Cotton enthusiast Liz Munn believes in reaping what you sow

Liz Munn brings us today’s guest blog which takes us on an 800km journey that begins and ends with cotton. The 21 year old technical officer with the DPI lives by the motto “You can only take out what you put in” and believes the more people show their confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry, the more it will become contagious!

Here’s Liz’s story…

My name is Liz Munn, I am 21 years old and I’ve just moved 800km across the state to work in the field I love – cotton!

Home for me is the rural community of Moree in the North West Slopes and Plains of NSW. It’s the centre of a large agricultural area, known for the rich black vertosol soils which allow crops such as cotton to thrive and is also renowned for its natural hot springs. In the past few years the community has been brought together in crises of major flooding, fires and drought, but the people always manage to come out stronger.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

#youthinag why I believe in strength in numbers.

Todays guest blog comes from Wool Young Farming Champion and PhD student Jo Newton

Jo is one of the growing number of young people who grew up in the city who are attracted to career pathways that support Australian farmers and food and fibre production in this country. At Art4Agriculture we believe our role is to help empower the younger generation of rural entrepreneurs to drive the direction and take ownership of the future of the agricultural sector.

We believe the fastest way to do this is cross industry programs and networks that bring young people from every food and fibre industry together to work towards a connected, cohesive, profitable and respected agrifood sector

As you can see from Jo’s blog she has sought out and tapped into many of these programs and she shares that exciting journey with you today……….

I believe the multitude of #youthinag groups across Australia is one of our greatest strengths as an industry. Since I became a country convert 6 ½ years ago I have felt truly lucky to have become a part of the agricultural community. Somewhat ironically, in the last couple of years it has been by old school friends from Melbourne who have made me realize just how lucky I am, and we as an industry are.

Around 2 years ago a few girlfriends and I were out to tea and a catch up. Having all graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in the last couple of years conversation quickly turned to our future career paths. My girlfriends were flabbergasted when I started talking about some of the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to take part in as a young person in agriculture. They were blown away by the magnitude of programs such as the RAS Rural Achiever Program and the Woolworths Agricultural Business Scholarship program and wished that their industries offered similar professional development opportunities for young professionals. As an aside if anyone has heard of professional development programs of scholarships for young people in the health professions or social work my girlfriends would love to know.

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Pictured above: the 2013 Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Rural Achievers, I’m third from the right in the front row & 2014 GRDC YFC Dwayne is in the middle of the back row

Whilst clearly enjoying their new careers, my friends raised another challenge that entry to the working world had brought. They often found themselves surrounded by people much older than them at work which is definitely something I am able to relate to. My friends talked about the challenge of meeting other young people in their profession and I asked them if their industries had a youth network, council or group and received negative answers. At this point I realized just how lucky I am to work in agriculture.

Given a choice of many youth groups from my industry to be a part of or none at all, I’m certainly glad to have the former. Since I moved to Armidale these #youthinag groups have been vital for me to meet other young agri-professionals. Whilst I may be the youngest person in the office, the various different #youthinag groups provide me with the opportunity to network with a whole range of other young like-minded people. Different groups have provided me with different opportunities; from social gatherings, forums, newsletters, fieldtrips, scholarships, conferences and networking events I believe I have got something different from all the groups I am a part of.

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Picture: in 2013 my involvement with #youthinag saw me represent my university & Australia at the Enactus World Cup in Mexico

I often hear that having too many groups is a weakness. I prefer to think of our diversity as a potential strength. Earlier this year I had the privilege of being funded by AWI to attend YAC (Youth Agricultural Central) organized by the Future Farmers Network (FFN). It was an electrifying experience and over the two days I learnt that many of the groups face similar challenges. I also enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with like-minded young professionals all passionate about agriculture’s future. Whilst each #youthinag group might offer something different to members, our strength will be multiplied many times over if we come together and unite on key issues to achieve lasting change. The annual YAC conferences organized by FFN are a great forum to build connectedness between our groups and I hope to see them continue to grow from strength to strength.

Having just recovered from my 2014 Sydney Show experience I am yet again amazed by the strength of the #youthinag network and the admiration, loyalty and support we display to one another. The stands of the amphitheater were packed by #youthinag supporting their peers during the 2014 Land Sydney Royal Showgirl Announcements and Rural Achiever Public Speaking showcase whilst the annual Catchup at the Royal was filled with young people from many different #youthinag groups.

With such a strong network of passionate young people, which I consider to be stronger than youth networks in other industries, how can you not be excited about the future of agriculture.

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Picture: How many #youthinag groups can you fit in a photo? NSW Young Farmers, RAS Youth Group, ASC of NSW Youth Group and Art4Ag YFCs catch up at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

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