Meet Casey Onus who says choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life

It is that exciting time of year for the team at Art4Agriculture where over the next eight weeks we will introduced you to a diverse and exciting cohort of young people who love agriculture and want to shout it from the rooftops by sharing their story

These young people are lucky enough to either be studying for a career in the sector or have started an exciting journey in their chosen field

Today it gives us great pleasure to introduce you to Casey Onus ………….

Hi my name is Casey Onus and I am 22 year old Agronomist from Tamworth in NSW. Despite being a “Townie” my whole life I was born for a career in agriculture.

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I attended my first agronomy meeting chaired by the infamous Dallas Parsons at Seed & Grain Sales at Croppa Creek on the morning of the 8th of January 1993 at 0 days old and was born later that afternoon at Goondiwindi base hospital.

Despite living in town my whole life I spent a fair chunk of my childhood with my father bouncing around paddocks being paid with lollies to identify weeds and weaving my way through what seemed like forests of cereals and sorghum, trying not to lose myself down Moree’s heavily cracked black soil plains in the process.

Throughout school I never really focused on what I wanted to do as a career. I assumed at age 12 that I was going to be member of the Saddle Club and that would be my job, but I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen.

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Gave up my childhood dream of being a member of “The Saddle Club” to chase a career in Ag

In years 9 & 10 at St Philomena’s we had the option to pick our elective subjects and being the outdoors kid that I was I picked Ag because I didn’t want to be stuck in a class room for any longer then I had to be. I was fortunate enough to have a very passionate Ag teacher who really made me see how important agriculture was not just to me but everyone, if you had to eat or wear clothes then you needed something from agriculture.

I was lucky enough to not only enjoy Ag as a subject but also turn that enjoyment onto results which saw me win the Dallas Parsons Memorial Agricultural Award in year 10 as well as taking out the CMA property planning competition on “Nullamanna station” in 2008.

During year 10 I also attended a Rotary Youth in Ag Cotton camp which really opened my eyes to how big the cotton industry is and the endless opportunities that were available to someone like me. I got so much out of the camp that I volunteered to help in the running of the camp in subsequent years and ended up presenting the marketing and moisture management sections of the camp. It was great to see so many young people, especially from costal backgrounds coming along to see what the local cotton industry was about and if they took away half of what I did from the camp then it was well worth the time and effort.

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Students from the Rotary Youth in Cotton Camp (RYAG)

During years 11 & 12 at Moree Secondary College I unfortunately didn’t have the option to study agriculture as a subject as there were simply not enough students at my school for it to run. This didn’t concern me overly until it came down to crunch time. All of a sudden I was headed for the HSC with no idea of what I was going to do at the end of it.

As luck would have it I was offered a job as a bug checker by the branch manager at Landmark in Moree over the holidays. I spent endless hours out in the cotton fields getting muddy, bitten, sunburnt and couldn’t have loved it more.

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My first cotton crop

Although my father is an agronomist I wasn’t convinced that all agro’s loved their job as much as he did but this cotton season showed me exactly how rewarding it was. I got to see the tiny plants that I’d checked for months on end finally produce these white fluff balls of gold and that was a feeling of satisfaction that I couldn’t find elsewhere.

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White fluff balls of gold!

I applied to study a Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE in Armidale and decided I was going to chase my dream of becoming an agronomist. Uni is hard and I certainly lost count of the amount of times I wanted to throw in the towel, but heading home for cotton season kept me going and rekindled my motivation to get me through another year. I completed the UNE/CRDC Cotton Production Course as part of my degree and even managed to get an article “finding cottons next generation” published in the 2013 Cotton Grower magazine yearbook.

Despite only having one unit left to complete as part of my degree I applied for the Landmark Graduate Agronomy Program and was accepted for a position in Tamworth, under the watchful eye of their agronomist Cameron Barton.

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Despite already working for Landmark for 3 years, my graduate year taught me a hell of a lot at an incredible pace. I managed to squeeze in a trip to the 2014 Cotton Conference thanks to a scholarship funded by Cotton Australia.

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There is no denying Agriculture is full of characters and I was lucky enough to meet Sam Kekovich at the 2014 Australian Cotton Conference

I also flew to Albury with Heritage Seeds to learn about pasture systems and varieties and learnt a lot from countless field days and industry updates. As well as joining the local Duri Ag Bureau and taking on my own clients with a range of new crops, not just the cotton and broadacre crops I was used too. All of a sudden I was trying to grow ryegrass not kill it!

I was lucky enough to stay on at Landmark Tamworth and am now a fully-fledged agronomist working with a great group of farmers from all backgrounds as well as providing precision agriculture services such as NDVI imagery, variable rate maps, capacitance probes and everything in between.

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Growers attending our pasture demonstration trial walk at Woolomin.

Confucius says “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and I firmly believe he was talking about jobs in Australian Agriculture. Because I certainly haven’t “worked” a day in my life yet.

Exploring Precision Agriculture 

The team behind Art4Agriculture are mainly from a livestock background and don’t know much about Precision Agriculture so we jumped at the chance for an expert to give us a Precision Ag 101 Lesson

This is what Casey shared with us

Precision what?
Precision Ag (PA) is no longer the complex and expensive exercise that it used to be. There are many products and even in-built features in today’s farm machinery that are sitting there on-farm just waiting to be used.

Did you know most tractors and headers these days already store data automatically? Most people don’t. A lot of farmers are aware their machines are collecting all this data but they don’t know how to access and use it. That’s where I come in, one of the more technical sides of my job involves spending a bit of time in the office to utilise technology to help growers and myself make better on farm decisions.

Data

How?

As farmers are driving their GPS guided farm machinery through the paddocks a lot of them are already (or can easily be set up for) collecting various information. Such as grain yields and changes in elevation across the paddock. As the machine is going along its packaging this data and tagging a gps point with it. This means we can tell exactly how much grain has been grown in certain parts of the paddock and even look at how high or low that exact same spot is compared to the rest of the field.

 Why?

There is only one thing farmers love more than rain, and that’s making money so they can keep on doing what they love. By collecting all this information we can help farmers manage parts of their farm and even parts of their paddocks separately. This means money in the form of seed and fertiliser can be spent on the parts of the paddock that are more likely to grow more grain and make more money.

 So what’s involved?

The very first step is mapping the growers farm so we know exactly how big each paddock is, and this provides us with a base map on which to overlay all that data and information. There are several ways of using PA and this will vary greatly depending on what the farmer wants to achieve. The two main ways I currently use Precision Ag as an agronomist is by processing on farm-yield data and satellite imagery. To make this as easy as possible for the farmers I need two things from them. 1 – their time, half an hour, to map their place so I know what im working with. 2 – The data from their machines, usually a usb or equivalent simply removed from their machine post harvest and dropped into the office.

For the yield data

Growers bring in the data information card from their header/picker/tractor etc. This provides me with the data I need to unravel and turn into something useful. I start by removing any faults in the data, areas where headers have; changed speed dramatically, turned around, etc. as these influence the end result and can throw out the data. I then adjust the data to represent what has actually happened, this involves adjusting the total tonnes of grain recognised by the header to then represent the total that was physically removed from the field. Once that has been done we can then delve further into the data by creating elevation maps, multi year yield and temporal stability maps which can all be turned into management zones and variable rate application maps.

 For the imagery

Growers and agronomists select the pre-mapped paddocks that they require imagery for. Then I get to work placing an order utilising  LandSat8 as well as a variety of other satellites or even planes to gather images depending on the type of imagery we need. I then receive an image (first one below) which is georeferenced for me to ground truth in the paddock. Once I have determined what is causing the variation in the paddock I can then divide the image into management zones. These management zones can also be converted into variable rate application maps. NDVI data is most useful in-season when a quick reaction is needed such as a variable rate application of growth regulators or nutritional products in cotton.

Maps

Maps like these help growers to quantify gains and losses across variable paddocks as well as focus their inputs to areas that are more likely to provide a higher economic return. It can help us better manage; nutrition, irrigation, weed populations and even plant growth. The more data a grower has, the more reliable the management zones become which equates to increased productivity and profitability in the long-term.

Thank you Casey we think its just as well there are people like you around who can help farmers make the most of the modern farming technology and the data it provides

The lighter side of life

Todays guest blog post comes from Kirsty McCormack. Kirsty is a lover of horses and all things cotton,a converted Ag ‘fag’ and 2nd year Rural Science student at UNE.

Photo shoot for Science Taking you Places

My story starts 19 years ago in the little country town of Inverell.

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My hometown is situated in the New England North West region of New South Wales and is a thriving commercial and service centre with a district population of 18,000.

I have been immersed in the rural side of life every since i was a youngster, which to me is much like the bright side of life. I have ridden horses since I was two with my family and I campdraft most weekends.

Family Photo of me and my brother i was 3 years old on my first horse

I have played Polocrosse, competed at state and national horse riding events and won national titles – all for a great love of horses.

Pony Club Captain winning overall Zone 13 aggregate Highest point scoring club 2009

As well as having a passion for sport, I have definitely tried my hand at a range of things and found that I haven’t completely embarrassed myself 100% of the time!

After growing up on a 75 acre property 8kms out of town with a multitude of 20 plus working dogs, 15 or so horses and a few cattle and sheep which has provided meat for our freezer it is a wonder that I did not have my heart set on a future in agriculture. But that was not the case, I was a head strong driven young girl who had decided that being a lawyer was the ideal occupation for someone that would go head to head with her mother on a regular basis, claiming that she was ‘always right’. So at Holy Trinity School Inverell I nurtured my skills, studying Japanese and Commerce as electives and avoiding agriculture at all costs, assuming that it was only associated with dead end jobs with poor pay. How wrong was I!

It was not until I left the familiar surroundings of Inverell and went to Calrossy Anglican School that I was introduced to this ‘brighter side of life’!

My lines for year 11 did not match up so I had to take Agriculture instead of Religion, and was pleasantly surprised when my teacher Brony Nielsen stepped into the room.

Calrossy Primary Industries class 2012 - having fun on the farm

Fun on the farm

In 2011 with Brony’s encouragement I led a cow for the first time, took up meat judging, attended the biannual Cotton Australia Cotton Conference, went to RYAG Cattle Camp and was voted Karrawarra House Sporting Captain.

House Captin and Mad entusiast for all aspects of shchool life. house Won ALL events that year!

Calrossy opened doors for me that I didn’t even know existed. Being able to lead cattle at Sydney and regional shows has allowed me to make some great contacts in the cattle industry

Leading at Tamworth Show 2010 Zone finals for selection for sydney

Being the Junior Inter Collegiate Meat Judging Champion at Scone Beef Bonanza in 2011 is another amazing notch to have on my belt. One of the most astonishing experiences was the opportunity to attend the Cotton Conference thanks to WinCott and Georgie Carrigan.

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Attending 2010 Cotton Conference with Calrossy Anglican College

The opportunity to meet so many interesting and diverse professionals in the cotton industry and seeing what the cotton industry has to offer I was absolutely blown away by the innovation, eagerness and pride that everyone there exuded about their passion – cotton. To start with I was going in blind, after only wearing the fibre I had no idea when the plant was grown, what it entailed or the mechanisms used to actually produce a real of cotton, so naturally I came home a little overwhelmed and all hyped on information thinking, about all the possibilities that this little plant had to offer me.

So as I entered year 12 my aspirations and goals began to change, I started investigating degrees and universities that had a strong agricultural line and program.

PICSE Youth Round Table - Ambassador 2012 Canberra

PICSE Youth Roundtable 2012

Here is where I was introduced to PICSE (Primary Industry Centre for Science Education) and the student industry placement scholarship. PICSE provided me with a week jam-packed with sessions, presented by the most energetic scientists, farmers, growers, researchers and students imaginable. I got a taste of what could be really achieved by the agricultural industry, through being able to witness the latest research in mitigating methane production in cattle, rotating dairy’s, greenhouses and grain operations I was no longer hoodwinked by the dead end, bad pay idea. Instead I now think agriculture is one of the most forward thinking, innovative, young industries in this country and the world today. You can have a look at what other young PISCE graduates have to say here

Within my year 12 syllabus we also carried out a Cotton Study which entailed a field trip and farm visit. This trip definitely re-enforced what I had been so awe inspired by the previous year and only fuelled my fire towards being involved in the cotton industry. I got to jump in cotton, be in cotton, feel cotton and help grow cotton. We got in, on and around the module builders the buggies, and pickers. This was enough to send me over the edge – in love with cotton. Cotton trip 2011 that changed my direction

From this trip and PICSE I continued through my final year with a new direction and new motivation, getting involved in all aspects of boarding school life and loving every moment. I graduated with great marks and a great time, enough to get me straight into university the following year at UNE studying a Bachelor of Rural Science.

So through the summer naturally I went bug checking and nutrition sampling.

Bug checking with CGS in summer of 2012

Carol Sanson at Cotton Growers Services at Gunnedah took me on after meeting on the excursion earlier that year, and I thoroughly cherished and enjoyed every moment of it. From literally counting bugs, to meeting farmers, sending leaf and petiole samples and driving the forklift, the whole experience was amazing and has benefited me throughout my studies at university. I was sad to leave the job and not finish the season as the end of the week came around all too soon before picking started.

I am definitely one very lucky university student though, on arriving in first year I was lucky enough to have been awarded financial assistance in the way of four amazing scholarship. With my ATAR I was awarded the UNE Country Scholarship, and three industry prizes, the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation Scholarship, Australian Wool Education Trust Fund Scholarship and RIRDC Horizon Scholarship. Within these amazing opportunities my 2012 year was full of motivating and exciting events that I was able to participate on and present at. I had two trips to Canberra one being awarded as a PICSE Ambassador, going into parliament house and presenting the findings from out Youth Round Table Discussion, and another with the Horizon scholars where we had an opportunity to make invaluable contacts and be heard on the Country Hour LIVE! Attending the 2012 Cotton Conference where I spoke to students, presenting at numerous PICSE events/functions and going to Sydney Royal, has all made for a busy year! Through participating in college life I am now an Academic advisor and on a leadership scholarship at St Alberts College and loving being able to help students learn about science.

I think the agricultural industry has a lot to offer every individual, through the little chunk I have been able to experience and been apart of thus far has only spurred me on towards aligning my future with the future of agriculture. I will never give up my horses and the link I have to the land through my dogs and cattle but with this newfound passion for cotton I can definitely see myself being a plant fanatic. When I finish my Rural Science degree I would like to complete a diploma of education to inspire other students the way my agricultural teacher did, I would like to go on an “agriventure”, be involved in research, be a cotton agronomist and one day a farmer’s wife! – But not just yet.

I am so excited to be involved in this great opportunity to show others how Bright a Lighter Side of Life can be!