair, just and ecologically-sustainable development.
The youth today are going to face challenges like never felt before in history.
Climate change, forced migration and ecological degradation to name a few.
When natural environments cease to function as they should, and communities fracture and disperse, young people are caught in the wave of consequences from past actions and inactions.
But the youth also play an important role in overcoming these challenges.
Youth voices are particularly powerful.
Their smart-phone megaphones and global cyber-networks mean ideas and information are shared instantaneously. They see the injustices, they hear of the biological-plundering, and they are motivated to speak up, knuckle down and swipe-left on the status-quo.
For instance, young people in many parts of the world are calling on their governments to do more to prevent harmful climate change impacts. They say the failure to protect their future by slow or inadequate action violates the rights of young people to life, liberty and property enjoyed by previous generations. The idleness to set in place policies and structures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions exacerbates the risk and intensity of droughts, bushfires and floods – severely impacting those setting out on a career in agriculture.
Young people pursuing farming have no small task on their hands. Striving for high quality produce and global food security whilst reducing our environmental footprint is one of the most significant challenges of our time. Many experts predict that by 2050, population demands from nearly 10 billion people will require a 60% increase in global food production or a significant change to the global distribution, storage, consumption and access to food. Education and empowerment of young people in agriculture is critical.
When planning a brighter future, we need to be guided by young people, drawing upon their energy, creativity and skills for positive change. There are so many exciting young people working in genetics, soil science, irrigation engineering, carbon capture research, etc. – powering ahead in research, technology development and sharing their stories. Our leaders must not only acknowledge their interest, but seek the input of the youth, to implement measures that effectively protect young citizens from the foreseeable impacts of the ‘mega-challenges’ like climate change, and provide the platforms for young people to rewrite the narrative.
Young people in agriculture are taking a seat at the solutions dining table.
Their restless desire to change the trajectory should serve us all food for thought.
As the people who will be most greatly impacted by climate change, social upheaval and ecological unravelling, they need to be armed with the skills and knowledge to face these head-on, and they need to be part of developing the global redesign.
When given the capacity, support and trust – these restless young people push the boundaries and become a force for ambitious positive change.
On Primary School Preview Day Young Farming Champion Jasmine Whitten and intern Jessica Fearnley ran the Eggs-cellent workshop where students were given a 15 minutesnapshot of how farmers ensure that only the very best eggs make it into the carton in their fridge
First stop was a tour of the Cattle Pavilions were RAS Youth Group member Rachel Rodney provided insights into the planning required to bring in the animal exhibits in the short turn around time between the show closing at night and opening next morning Quite a feat when you think over 400 cattle may be moving in and out in a six hour period.
The YFC then moved to the Woolworths Dome and met with some of the teams behind the District Exhibit displays and discovered there is over 12 months of planing to bring those magnificent display to life.
It was then onto the Poultry Pavilion where RAS Rural Achiever Joe Murphy shared with the YFC his journey to become a Rural Achiever and the role of the Rural Achievers in assisting with running events at the show.
RAS Youth Group members Tobie Payne and Andrew Horne then introduced the YFC to the media centre team and the main arena announcers. The YFC discovered the Showground facilities entertain up to 1,000,000 people during the 12 days of the show and provide venues for sporting and community events for the other 353 days of the year.
Each year at the show there is a strong focus on providing visitors with genuine and fun agricultural experiences. As it happens Young Farming Champion Tim Eyes is the night manager of one we think is brilliant ( almost as impressive as The Food Farm)
Little Hands on the Land is a working farm in The Daily Telegraph Paddock teaching kids from 2 to 10 the crop-to-shop agriculture story. Its a free activity that takes the little farmers on a journey through 10 stations including a milking barn, chook shed, fruit orchard, tractor pull and more before they get to the farmer’s market to trade their produce for farm dollars. Their hard-earned farm dollars can be spent at the last station – the supermarket.
In this video Tim explains how Little Hands on the Land works in the video below and our Young Farming Champions very enthusiastically took up the offer to show you what a whirlwind Little Hands Experience is like .
As you can see a good time was had by all including our intern for 2018 Haylee Murrell who assisted YFC Tayla Field to run the Seed to Salad workshop
When I was fifteen my school careers adviser told me “You can’t become a farmer because that’s a boy’s job!”.
It was clear that she didn’t know me very well. My upbringing has shown me there are no ‘boy jobs’ or ‘girl jobs’, especially in agriculture! Rather than accepting this outdated notion, it kickstarted my journey to a career in agriculture.
Welcome to Jasmine Whitten’s story ………
The one thing everyone will tell you about me is that I ask ALOT of questions. I was fortunate to grow up on a diverse farm near Tamworth which produced beef cattle, wool and Lucerne hay. Spare a thought for my parents who were bombarded with questions from the day I learnt to talk. Anything from why are we feeding out hay or what does this broken part on the tractor do?
I can almost guarantee I asked that exact question just before this photo was taken and I was told to go grab the hammer from the ute.
I loved life on the farm. No day was ever the same and I never missed a chance to do things better or faster than my siblings.
My first paid job was helping to unload a truck load of hay at the age of 8. When you live an hour out of town it can be difficult to make it to sporting commitments. So, I always knew it was highly unlikely that I was going to end up being an athlete, unless, they made hay moving a sport?
In high school, I joined the school cattle team to learn more about agriculture and prepare and show cattle. My parents shared my passion and it wasn’t hard to convince them to do the two-hour return trip to pick me up from the after-school training sessions.
I was very surprised to learn that most of my peers on the cattle team were urban kids and I was one that grew up on a farm. But I had just as much to learn as they did.
The cattle team taught me so much more than learning to care for animals. It taught me public speaking, team work, the role of a mentor and how to pass my knowledge onto others (which was perhaps the greatest challenge but the most rewarding).
In hindsight the most important discovery is I now know how important is to have role models, mentors and just people that believe in you 100%. For me, it was people like Kate Lumber. I first met Kate at school where she passed on her cattle showing skills, coached me in meat judging at university and encouraged me to take every opportunity along the way. She now works as an agronomist in Moree.
Going to country shows are some of the best memories as I have. I have made lifelong friendships, met people from all over Australia and built rural networks I know I can tap into for support and advice on my career journey.
I always set the bar high for myself and I was determined to be the best I possibly could at cattle showing and judging. After every competition I would go up to the judge and saying “how can I improve?”
They were always so supportive, taking me through what I could tweak better next time. This commitment to continuous improvement paid off. After four years of showing and judging cattle I was awarded first prize at the Sydney Royal Stud Beef Cattle Judging Competition. At 17, I was the youngest in the class and I was so proud that I had put in the effort to achieve my goal. To this day I still give back to the show movement by volunteering at youth camps and local shows whenever I can.
I am now following my dreams and studying a Bachelor of Rural science at the University of New England. This degree gives me an opportunity to gain experience all over Australia and I take every opportunity I can. I have worked as a Jillaroo on properties near Rockhampton, Hughenden and Kununurra. I have even competed in meat judging competitions, participated in animal welfare research, worked for an agricultural consultancy companies, through to product sales and learning what it takes to be an auctioneer.
The UNE meat judging team on judging day!
My day in the office as a part of the auctioneering team at Tamworth sale yards.
The opportunities I have been given have allowed me to find my niche in the egg industry. The technology and innovation in the industry is phenomenal. Egg farms are continually investing in the application of new technologies which is having huge rewards for both the hens and those who work in the industry. Working on an egg farm requires extensive knowledge in the areas of environmental stewardship, animal nutrition and best practice animal wellbeing just to name a few. It’s a rapidly changing industry which has captivated my interests completely!
I can’t wait to go back to my school and share with my careers advisor that agriculture isn’t just about being a farmer and you certainly don’t have to be a boy.
You can be a vet, IT technician, agronomist, policy maker, researcher, journalist, accountant and many more with some jobs are not even created yet!
“I still remember in Year 10 being told by the counsellor at my old school that the farm was no place for a woman,” she said
“But we’re not going to be the cooks anymore. We’re going to be industry leaders. We’re going to be the ones telling the boys what to do.” Source
There will always be barriers to stop you achieving your goals. Don’t let stereotypes around what careers women or men should or should not follow blind you…… You can be anything you want to be! Seek out people who have followed the career path you aspire to, ask questions, and learn from those who have gone before you.
Find a way to climb over, push through or blow up your barriers and most importantly never forget to look back to help others climb over and push through their barriers.
It is undeniable that teachers have a major impact on student learning and career choices. We have all heard stories about teachers discouraging students from following career pathways in the agriculture sector. Why is this so?
Industry image also plays a key role in the ability to attract young people into the agriculture sector.
Its hard to be what you cant see. Our Young Farming Championsare proving to be the ideal role models to inspire talented young people to choose agriculture related career pathways
“The language typically used in the farming sector to describe the roles of those employed in the industry is out-dated and reflects a mindset which is unattractive to young people. Farm jobs are advertised in terms such as farm hand, station hand, milker and shearer. These terms suggest low levels of skills, training, intellectual content and consequently low status. This is an inaccurate picture of the actual requirements of the contemporary farm employee. Farms require highly motivated, intellectually capable and broadly competent workers. They need people who are able to deal with a wide range of practical problems promptly and with ingenuity. Farm workers need to keep up with the latest research and developments in agronomy and business management. They need to be able to operate and maintain a wide range of technologies from the mechanical to the digital. They need to understand the impacts of global events and markets as well as local policy and market variables. They need significant financial planning and management skills, as they may be dealing with multimillion dollar budgets and regular transactions in the hundreds of thousands. These are exciting, diverse and challenging roles. Little of this comes across in the current nomenclature used to describe jobs in the agricultural sector and in the way the industry is depicted in the media and popular culture”Source
The Archibull Prize program entry surveys confirm this outdated image of careers in agriculture with students struggling to identify careers in the sector beyond farming related activities. Most of the students’ words were about activities that farmers did i.e. feeding, harvesting, gardening, shearing, milking, watering.
In following Word clouds the larger the word in the visual the more common the word was used by the students.
‘In 2017, more than 323,000 people were employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing but if you consider those employed in the farm input and output sectors, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) says agriculture supports more than 1.6 million jobs in areas like transport and logistics, retail and processing. That means roughly 80 per cent of agricultural jobs are beyond the farm gate and the opportunities are wide and varied.’ Source
With 80% of careers supporting farmers both beyond and behind the farmgate year on year The Archibull Prize evaluation shows us the key to success is exposing teachers and students to exciting young professionals working in diverse roles in the agriculture sector. A key hook for both teachers and students is the innovation, science and technology that drives 21st century farming. It is also pivotal agriculture provides them with the tools to workshop the diversity of careers.
Students and teachers relate to exciting young professionals working in the agriculture sector
By the end of the competition students have a specific and varied repertoire related to actual career classifications rather than jobs around the farm. This is evident with more technical words being used i.e. agronomist, vet, engineer, scientist, geneticist.
With a large cohort of our Young Farming Champions being scientists and agronomists their impact is evident through the high numbers of students who listed ‘Agronomist’ or ‘Scientist’ role. This is further confirmed as students listed their top three choices of careers in agriculture they would consider.
Students as the end of The Archibull Prize were asked to list their top three choices of careers in agriculture
With 89% of teachers in The Archibull Prize exit survey saying they were now confident teaching about careers in Agriculture and a 52% increase in the number of teachers who STRONGLY AGREED there are lots of opportunities for jobs and careers in agriculture its clear we have found a winning formula
The Archibull Prize program design allows agriculture to be embedded into the school curriculum across subject areas its hasn’t been traditionally able to reach. After participating in the program 83% of teachers said they would use learning activities about agriculture in other areas of their teaching.
Today’s guest blog comes from Calum Watt who’s dedicating his days to producing the best barley crops for your beer. A love of plants – and particularly broadacre cropping systems – has lead him to study a Masters of Agricultural Science specialising in genetics and plant breeding. He enjoys a challenge, telling a yarn, and sharing a cold one.
Here’s Calum’s story…
G’day! I’m Calum Watt, and I’m currently an agriculture student at the University of Western Australia hailing from a town called Harvey in the southwest of Australia’s biggest state. I’m the eldest of two boys, although still the shortest which is somewhat a laughing matter for the rest of the family. I’ve lived in Harvey most of my life having moved around country communities as the old man got flung from one ag college to the next.
Transport to grab the mail is a bit different in Harvey
Whilst farming and agriculture in general have always been an interest for me, I can’t claim that I’m a fourth generation this, or a second generation that, and it’s unlikely that our small hobby farm will be passed down to me (much as I’d like it to be). Nevertheless, I cannot complain with the ‘Old Macdonald’ style farm I grew up on; it gave me the opportunity to see what I liked and didn’t like in agriculture…sheep being top of that list.
Being a dairy and orchard farming community, Harvey was completely different to the broadacre farms around Narrogin where I hailed from before “cow-town.” Although I’ve called Harvey home it still gave me a kick to tell people during my schooling that I was from somewhere else, somewhere where agriculture was the driving force of the community. Having schooled in Bunbury, most of my peers were either from farms similar to me or “townies,” as we called them. Although our farms were relatively small people were often really intrigued about what went on, what we grew, bred or otherwise did and I often got called a country hick even though I seemed far from it.
High school for me was nothing glamorous. I had wanted to attend the local agricultural college but having my dad as deputy principal meant it would’ve complicated things. School was a means to get to Uni. Math, English, chemistry, physics and geography were the subjects I had at my disposal with the end goal being a botany degree at UWA.
One of only two to graduate Botany
Why botany? Well I’d always preferred plants, especially crops, to animals and botany was a way of following my agricultural interest without having to do an Ag Science degree and all the animal units that it entailed. To ease my transition from Harvey to Perth I went to a residential college where I met my current friends, who unlike me, are all from broadacre farms dotted around the wheatbelt, something I’m slightly envious about. Being able to travel to their farms deepened my interest in broadacre cropping and on completion of my undergraduate degree, I enrolled straight into a Masters of Agricultural Science specialising in genetics and plant breeding.
Genetics units during my undergrad instilled an interest in me to make meaningful change. Understanding that the nature of farming is changing for good or worse made me want to integrate genetics and crops into the notion that I could become a crop breeder. My ambition is to be the bloke who makes the crosses that result in a crop variety that is bigger and better in every sense possible. Whilst this may be challenging, it drives me to excel in my studies and makes me aware of new opportunities to better my understanding of broadacre cropping.
The scale and uniformity of a crop is amazing
Networking with industry is enabling me to develop a position as a future leader in this field and has provided me with the opportunity to complete my masters research project jointly with the private cereal breeding company Intergrain. If you’re not aware already, aluminium toxicity significantly impacts the ability of a crop to obtain nutrients and water, ultimately resulting in lower yields; something no farmer is out to chase. My thesis is looking into this issue from a genetic perspective and trying to ascertain if there are significant benefits to genetic tolerance, and whether genetic tolerance may or may not lead to a yield penalty.
No doubt you’re already watering at the mouth at the thought of a cold barley made frothy and it’s in my interest to make sure that aluminium isn’t a factor in depriving you of the opportunity.
Innovation Generation – Canberra 2015
So now you may be aware that my path to agriculture has been slightly different to some and how my interest has changed and grown substantially over time.
One thing I know for certain is that the agricultural sector is so diversified that something exciting is always happening and this is why I want to be a part of it.
Today I got an insight into a career option that never occurred to me and most definitely would never sit on my wish list.
But I found out today there are plenty of young people much braver than me and very excited to consider a career as a herpetologist
If amphibians and reptiles are your passion then TAFE NSW has the perfect course for you
After a meeting with the bright minds of the agricultural education arm at the Sydney Royal Easter Show I took up the opportunity to call in at The Stables.and sit in on a great initiative in process that is a result of a partnership between TAFE NSW – WSI and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW
This week saw the roll out of the latest round of Career Readiness Programs in Animal Care and Equine. The programs are designed to open pathways and provide learners with a sense of possible career options.
Each program offers a one week intensive ‘hands on’ course handling animals at the state of the art facilities of the Sydney Showground. Students are trained by the industry expert teachers from Richmond TAFE and enjoy a range of guest speakers throughout the week. The program is facilitated through a simulated work environment, providing learners with a taste of employment options.
The program provides students with advice on suitable career options in their chosen area of industry and assists them to develop pathway programs suited to their skill levels.
Liz Munn brings us today’s guest blog which takes us on an 800km journey that begins and ends with cotton. The 21 year old technical officer with the DPI lives by the motto “You can only take out what you put in” and believes the more people show their confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry, the more it will become contagious!
Here’s Liz’s story…
My name is Liz Munn, I am 21 years old and I’ve just moved 800km across the state to work in the field I love – cotton!
Home for me is the rural community of Moree in the North West Slopes and Plains of NSW. It’s the centre of a large agricultural area, known for the rich black vertosol soils which allow crops such as cotton to thrive and is also renowned for its natural hot springs. In the past few years the community has been brought together in crises of major flooding, fires and drought, but the people always manage to come out stronger.
At the Sydney Royal Easter Show, about to accept the Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship in 2014.
I believe that for a rural agricultural region to survive it needs a supportive, cohesive community – and I love to get involved! I work with groups such as the Moree Show Society, Leeton Show Society, NSW Farmers, ASC Youth group, ASC Group 14 Ambassador, and the Young NSW Farmers group. I love that show events bring the whole community together to experience all of the rural and agricultural aspects of the area. Getting amongst the hive of activity not only keep me up to date with what is happening in the agricultural industry at a regional basis, but also at a legislative and national basis.
My love of the land came from my grandfather. Some of my best childhood moments was the time spent following him around the farm and learning as I went. He had a mixed farming enterprise, so my parents and I helped with jobs such as lamb and calf marking, shearing, tractor driving and harvest. Over the years the farm changed to focus more on grain growing.
My grandfather taught me that you can only take out what you put in; which is a good motto not just for agriculture but for life in general and I have followed it throughout my life.
Looking after a poddy lamb named Claire after it lost its mother.
At school in Moree I was the type of kid that enjoyed getting involved with everything. I was sporting house captain in year 11 and a school leader in year 12. I was active in a range of sports from horses to soccer, and was lucky enough to compete at state level in Sydney for athletics. I also loved learning to play classical violin for five years, and won a few awards along the way.
When it was time to think about university degrees my interest in agriculture lead me to a Bachelor of Environmental Science at University of New England.
I lived at St Albert’s College where made many friends and was introduced to several sporting, academic, and cultural groups. I was highly active in the college’s netball and chugby (women’s rugby) teams and also held the position of pastoral advisor (PA) where I supported my fellow students in any way possible and helped organise events.
On the far right of the top row, after we played our first game of chugby in 2013.
My Environmental Science degree has given me a deeper insight into the need for a partnership between the needs of the native landscape and productive landscape and instilled the importance of preserving the productive farmland that we are lucky enough to have in Australia.
Agriculture is a constantly evolving industry and there is an important place for leaders who are up to date with the latest technologies and techniques to give the best protection against our unpredictable seasons while also enhancing competitiveness on the world market. The cotton industry in particular is at the forefront of innovation, and so I took my first steps to become involved.
During my first two summer breaks at university, I worked for a local agronomist as a cotton crop scout. When I first applied for the position I considered it purely a learning experience. But the more I learned, the more I enjoyed myself. I found the cotton industry fascinating! Now I’m striving to become an agronomist.
In just a few years I have worked with many great people who were as enthusiastic about the industry as I now am too. Last year I toured one of the local cotton gins where we were shown all of the aspects of the ginning process. I also completed two subjects directly related to cotton and its management.
My dedication to regional communities and agriculture was last year rewarded with the 2014 Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship for my work in agriculture and my local show society, as well being appointed as an ambassador for the Agricultural Societies Council (ASC) group 14.
Checking some of the first open bolls for the 2014/2015 season.
This year my career has taken off. When I finished my degree in late 2014 there was a drought around Moree so I had to move to southern NSW, almost 800km away to a town I had never been to, to start my career.
In January 2015 I began working with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at Yanco in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area doing research into integrated pest management in cotton. Cotton is a relatively new crop for this region, so I am at the forefront of its progression and success. I am a technical officer, collecting field data, managing and organising others in the field, consulting with growers, and assisting in the creation of trials and data collection methods of those trials.
To most people involved in agriculture it is not just an industry, but a lifestyle that travels down the generations. According to the National Farmers Federation, 99% of all Australian farms are family owned.
Agriculture influences every person in the world even if they are purely a consumer.
With a fast growing population and unpredictable climate, I believe we must protect farms for future generations, and it must be done sustainably and profitably.
I would also like to help change the stereotypical image of the average Aussie farmer. Agriculture is a great industry for young people and women. There are so many fantastic things to attract young people and as an industry we need to make sure we are looking after our youth, helping them survive and flourish so the industry can too.
Agriculture provides 1.6 million jobs to the Australian economy, but there is still miscommunication between farmers and consumers. I believe we need more communication to build support from the community and it is vital our farmers are supported in every sector.
People involved in Australian agriculture put everything into it and I want to make sure that they can always get out what they put in.
There are so many young agriculturalists in Australia trying to make their voice heard, as I am. I want to be involved in advocacy for the cotton industry, particularly through engaging with consumers of Aussie cotton. I believe the industry can reach its goals. The more people who get involved and strive to enhance their skills, the more our confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry will become contagious. We will get out what we put in.
Today’s guest blog from Emma Ayliffe starts on a sheep station in outback South Australia and takes us to the lush lakebed cropping fields of one of New South Wales’s most unique cotton operations. She’s a girl from the bush who’s found her way back again as on-farm agronomist, an enthusiastic photographer and a lover of all things crops and cotton.
This is Emma’s story…
I have always had a love of the bush and that is where my journey began, on a station in the North-West Pastoral District of South Australia. I spent my childhood riding my horse behind mobs of wild merinos on stations west of Port Augusta and grew up a typical station kid. In between School of the Air lessons my days were spent outside on water runs, mustering and ‘helping’ dad and the station hands out in the shed.
So how exactly does a station girl from half way between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy end up growing cotton on the bottom of the Menindee Lakes…?
My father has always been passionate about agriculture and I guess that rubbed off on my mum and me too. When I was 12 my parents moved me and my two younger sisters closer to a town so we didn’t have to go to boarding school and this opened up a whole new world to us. Along with the introduction of ‘normal’ school we were introduced to world of cropping. And although we had moved from a world of station dust to tractors and green paddocks my father was as keen as always to get us involved where ever possible.
As part of Uni my year helped set up an “Ag Experience” trip overseas. It was a lot of hard work but we successfully got sponsorship for our trip to India and it was amazing. We toured research facilities and met with farmers. We viewed community farming groups and toured rural villages. It was amazing to see the variation in this country from the richest farmers who owned tractors and employed workers, to the poorest of farmers who were still planting their crops by hand. I had a go at cutting rice straw, which is a lot harder than it looks, as well as visiting some of the tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal.
After completing Uni I began working in broad acre agronomy in the mid-north of South Australia and spent a lot of my time in fields of canola and wheat. I had a great boss and mentor who really helped me to get even more excited about the career path that I had chosen. After a little over a year I decided that it was time for a change of scenery and a new challenge, so I began hunting for my next big thing.
I stumbled across an advertisement for an on farm cotton agronomist working in the bush, and I though what a perfect combination of the career I have chosen and my love for the outback so I applied. Tandou is an amazing place to see for the first time. I still remember driving out for my interview, 140 kilometres south of Broken Hill, in western NSW, rounding a bend and over a sand hill to see the fields of green…
I had only seen cotton once in my life, so I had no clue about how to grow it, but I got the job, packed up my stuff and moved in to my one bedroom Jayco unit (in the middle of 24 other units!) and had my first experience with irrigation and cotton. Nearly two and a half years later, it is the best decision I have ever made!
I am an on-farm agronomist working at Lake Tandou, 50 kilometres out of Menindee at the bottom of the Menindee Lakes. My job includes everything from rotation and fertiliser programs, irrigation scheduling, insect and weed management and picking through to driving tractors, loading seed trucks, taking people on farm tours and fixing things. It is an amazing job that has helped grow my skills as an agronomist, but also my general life skills. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with a range of amazing people!
As part of my job now I have found a love for photography. I spend some time every week taking pictures of the crops and the operations around the farm to document the growing of the crop, as well as the unique operation that we run here at Tandou.
Cotton is an amazing crop and an an amazing industry to be part of. Coming from SA – and downstream of the Murray-Darling river system – I grew up hearing many misinformed negatives about it. But it’s not until you immerse yourself into this world that you truly appreciate how the industry is so open and excited about sharing its story. There is great comradeliness and flow of information between growers and everyone is willing to help everyone else out and share their success stories.
It is hard not to have love, enthusiasm and motivation for a job that is so diverse in an industry that is at the forefront of many aspects of agriculture and provides so many opportunities to learn, network and get involved. I find myself talking to anyone who will listen about the good stuff and the challenges and the opportunities; I am sure that people must get sick of me talking cotton!
While working here I have also become the secretary of the Menindee and Lower Darling Cotton Growers Association, one of the most unique as we only have one grower, which is us! Through this I have been able to start sharing my love and passion for the job with the future agriculturalists of Australia as we often support events at the local school in Menindee as well as facilitating farm visits for other schools from cities like Mildura. This gives kids an opportunity to see what agriculture is actually about and helps dispel many myths that people still have about the cotton industry.
I love my job, I love the outback, I love sharing what I know and enjoying this journey!