Grain farmer, ag-science student and storyteller Hugh Burrell loves to share a yarn from the farm

The bush is in Hugh Burrell’s blood and farming has been his calling since the day dot. He’s a 4th generation farmer, a 4th year Agricultural Science student and a proud product of Narrabri, NSW. At boarding school in Sydney, Hugh was known for enthralling his boarding house mates with his wild and entertaining “Yarns from the Farm”… perhaps little has changed, because today’s guest blog is a great read!

Let’s hand it over to you, Hugh…

2390: numbers I will never forget. Now that you know all my passwords I’d better let you know who I am. I’m Hugh Burrell, a 4th generation born farmer from Narrabri, NSW. My father is a farmer, my grandfather was a farmer and my great grandfather was a farmer. I am the youngest born of my family, with an older brother and sister. We were all raised on our family property “Woodlands” north east of Narrabri, nestled in the foothills of the Nandewar ranges. Being a family farm spanning many generations we have been involved in a variety of operations from pigs, chooks, sheep, cattle, grains, cotton, to canola and dogs. However my fondest memories come from our days as mixed cropping and cattle producers. These formative years of my life spent trailing, with poddy calf in tow, my grandfather, father and brother around the rich basalt soils checking for weeds in the wheat and pulling out black oats to feed to my poddy lambs at home, are some memories that I still reminisce about today.

With my father and grandfather at the helm of the business when I was growing up, we began a more intensive winter cropping regime. We went from running merino sheep for wool and fattening lambs on oats to a full blown wheat and barley operation. The days spent with “Grampa” on the old Chamberlain tractor pushing up rocks to clear the way for Dad to come through and plant wheat are fresh in my memory. Growing up meant extra work for me, as I grew into my gangly frame I was more useful with jobs like fencing and weed chipping, which my father knew and used to his advantage. However, something he came to learn was that I loved this work, hands on learning, out in the open, and providing something for the world to eat.

Interested Locals

Heading off to Narrabri Public School saw this idea of working outside flourish, where my teacher was often heard calling, “Hugh, what are you doing out here?” to which I would show her the perfectly cultivated rows of the sandpit and reply, “Just farming.” This became a more frequent response as the years went on and this “just farming” idea became a driving force.

We began leasing a property on the other side of town to our farm, so during the week Grampa would pick me up from school and we’d head out to check the sorghum, wheat, and mungbeans we grew out there. During the summer we would take turns scaring the birds off the ripe sorghum heads while recounting our day to each other, being a quite kid I just listened to the stories. This seemingly endless time spent driving around the crops, refilling the tractor, checking for weeds and talking to each other was the foundation of my passion for farming. The nature of a family farm is essential to agriculture throughout the world; the care that is taken with each step and the knowledge that can be transferred between generations is a vital part of our industry.

A few wheat bix

Growing into my brother’s clothes it was time to ship off to boarding school. I was 11, and my first day of school at The Scots College was only my second ever visit to Sydney. This was another foundational experience for me, the place where I met some of my closest mates to this day and that fostered my rural blood. Being one of 200 or so country boys in a school of 1000, it’s fair to say we stuck out. Our city friends often quizzed us about our holiday activities, to which I loved telling stories of the farm, harvesting, mustering, spraying and everything else that we got up to. Talking to others about farming – some who were almost oblivious to the facts – was great fun for me, I loved getting up in front of the boarding house on our first night back after the holidays to recite “Yarns from the Farm.”

Moving along at school, I studied Biology and Business Studies in the hope of pursuing a career on our family farm, continuing my forefather’s tradition. However, with some succession decisions still in the pipeline and my dream of heading home to “Woodlands” stalled for the time being, I knew uni would be a great opportunity. I ended up at Sydney University enrolled in Agricultural Science, which has been a great experience for me, instilling a respect for research and its part in agriculture, particularly in Australia.

Throughout my degree I have been lucky enough to be involved in various field trips around NSW, learning from others in the industry about how they apply science to their farms and businesses. This has really nailed down the point of agricultural research, which I am dedicated to use in my career in agriculture. In my third year of study I was involved in the Developing Agriculture in Developing Countries unit which involved a three week trip through Laos, South East Asia. We were able to meet with multinational companies, non-government organizations and government bodies to talk about the impact that agricultural development has on a developing a country. This was an amazing experience, from planting rice with the locals to hiking through the rugged limestone cliffs; it was a true example that agriculture can take you anywhere.

Rice planting in Laos

I am now in my 4th year of study with a focus on agronomy and precision agriculture. I’m looking to undertake my honours research project in 2016 in the grain production area, centred on crop and variety selection and management in the Narrabri area.

I’ve been working every summer holidays with Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) in Narrabri, helping harvest the trial crops, seed cleaning, and hand harvesting for 3 weeks in December 2014 at 40oc – that was a true experience. This work has truly highlighted the importance of plant breeding for select region specific traits that give farmers that little bit extra ability to grow more crop per hectare and per mega-litre, especially in these challenging climatic times.

I have a passion for agriculture that has been fostered from birth. Being brought up in a region built on farming, it’s safe to say it’s in my blood. I am really looking forward to the challenges ahead of my honours project and what the real world holds. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll be back out in the bush soon, chasing the sun all day and growing food for the world – hopefully somewhere out around postcode 2390.

Cheers, Hugh Burrell

Meet Rebecca Thistlewaite who says Young people join me we are the exciting future of Agriculture!

Todays guest blog comes from Rebecca Thistlethwaite a girl from The Shire who found here way into agriculture when her parents bought a small farm. Rebecca is now a PhD student and an agronomist with a particular interest in plant breeding and genetics

This is Rebecca’s story ……………………….

My name is Rebecca Thistlethwaite and I grew up in the Sutherland Shire south of Sydney and completed my schooling at Kirrawee High School. Growing up I was a typical ‘Shire’ girl with a love of the surf, sun and sand

North Cronulla Beach

When I was 13 years old my parents bought a small property in the Southern Highlands of NSW. This was the beginning of a whole new world of exciting experiences for me!

The family farm then became my second home. I couldn’t wait to spend all of my holidays and weekends in a place that made me feel so free. It became the place I felt most comfortable and as time went on I was able to introduce the land to my friends.

My parents ran a small cattle herd as we weren’t able to live there full time so on weekends there was a lot of work to be done. Working in the cattle yards teaching a group of teenage city girls like me was always very rewarding for mum and dad. They they knew like me that every young person has the potential to make change and are only limited by knowledge that they attain. So we would go about explaining every aspect of what was involved in the running a commercial cattle farm.

Grazing Angus cattle on family farm

As well as farm work I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to learn how to exhibit cattle with the help of some very generous local Angus breeders.

Angus Youth Round-Up, Glenn Innes 2010

From here it was clear which direction my career path would take me. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at the University of Sydney. Unlike a lot of my school friends my path through uni was slightly different but extremely exciting. The decision to develop a career in the Agricultural Industry was discussed my decision at length with my parents and every conversation would lead back to my future in the agricultural industry. I believe young person should have a career that is rewarding and fun gives back to society in the best way possible.

At university I became an agriculture ambassador travelling around to schools all over Sydney carrying out workshops related to agriculture and that gave me a unique insight into how primary school kids saw where their food and fibre comes from. I was so inspired by the program and how much it did for these kids that I started to go to the schools around my home doing a similar thing.

I wholeheartedly believe that the future of agriculture depends on attracting young talented people and helping them realise what a modern, exciting and challenging career it is and this is what drives me in both my working and home life to do as much as I can to promote positive images of the industry.

I graduated in 2011 with honours and although Uni was hard at times it was well worth it in the end.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Hons) from the University of Sydney, 2011

My first job as a graduate was for a pasture seed company as a Research Agronomist

A research agronomist may work with companies or government agencies on plant hybridization and soil conservation as well as the areas mentioned above. Agronomists who specialize in research might work to figure out which plants can be used as fuel, such as the discovery that corn can be used to fuel vehicles, or which plants might make effective pharmaceuticals For more information click here

My new job meant relocating to Armidale in Northern NSW and I loved it . The people are so friendly and not only this I was able to experience different ways of farming across a broad range of fields.

Sheep farming

Alpaca farming

Tomato farming in glasshouse

Pasture cropping for silage (winter feed)

My job kept me incredibly busy. I travelled 75,000kms by car in my first year across NSW and QLD, flew interstate countless times and I was lucky enough to travel to 2 different countries as well.

One of the best parts about the Agricultural Industry is that new opportunities arise every day, especially for young people! I have a passion for research in the areas of climate change and heat tolerance in plants.

Did you know that wheat is the staple food of almost half the world’s population and approximately 30,000 farmers grow wheat in Australia? Its no wonder I saw this as a  fast-moving field I wanted to get involved in as soon as I could.

Wheat production, Narrabri

In 2013, I was lucky enough to receive a Grains Research and Development Postgraduate Scholarship to study plant breeding and genetics at the University of Sydney. I jumped at the opportunity to study something I love and haven’t looked back! I now live in Narrabri in Northern NSW and all my field work is based at the I.A. Watson Grains Research Centre there.

I.A. Watson Grains Research Centre, Narrabri

The team at the I. A. Watson Grains Research Centre outside their newly built facility

As a city kid  who now loves the bush I strongly encourage all young people, who haven’t done so already, to go and experience what it is like to spend a day on a farm.

If you have already had the pleasure then you know exactly what I mean when I say that it is one of the most rewarding experiences that you could have.

Now all you have to do is take next step and follow me into an agricultural career and share your story

Walk a mile in my Jeans

Today’s guest post is by Angela Bradburn. Angela is a Policy Officer at Cotton Australiaand recently visited Art4agriculture headquarters at Jamberoo where she go up close and personal with some of the cows.

The colourful ones

and the more traditional variety

and the Archies at Sydney Show

Cotton Australia is the peak industry body for Australia’s cotton growing industry and a proud supporting partner of two of Art4agriculture’s signature programs The Archibull Prize and the Young Farming Champions program

Angela is one of a growing cohort of young people from non farming backgrounds going places fast in agriculture

In her role at Cotton Australia, Angela contributes to policy formulation and advocacy as well as acting as a reference point for industry organisations, government and other stakeholder groups on key policy and research issues. Key policy issues she is working on include climate change and carbon faming policies, education, labour and workforce issues. She also works with representative grower panels to provide research and development direction to cotton industry.

Here is Angela’s story ………

I didn’t grow up on a farm, and have mostly lived in metropolitan areas all my life, but I am very proud to be working in agriculture, and currently for the cotton industry which is providing me with so many opportunities to grow and achieve.

I hope by sharing my story and my career path and experiences I can help to convey that there are exciting careers in agriculture aplenty.

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture at University of Sydney in 2004, and have worked for the last seven years in agriculture and natural resource management policy and programs, across government, in private consulting and now industry. I have  had many great opportunities, colleagues and mentors and challenging and interesting work environments along the way.

I’ve been based on Sydney and Canberra for most of my career, but thankfully with very strong grass roots ties. I’ve spent lots of time in contrasting environments – on the farm and in rural and regional Australia as well as in the board room and corridors of Parliament House.

The thing is my career could have gone many different ways, and there was no lack of choice – once I got into the right networks.

Angela with husband Scott enjoy the view at Art4agriculture HQ

People are often curious about why I chose to do agriculture. At school I liked science, plants and animals and was also interested in human health. Looking back, agriculture is perfect for this as it touches on all of these things. The interconnectedness of environment, agriculture, food and health is what farming systems are all about!

I spent some time living on a hobby farm in Kangaroo Valley – this definitely sparked an interest. I also ended up doing agriculture as an elective at school and our school had a farm, which was a lot of fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed studying agriculture at the University of Sydney, and was very glad I fell into it. The degree had a strong theoretical science base but involved practical experience on-farm and in agricultural businesses across many industries – an important mix from my perspective. We were a tight knit group that went through, and many of us are still friends and keep in touch. Even just looking at my class of 2004 paints a fascinating and impressive picture of the array of career opportunities in agriculture.

During my time at university I had great opportunities provided to me by the cotton industry. I managed to secure an undergraduate scholarship provided by the Cotton CRC, to support me through my last two years, and in addition I undertook a Summer Scholarship– also an initiative run by the Cotton CRC where you work on a small research project with industry researchers.

I had a great time working on this based in Narrabri at the Australian Cotton Research Institute. This time in a rural community and working in the industry and its research community definitely built my appreciation and an affinity for the industry. The Summer Scholarship program is a highly successful model and I think it’s very important to provide these sorts of pathways for young people to help them in making career choices (it’s great to see other initiatives out there such as the Horizon Scholarship ). It’s wonderful be back in the industry that gave me so many opportunities during my studies and to be interacting with a lot of the same people that I did during my uni years.

After graduating I was lucky enough to secure a position within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Graduate Program. Looking back, this was a really big foot in the door and a good place to start a career. This is a structured program where we rotated through areas of government and received training, leadership and capacity building opportunities. I worked in policy and technical roles across Biosecurity Australia (BA), Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Rural Policy and Innovation Division.

From here I worked for four years as a consultant, for a company called Hassall & Associates (now GHD). Our team provided advice to government and industry to help improve the management of natural resources; effectiveness of industry and government programs; and sustainability and competitiveness of rural and regional Australia.

Now, working at Cotton Australia I continue to be excited by agriculture’s bright future, and the passionate, bright and resilient people that make up the industry.

Angela with Sophie Davidson ( Education Officer for Cotton Australia)

One of the things I enjoy about my current role is that working for an industry body, you have a unique opportunity to work with the other representative groups to present a unified voice for agriculture more broadly. Cotton Australia is a member of other larger groups (such as the National Farmer Federation), and its rewarding working side by side with our colleagues, sharing our experiences and striving for positive change.

The cotton industry itself is comprised of very inspiring people – lots of young industry leaders, women and generally innovative and passionate business people.

“Did you know that the average of farmer in the cotton industry is 39 and it is estimated that in Australia 40% of the farms have women as partners in family farms?. If you didn’t know that I bet you know Australia produces the best cotton in the world and we clothe 500 million people.” 

One of the highlights  of my role this year was undertaking a PIARN Master Class*.

The Inaugural PIARN Master Class with Professor Snow Barlow

The ‘Master Class’ program has been developed and is funded by the Primary Industries Adaptation Research Network (PIARN), out of the University of Melbourne.  Run as a short, intensive program, the initiative aims to connect future research, policy makers and industry leaders with on-farm activity so that primary industries research and development can be more relevant and effective, particularly in managing key climate challenges.

I joined a group of 20 from across different agricultural industries, to take part in three modules held in different locations across rural and regional Australia over late 2011/early 2012.  The program involved farm and site visits, interactive workshops and open forums with producers, leading researchers, policy makers and key industry figures.

The Master Class program provided an opportunity to enhance and build valuable knowledge and networks with policy makers, other industries and researchers.

As well as providing a chance to observe in the field how different farming groups are successfully applying knowledge, the interactive nature of the program means that I will also get to contribute a ‘cotton industry perspective’.

I enjoy remaining connected to both my industry and across agriculture at all levels – policy makers, industry and farmers. Social media is excellent for that and I invite you to follow me on twitter @angelajbradburn

I also value being active in professional associations. In Sydney there is actually a very vibrant network of people who work in agriculture and agribusiness. A lot of us come together as part of the group Farm Writers,which holds events, brings us key speakers and provide a collective forum.  Agribuzz for example is a smart-casual event  that facilitates professional networking and provides professional development opportunities. Over drinks and canapés, our members and friends exchange business intelligence and views, enjoy brief presentations from key note speakers and take the chance to meet agribusiness’s leaders and leaders-in–the-making.

A career in agriculture – give it serious thought.  I did and I have never look back

By the way check this out if you want to know what it takes to Grow a pair of jeans

*Presentations made by a number of invited experts to the PIARN Master class are available at www.piarn.org.au/events/piarn-master-class/ACT-presentations.