The Young Farming Champions program is an Art4Agriculture initiative proudly supported by:
Born into a family of cotton luminaries in grandfather Vic Melbourne and father Chris Lehmann, Jess Lehmann has a genetic attraction to rural Australia. She grew up on the family farm at Narrabri and with her father’s words of support ringing in her ears Jess set on a path ofinnovation and agricultural research.
Working with the NSW DPI, The University of New England and the Australian Research Council and learning from mentors along the way, Jess believes we can deliver environmentally sustainable and ethical agriculture.
“When I reflect on the work I am doing and the work I’ve done, I am always amazed by the various people and bodies who contribute to our agricultural sector,” Jess says. “Whether it’s farmers, contractors, researchers, scientists, policy developers, or agronomists; everyone is a part of the overall equation and everyone will benefit from future agricultural research.”
As a fourth year agricultural science student at The University of Sydney Nellie Evans has taken a circuitous route to the world of cotton agronomy. As a youngster she wrestled steers with her brother and exhibited horses at Royal Agricultural shows before studying landscape architecture and obtaining her heavy rigid truck licence. But ready for her next challenge –“the one I should have always started out with’” she says – she found cotton on the plains of Warren, Gunnedah and Bourke.
“The cotton industry is really at the forefront of research and development as they face a future of climate, social and market based challenges,” Nellie says. “I’ve also been fortunate to see the policy side of agriculture with NSW Farmers, livestock auctioning with Elders and U.S cropping and agronomy with GrainGrowers Australia.”
“Each experience I am privileged to be a part of directs my future towards research agronomy.”
“Turning a patch of dirt into your cotton shirt,” is 2015 Cotton Australia Young Farming Champion James Kanaley’s motto. Originally from a sheep and cropping farm near Junee, James says his biggest teacher and influence in life was his father. James studied agronomy and livestock production at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, and is now a consultant agronomist around Moree, where his office is a Hilux ute.
James has travelled and worked in agriculture through Vietnam and the US, where he says the differences in technology, infrastructure, adaptation and innovation are notable, but the fundamentals of farming are the same.
Over the past three years he has been working with a software developer to create a farm management application to help agronomists, farm managers and businesses.
“I work with more than 40 growers and no two growers or farms are the same,” James says. “The most rewarding part of my job is learning from farmers – I enjoy building relationships with growers and seeing the emotion that goes into the decision making processes of growing healthy and productive food and fibre crops.”
The cotton fields of western NSW are a long way from Laura’s seaside childhood on the Mid North Coast, where she grew up growing beef and bananas. Laura was “captivated by everything cotton” after a summer working on a cotton property in Narrabri. So much so, that she swapped her coveted place in a Veterinary Science degree at Charles Sturt University, to a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. Still studying and having just finished her second summer of bug checking cotton bolls, Laura says her passion and love for the cotton is endless.
“I want to be part of the young generation of agriculturalists that are responsible for changing the face of agriculture in the community and reconnecting farmers and the people who eat their produce and wear the fibres they grow.”
Dwayne believes life is too short to not have a crack at something you’re passionate about. And it seems the mantra has served this Gunnedah based agronomist very well. Following his school years on the NSW Mid North Coast, Dwayne studied a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University. During his time at CSU Dwayne travelled to Vietnam – an experience he says highlighted just how important agriculture is to countries all around the world – and to New Zealand as part of the Grain Growers Australian University Crops Competition. Since graduating, Dwayne has spent the last three years planning, preparing and managing cotton crops for growers in NSW’s upper Namoi.
“In a world where information sharing is often only the touch of a button away, sharing the stories of the people behind the clothes we wear and the food we eat is becoming a lost art… I am passionate about sharing how rewarding my career is with the wider community…”
Naomi is a third generation cotton grower whose love for the industry began on her family’s property near Moree, NSW. From her very first tractor driving shifts at age 12, Naomi is now proud to be highly involved in every aspect of preparing and planting her family’s cotton crop. Currently working full time on a cattle and cropping property at Croppa Creek, NSW, Naomi is also completing her first year of tertiary agriculture studies via correspondence.
“It’s easy to see why people who aren’t fortunate enough to grow up the way I did often struggle to understand the role of agriculture in today’s society. But I believe my firsthand experience and knowledge, from growing up on the front line, gives me the ability to educate and inspire others.”
Goondiwindi cotton farmer Alexander Stephen spent his childhood surrounded by cotton and obsessed with machinery. At 18 he graduated from the Australian Agriculture College with a Diploma in Agriculture. Alexander worked in farmhand and caretaker roles in southern Queensland before heading overseas, working with a harvest contractor across the US. Since his return to the Australian cotton industry in 2012, Alexander has worked on an irrigated cotton/dryland grain farming property near Goondiwindi. He’s currently completing a Diploma in Cotton Production, through the University of New England.
“… It is essential that we as a growing community aspire to build on our high achieving attributes. That’s why I see that it is very important to build relationships outside the farming community, to show how professional Australian farmers are generate pride in the community and abroad for what they grow and produce.”
Art4Agriculture Cotton Young Farming Champion Martin Murray’s childhood on a rice and sheep farm in the NSW Riverina sparked a love for farming that has evolved into a career in cotton. While at boarding school in Sydney, Martin’s school holidays were spent working on a cotton farm near Moree. After high school he worked on a cattle station in the Northern Territory before undertaking a Rural Science degree at University Of New England. Now back in the Riverina managing an irrigated cotton farm Martin says, “My major goal is to own and run my own mixed cattle and cropping property, while continuing to promote agriculture and bridging the rural urban divide.” In his spare time Martin blogs on The Farming Game. Last year he rode a postie bike from Moree, NSW, to Broome, WA, raising more than $10,000 for charity Aussie Helpers.
“Bringing the farm to schools and introducing students to young farmers is a great way to… not only help build awareness of and interest in agriculture but also help create a new generation of agricultural-savvy Australians.”
"It’s my passion, my job, it’s my life!” says Art4Agriculture Cotton Young Farming Champion Ben Egan. A 6th generation farmer from central west NSW, Ben’s family farm grazes around 700 cattle and grows sorghum, wheat, canola and chick peas, but their main crop is cotton. At boarding school in Sydney Ben says he was “astonished at how little some of the city boys knew about life on a farm and living in the country.” After school he spent 12 months working in England before returning to Australia to work at Eva Downs and Camfield Station in the Northern Territory. Ben has a Bachelor of Business (Farm Management) from Marcus Oldham College and now works back home, involved in all aspects of planting, managing and harvesting, and is currently implementing improved irrigation methods.
“Where are all the young farmers? We’re here, we just need to be heard and be given a chance,” Ben says. “I challenge the young people of today to put their hand up and be heard, ask questions, challenge the status quo, support our farmers and just have a go!”
Art4Agriculture Cotton Young Farming Champion Kirsty McCormack has been immersed in rural life ever since she can remember. Growing up on 75acres in NSW’s New England region, she was a lover of horses, camp drafting and polocrosse, though she dreamed of being a lawyer. A timetable clash during high school forced Kirsty to study Agriculture – and she loved it! Thanks to industry sponsorship Kirsty attended the biannual Cotton Australia Cotton Conference where she was “blown away by the innovation, eagerness and pride that everyone there exuded about their passion – cotton. I came home all hyped on information, thinking about all the possibilities that this little plant had to offer me.” Kirsty is currently studying a Bachelor of Rural Science at University of New England and spends her holidays bug checking and nutrition sampling cotton crops across NSW.
“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.”
Liz Lobsey isn’t from a typical farming background and though the 2014 Art4Agriculture Cotton Young Farming Champion’s family connection to the land is minimal, she says “My passion for the industry is enormous!” An agronomist based in Toowoomba, Qld, and a keen agricultural advocate, Liz was introduced to agriculture during high school. Though she first thought agriculture was dirty and boring, Liz soon learned there was a lot more under the surface! Now she works with innovative, inspiring and passionate people every day, assisting growers to make decisions about how to nurture their crops to produce the best yields with the lowest production costs and minimum impact to the environment.
“When I think about agriculture I think about people, I think about innovation, I think about passion and commitment,” Liz says. “There is so much more involved with working on a farm or within the industry than what appears on the surface. The passion of the people in this industry is infectious and the resilience of the people in this industry its own life lesson.”
Tamsin grew up in Moree but is not from a farm. An enthusiastic teacher at high school who encouraged the students to better understand the natural world sparked Tamsin’s interest in agriculture. She is now studying agricultural science at the University of New England.
“Growing up in Moree has shown me is how important it is to have young people in the industry with a fiery passion and a desire to educate those who aren’t fully aware of the valuable role our farmers play in feeding and clothing not only Australians but many other people around the world.”
Billy Browning grew up in the small town of Narromine located in the central west of NSW. He is the third generation to be farming on the family property ‘Narramine Station’ located on the Macquarie River. They grow wheat, canola, cotton and corn depending on the seasonal conditions and availability of water.
“My love for agriculture has grown via the farm and studying agriculture at school where I became fascinated by the science and technology that underpins the sector. I work full-time on the farm when I am home. I am involved in all operations, irrigation, harvest, picking, spraying, earth-moving, sowing and general farm maintenance. This has led me to realise the important relationship between farm inputs and outputs and why smart business thinking is the key to sustainable farming. This realisation has lead me to studying agricultural economics at the University of Sydney. Although I haven’t decided on what part of the industry I want to end up in, I know that I am trying to make the most of the opportunities out there and taking on everything along the way I hope by sharing my story it will show you like me you can have a bright future in the agriculture sector. I encourage those with an interest or even a niggling to go and ask questions as many questions as you would like There are plenty of people wanting to help.”
Richie is a fifth-generation farmer at Trangie in central-western NSW. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Sydney and in the long term, intends to return to the family farm, a 6000-hectare mixed-cropping, cotton and livestock operation.
“It’s fantastic to help people understand how their food and fibre is produced and to represent the agricultural industry. Most of the students I talked to are from the city so they haven’t been exposed to agriculture on the kind of scale we work on.”
Becoming involved with The Archibull Prize while still at high school was one of the reasons Sydneysider Sharna Holman chose a career in agriculture. Five years later Sharna has a Bachelor of Agriculture from The University of Sydney and is working in her dream job as a cotton extension officer in Emerald, QLD – 16 hours and a world away from her previous life in Sydney – and she has never been happier.
“I am so lucky to be involved in an industry where the growers, researchers and industry members are incredibly innovative and passionate,” Sharna says. “The cotton industry is constantly trying to look for new ways to be sustainable and efficient while remaining productive and every day I look forward to helping growers.” Sharna is living proof that anyone, no matter their background, can find a role they love within Australia’s agricultural industry.
Emma Ayliffe is an agronomist, specialising in cotton, who prides herself on analysing the science behind crop production and making this applicable to growers. “It is my job to help my growers reach their potential and overcome obstacles. I also like to think of myself as an advocate for agriculture as a whole, whether it be the local cotton growers association, the GRDC Advisory Panel or just a helper at a field day to be part of the team and the voice that represents agriculture.”
Carving a successful agricultural career with her own agronomy business Emma is grateful and appreciative of the direction and opportunities given to her by others, and wants to give this same support and guidance to the next generation.
“As youth we are the future and it is up to us to shape how we want our industries and our world to look. It is important for us to forge the way for the generations after us, to collaborate with young and old, to bring fresh ideas and perspective and, ultimately, to speak up and represent the people around us.”
Tamworth agronomist Casey Onus attended her first grains meeting on the day she was born and grew up identifying plants in exchange for lollies in the vast cropping fields of Moree.
Prior to completion of her Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE Casey was accepted into the Landmark Graduate Agronomy Program. “Today I am working with a great group of farmers from all backgrounds as well as providing tailored agronomic advice, precision agriculture services such as NDVI imagery, variable rate maps, capacitance probes and everything in between.”
“They say ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ and I firmly believe they are talking about jobs in Australian Agriculture, because I certainly haven’t worked a day in my life yet.”
Tiaras to work boots, northern Sydney to the Darling Downs: Sally Poole is not what you might expect from a cotton agronomist.
Sally grew up in suburbia but spent holidays with relatives surrounded by deer, cattle and horses and this inspired a desire to work in agriculture. Her chosen career has taken her on many adventures; she has been a competition groom, completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, toured agricultural enterprises in South Africa, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and USA, won crop and meat judging competitions and worked as a jackaroo in the Northern Territory. And with all this experience Sally has settled on cotton as her future direction.
"As an agronomist for Landmark working on the Darling Downs I help drive innovation and best management practice in the cotton industry. The inspirational people I meet every day, the incredible women who have driven my passion further and the influential mentors who have backed me along the way are all reasons this tiara, work boot wearing chick from the northern beaches of Sydney has ended up where she is today."
Alexandria Galea doesn’t mind a yarn. She grew up on a cotton property in central Queensland and while she admits she didn’t have an instinct for farm work, she did develop a love of sharing stories from her farming background.
This love of sharing and storytelling led her to a degree in secondary school education.
“I was half way through my teaching degree when I realised I also wanted to study agriculture, and it greatly excited me to think of all the pathways I could take. Upon graduation I turned to the field to gain more experience and exposure to agriculture, and was fortunate to be offered a role as a sales agronomist with Cotton Growers Services.”
Anika Molesworth is a PhD candidate with the Centre for Regional and Rural Futures with the Deakin University. As part of her studies she conducts cotton trials in the Riverina, works with researchers, growers and industry, and presents at cotton seminars and conferences.
Anika stands on the leading edge of research into agriculture’s future under a changing climate and in recent years has formed Climate Wise Agriculture, worked in international agriculture development, attended the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris and presented at TEDx.
“I would like people in the wider community to realise the great importance of a vibrant and resilient rural Australia to the overall health and strength of our nation. I would like everyone to share the pride I feel for Australian farmers and I would like people to feel a connection to rural Australia and food/fibre production systems – to understand that even the apple they eat is a precious gift.”
In her final years of study at Charles Sturt University in Wagga, Dione Howard describes herself as ‘almost a veterinarian’. It’s a journey that began on her family’s Illawarra Merino Stud in the Riverina and has continued as she has honed her expertise to include animal production, welfare communication and animal biosecurity. As a vet she sees her role as one of many health professionals who work alongside farmers.
“I am excited to take part in Youth Voices because I believe Young Farming Champions play an important role in future of agriculture as voices of our industries. I want to ensure our stories continue to be shared and I am also looking forward to giving back to an organisation that has done so much to help me – both personally and professionally.”
Dione believes it is important for enthusiastic young people to be connected to agriculture so they and industry can mutually benefit. “And it’s also lots of fun!”
Peta Bradley grew up surrounded by wool and is now a development officer with MERINOSELECT, having recently graduated from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Rural Science. She works with sheep breeders on a daily basis combining the technical aspects of genetics with on-farm practices. “Within my job I am helping farmers improve how they record and produce sheep meat and wool products.”
Peta is a Wool Young Farming Champion and credits the program for helping to develop her career over the last four years. “I have grown and developed from a school ambassador to representing my industry in the wider community at a range of agricultural events and I have put my hand up to be involved in the Youth Voices Team to give back to the project that has given me so much.”
“Youth are the leaders of tomorrow. They provide a fresh face that people associate with the future. To equip these people with the skills to go forth and represent agriculture in the public and also arm them with high level professional and personal development skills ensures these young people are at the leading edge of our industry.”
Sixth generation wool producer Emma Turner grew up on her family’s Merino sheep station south of Ivanhoe, western NSW. Loving animals is just part of the job for Emma, who’s always accompanied by pet dogs and poddy lambs. And they’ve inspired her to study a Bachelor of Agriculture Science after her gap year. “My dream is to study genetics and the role it could play in breeding a hardier, more drought resistant Merino,” Emma says.
“I believe the long term future of the Australian agriculture sector relies on farmers and the community working together. Fresh ideas and innovative solutions are needed to start building these partnerships and I am doing what I have always done, and that is putting my hand up to be on the team.”
Dubbo based Tom Tourle admits to being the very same “bike riding, animal loving, pliers wielding” kind of guy he was as a kid. He’s got a thirst for education, completing stock handling and marketing courses fresh out of high school, before heading to North Queensland as a cattle station ringer. In 2013 Tom completed Certificate III & IV in Agriculture, a wool classing course, and his training and education certificate. When he’s not teaching at Western College, Tom’s starting his own grazing enterprise while working full time at the family farm.
“Everything I’m doing is taking me to where I need to be. Where that utopia might be, I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure it involves me, on our property, surrounded by healthy animals, lots of grass, on a bike and with a big smile on my face, just like when I was a kid.”
Patrick Morgan is a fifth generation sheep and cropping farmer, a professional wool classer and a university student. For now he’s focussed on completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Business Management in Wagga Wagga. But Patrick grabs every opportunity to travel home Colbinabbin, Victoria, to help his grandfather, father and five brothers run the family farm. Patrick says, “if the rest of the farming community is anything like me, they take a great deal of satisfaction of succeeding in this occupation.”
“For me a career in agriculture is the ultimate goal. To plant a seed and watch it grow and be harvested to feed many. To nurture a new born lamb and gather its wool to clothe others. To have the opportunity to share my story and showcase how good our agriculture sector is. I believe it’s a career and a goal second to none.”
Lauren is passionate about the wool industry and spent her gap year on a remote sheep station in Western NSW increasing her hands-on knowledge. Lauren is now studying a Bachelor of Agribusiness at the University of Queensland.
“Every family needs a farmer. No matter who you are, your gender, your background or where you live you can become involved in this amazing industry.”
Steph Grills’ family has been farming in the New England Tablelands since 1881 and the original family farm remains in the family to this day. Steph is combining a career on the farm with her four sisters with a Bachelor of Livestock Science at the University of New England.
“I believe the future for Australian agriculture will be very bright. I am excited to be part of an innovative industry that is leading the world in technology and adapting it on a practical level. I’m very proud to say that Agriculture has been passed down over nine known generations and spans over three centuries just in my family. My hope is that this continues, and that the future generations can be just as proud as I am that they grow world-class food and fibre. I also hope by sharing my story I can inspire other young people to follow me into an agricultural career.”
Sammi is passionate about encouraging young people to explore careers in agriculture and has a website and blog www.youthinagtionaustralia.com where she showcases the diversity of opportunities. In 2012 Sammi commenced studying Agricultural Business Management at Charles Sturt University in Orange.
“I have found that being an Art4Ag YFC has helped my University this year. This was my first year at University and my first time out there and finding my feet. Taking on this role helped give me a lot of confidence and it has also broadened my own knowledge about my own industry. It is amazing how many things you take for granted until you have to tell someone about them! I was elected President of the Ag Club at Uni in the middle of the year and it is a role I thought I never would have had the confidence to take on. With the opportunities I have been given this year through Art4Ag, I have a new-found confidence to have a go at tackling anything.”
Former television news journalist, Queensland-born Bessie Blore has been farming in far west NSW with her husband for two years. Approaching agriculture with fresh eyes, she admits to learning on the run.
Her number one lesson?
“There is really no such thing as a stupid question or action. That’s the only way you can learn about something you know nothing about. “Ask, ask, ask. And give a big cheeky grin when you make a mistake, say sorry, and move on.”
Bessie reminds us
“…there is room for fresh blood in our farming future, and there are new, inspiring, exciting stories to be started from today… ”
Currently working as a research scientist for Agriculture Victoria within the Department of Economic Development Jobs, Transport and Resources, Jo Newton is positioning herself at the interface of research, application and extension in the field of livestock genetics. “We have world-class research facilities and minds in Australia but haven’t always done a very good job of translating research into action. I am determined to change this and ensure research outcomes aren’t confined to scientific journals. I believe the best way to achieve this is through communication between scientists, academics and the rest of the agricultural sector.”
Jo credits her early mentors for helping shape her professional development and career aspirations. She believes the best way you can show gratitude to your mentors is to pay it forward and is a firm believer in the importance of telling agriculture's stories and supporting young people in agriculture.
“Access to mentors, resources and professional development opportunities is important to help young people realise their full potential. In 25-30 years’ time it will be young people making the decisions which shape the future of agriculture (and Australia). Now is the time to be investing in them so they have the capabilities to do so successfully.”
Cassie Baile is a fifth generation sheep farmer from Bendemeer in the New England region of New South Wales. Cassie now lives and works in Sydney, for Elders as a Wool Technical Support Officer at the Yennora Wool Selling Centre. She has begun auctioneering at the weekly Sydney Wool Sales and loving every minute of the diversity her job entails.
Adele Offley is a qualified Wool Classer with a lifelong passion for wool stemming from the fascination of watching the sheep being shorn and the wool sorted in the shearing shed growing up on the family farm.
“I would like to encourage everyone, regardless of background, to seriously consider agriculture as a career option. There is a huge diversity of roles and opportunities on offer in the agriculture sector.”
While Max Edwards had to be dragged off the farm, near Wellington NSW, and into school during his formative years, he now finds it is his decision to leave and learn. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience at The University of Sydney and, not surprisingly, completing his honours project back home on the family property.
“Although I am extremely eager to return to the land, I also have a burning desire to further develop farming technology and ensure it reaches the producers it would help the most,” Max says. “Along the way I plan to continue sharing my passion for wool production and inviting everyone I meet to come and see the world of Australian farmers and I hope when I am 86, like my Grandpa, I will be ringing my son and grandson to check “that everything is ready for shearing tomorrow”, still with great enthusiasm and always with the desire to improve the quality of our sheep and their wool.”
Chloe Dutschke, from Clare in South Australia, has taken a degree in Animal Science from The University of Adelaide and gone back to the beginning. Her first job on completion of her studies was on a sheep station where she discovered the wonder of wool. “As I stood at the table skirting the wool, running my fingers along the fleece, I really began to appreciate the wondrous fibre that wool is,” Chloe says.
Keen to learn all she can about wool Chloe now works as a contract musterer throughout the outback. She can be working in 10,000 acre paddocks, in dusty yards or in shearing sheds. It all adds to her experience, which extends to international destinations. She has travelled to Indonesia to investigate the live export trade, and to Hong Kong to learn about wool’s final destination in the fashion market.
“The opportunities in the wool industry are endless and I am super excited to develop my passion and continue to educate myself as much as possible about this remarkable fibre that many generations have developed before me.
Five generations of sheep farmers before her have inspired Katherine Bain to look to a future with wool. Growing up on the family farm at Stockyard Hill, Victoria, Katherine took charge of her future at an early age – establishing the St Enoch Coopworth Stud at the age of 14.
But it wasn’t until 2012, when she did a Rotary Exchange year to Japan, that she really began to understand the global interest in Australian wool. “My time in Japan was fascinating,” she says. “I found a society with a strong sense of tradition and appreciation for quality. Wool clothing is a staple in their wardrobes and I came to understand the importance of ensuring Australian products meet consumer expectation.”
Grounding herself with industry experience with exposure to wool brokerage, scouring and testing, and as a wool classer, Katherine is now in her second year at Marcus Oldham College working towards a career in commodity trading.
“I Belong Here” - the title of her 2014 poem reflects Caitlin Heppner’s love and sense of place in the Australian wool industry.
Born and bred in the Barossa surrounded by grapes may have directed Caitlin to a career in viticulture, but a chance meeting with the Australian Shearing and Wool Handling team changed her life forever. “I remember sitting on the catching pen rails, watching everyone, totally engrossed in the atmosphere,” she says. “And the feel of the wool and the pungent aroma of the lanolin felt like home. In that moment I knew my life would revolve around the wool industry.”
Caitlin completed her secondary education with a traineeship leading to an Australian Woolclasser’s stencil, is the 2016 State Champion Merino Fleece Junior Judge, a Long Tan Award recipient, and is planning a political advocacy campaign called Farmers Not Forgotten.
As a first generation Australian-born Chinese from Western Sydney Sam Wan’s stereotypical career may have been accountant, doctor or lawyer but at high school she fell in love with sheep. “My teachers and mentors enriched my life,” Sam says. “From them I drew direction into an incredibly rewarding, constantly evolving industry.”
Today Sam works as a technical officer and auctioneer for Elders Wool, based at the National Wool Selling Centre in Melbourne and she is taking every opportunity to enrich her agricultural world. She participates in The Archibull Prize, has followed wool to the cutting edge of innovation in Hong Kong and presented at industry conferences. Her dedication to wool has been recognised with multiple awards including as a finalist in the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers of Australia’s Annual Wool Broker Award.
“By sharing my passion for an industry that adopted such a black sheep, it might open the eyes of someone who didn’t think agriculture was the place for them.”
Deanna Johnston describes herself as a rookie farmer, which is an oxymoron considering her life spent amongst the fleece. From sleeping in the wool bins at shearing time, to running the long-blow on a Coolalee ram before she started primary school, Deanna has a solid start to a career in wool.
She has worked with breeding stud stock and shown sheep. She has a certificate in woolclassing and competes in shearing and wool handling competitions. She has participated in the National Merino Challenge and in 2014 was runner-up in the National Young Guns competition at LambEX in Adelaide.
As part of the Young Guns Competition Deanna wrote an essay on attracting young people to the industry; a topic close to her heart. “Young people are the future of a successful wool industry through the whole supply chain from the sheep’s back to yours,” she says, “and I am lucky I will be a part of that future.”
Hamish McGrath’s early education was sporadic as he gave his mother the slip from distance education classes to follow his father around their 36,000 acre Merino operation at The Marra in Western NSW. Then as time passed it was the attractions of city life and rugby that held his attention. But now in his fourth year of an agricultural science degree at Sydney University Hamish realises wool, and the farm, are integral to his future.
“I have begun to see how few young people are interested in returning to the wool industry, chasing the dollars of cotton and mining, or leaving agriculture all together for life in the city. It really worries me that some of the most comprehensive knowledge and best farming practices in the world will be lost with Australia’s aging farmers. What will be left then?” Hamish asks.
Hamish understands the long days and hard work associated with sheep and has experienced the pull of an urban lifestyle but it is a career in agriculture where his heart lies.
A self-confessed townie Lucy Collingridge did not think her career would lie with wool until she was introduced to shearing, at age 15, and fell in love with wool. Returning to the farm each school holidays she immersed herself in all aspects of the industry “because there is no better feeling than being on the land, out in nature, and enjoying your surrounds,” Lucy says. “Whether it be drenching mobs or harvesting paddocks, it is a very rewarding feeling to look back on your productive day on the farm.”
Lucy turned to studying agriculture, initially at high school and then at university, and became involved in agricultural shows where, through sheep and junior fleece judging, she learnt more about the fibre. “I have met many people from all walks of life, who have all welcomed me with open arms. I cannot recommend being involved with the sheep and wool industry highly enough.”
Danila Marini was a city kid from Adelaide with no agricultural background, but a spark was ignited when her family bought a hobby farm and she was introduced to sheep. Danila has followed this love through an undergraduate degree and a PhD and now works as a research scientist with the University of New England in Armidale. She believes in combining technology and animal welfare and is currently developing a system of virtual fencing for sheep.
“I’m determining if we can train sheep to a virtual fence and if we can effectively keep them constrained to certain areas and also make sure that the technology doesn’t comprise their welfare. Here’s to a future of research, helping the agricultural sector and helping animals!”
2015 GRDC Grains Young Farming Champion Hugh Burrell just loves growing things: “Growing anything – animals, crops, I don’t mind – it’s all fun to me!” A proud product of Narrabri, NSW, Hugh has a strong bond with the land of his childhood home. On a 4th generation family farm in the foothills of the Nandewar ranges, Hugh learnt about growing the “wheat in your wheatbix and the barley for your beer” under the wings of his father and grandfather and always with a poddy calf in tow.
Currently in his final year of agricultural science at University of Sydney, Hugh’s looking forward to getting back to the land soon where he can “wake up with the view that feeds you.”
“In the future I’d like to move into agronomy of grains to feed the growing human population and the livestock industry,” Hugh says. “And as a farmer I will take the best care of my crops and animals, producing products you are happy to take into your home to eat, wear and use.”
Fifth generation farmer Daniel Fox’s family has been farming in the Marrar district of NSW for more than eighty years. It’s all hands on deck at his family’s sheep and dryland cropping property, with three generations of men and women always at the ready to help out. Daniel recently graduated from Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, with a double degree in Science and Education, and is happy to be back home on the farm.
“Now I have graduated from University, I look forward to the exciting next stage in my life where I can begin to take a greater role in the management of the family farm, as well as taking every opportunity to raise awareness about how we farm, why we do it and why we love it.”
Diana George believes nothing in life can beat getting on the header during harvest – especially when you have a great season! Based near Nevertire, NSW, Diana’s family run a dry-land cropping operation, alongside small herds of Angus cattle and Dorper sheep. Keen to try her hand at all things ag related, Diana has won numerous awards for judging cattle and handlers classes, and she is also qualified to pregnancy test and artificially inseminate cattle. Last year Diana took out the 2013 Rob Seekamp Memorial Scholarship and in 2014 an RAS of NSW Foundation Scholarship and a Coca-Cola and the Australian Council of Agricultural Societies Scholarship. She’s currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE.
“Agriculture is a part of who I am, I wouldn’t be the same without it. I am a farmer’s daughter and very proud to be part of the next generation of female farmers!”
Meet Jessica Kirkpatrick, a 19-year-old university student, grain analyst and stud sheep breeder. Jessica’s family has been farming near Beaufort, Victoria, for 150 years. At just 12 years old, Jessica established her own Border Leicester stud, “Jessie James”, in partnership with her younger brother. For four months of the year Jessica works as grain sampler and manager of classification and the sampling arm, at the Lakaput Bulk Storage facility for wheat, barley, oats and canola. With aspirations for a career as a grains agronomist, Jessica is currently studying a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in Wagga Wagga.
"We know how good our industry is so we must show it off to others! When work, commitment, and pleasure all become one and you reach that deep well where passion lives, nothing is impossible.”
From the beach to the bush, Rebecca Thistlethwaite believes all young people should experience the pleasure of a day of life on a farm. Growing up in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, Rebecca’s love of agriculture grew from visiting her family’s hobby farm on weekends and holidays. Rebecca is currently based in Narrabri, undertaking her PhD with the help of a Grains Research and Development Postgraduate Scholarship to study plant breeding and genetics at the University of Sydney.
“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? It’s no wonder I saw this as a fast-moving field I wanted to get involved in as soon as I could.”
Canberra based Sam Croggins has family connections with the land but it was a speech by Dr Julian Cribb at high school that spurred him to forge a career in agriculture. “He convinced me that with a growing world population, climatic instability and dwindling natural resources, global food security is under imminent threat and preserving it will be the challenge of our generation,” Sam says. “This enabled me to realise the crucial importance of agricultural science and that I can use it as a mechanism to create a significant difference in the world.”
Already with many accolades under his belt Sam is studying at The University of Sydney and is determined to change the world. “21,000 people die of hunger related causes every day. This is a number that is only set to increase and one that I am not prepared to live with. I am determined to play a leading role in the prevention of a global food shortage.”
Sydney girl Tayla Field first became involved with environmental issues while at high school and carried this interest to an Environmental Systems degree at The University of Sydney. Here she mixed with peers from an agricultural background and so impressed was she with the potential of the food and fibre industry that she changed to a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in her second year.
“I have discovered agriculture is an exciting forward-thinking career and I am hooked!” Tayla says enthusiastically. “I am hooked on the innovation and technology, the wonderful people I meet and the prospect of a career in an industry that underpins a bright and sustainable future for Australia.”
Now understanding the environment and agriculture work hand in hand for a common goal in protecting the planet, Tayla is majoring in agronomy.
Cowra girl Marlee Langfield is on a trajectory to take over her family farm and educate the next generation about agriculture. Gaining her passion from her father, from a school year in Canada and from the realisation that live theatre was a valuable means of communicating her ideas, Marlee is quickly gaining the skills she will require in the future.
“Every day I am equipping myself through my studies, practical hands-on experiences and with the help of industry experts to ready myself for the time when I become “Wallaringa” owner and manager,” Marlee says, “and my objective is to raise my voice to promote a rural lifestyle, educate non-farmers and encourage younger generations to consider apprenticeships and traineeships in agriculture, which therefore inspires them to enter into this vibrant, flourishing and promising industry.”
Studying a PhD at Murdoch University in Perth, Calum Watt finds himself on the cutting edge of international agricultural research.
Growing up on hobby farms in Western Australia he soon realised his agricultural interests lay in plants, especially crops, rather than animals and meeting friends at university he soon developed “broadacre” envy. “Understanding that the nature of farming is changing for good or worse made me want to integrate genetics and crops so that I could become a crop breeder,” Calum says.
His research will help future-proof barley as he looks at genetic control of grain size in relation to heat stress – something that will become more important, both in Australia and overseas, with the climate expected to heat. Calum’s days are divided between the laboratory and the paddock as he works to advance the scientific knowledge of grains.
Keiley O’Brien spent a great deal of her childhood in the cab of her father’s truck, carting grain and livestock across central NSW. Always excited about agriculture she was running her own Murray Grey Stud before she left school and envisaged a career in the beef industry.
But then a teacher encouraged her to try grain judging: “I knew what grain was, where it came from and that dad carted it, but that was it,” Keiley admits. “Never in the world did I think I could ever judge it, but I did. And that’s where my grain story begins.”
Success in grain judging and harvest employment with Graincorp has set Keiley up for a career in grains. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Agriculture/Bachelor of Business at UNE.
With a Bachelor of Agricultural Science, and as part of a rice industry graduate program, Erika Heffer, who grew up in the coastal town of Morisset on the central NSW coast, has migrated to the rice-growing plains of Deniliquin to follow her dream of living in the country and working with farmers. Erika works as a Landcare Coordinator in conjunction with the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia and the NSW Local Land Services, and in her job facilitates the dispersal of information between growers, industry and community through workshops and meetings. She has undertaken further study in training and mediation to better serve her community. “In my role I have been able to support farming and community groups to run projects for women in agriculture, livestock producers and irrigation farmers. It is a huge privilege to support growers in developing their knowledge and skills to adopt the most environmentally friendly and productive practices they can.” Erika is a positive voice for her community and strives to work with others to achieve better farming, community and environmental outcomes.
Tim was always the ‘the country boy stuck on concrete,” growing up on the NSW Central Coast. Attending Tocal Ag College from year 10 saw him realise his dreams, studying and working in agriculture in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. At 19 years old he started his own farm consultation and management business. Two years later, Tim manages two commercial beef properties, a Charolais stud show cattle team, and his own poultry business.
“I am very proud to be part of this important industry and playing my part in helping farmers adapt their farming practices to suit the soil and climate of their farms, and the changing climate conditions.”
Casey grew up on a cattle property near Baralaba, Central Queensland. But it took a gap year working at an English boarding school for the realisation to hit: her calling was back home, working in agriculture. Currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Queensland, Casey is about to embark on her honours project researching preservation of bovine semen.
“We need to share how wonderful agriculture is, how beautiful the land is, and how passionate we are about it. It doesn’t matter what part each of us take, we need to remember that working together is by far the most effective way.”
Prue’s love for agriculture started in the Hunter Valley on her family’s beef cattle and stockhorse-breeding property. With a Bachelor of Agribusiness under her belt, Prue is also a qualified equine dentist, running her own business while studying Veterinary Science at Charles Sturt University. She is an Australian Stock Horse judge and youth committee co-founder, and is highly involved with her local and state Agricultural Society Councils. Last year Prue was named the 2013 Trans-Tasman National Rural Ambassador.
As a young agriculturalist, I believe education is the key to the future of the agricultural industry and by further study I will be able to contribute to its future… I believe in the future of farming and the sustainability of agriculture, and I thrive on the opportunity to be an ambassador for agriculture.”
Despite growing up around wheat and sheep near Boorowa, NSW, Josh’s interest in agriculture started on his Great Grandparent’s dairy and beef cattle farms on the Mid North Coast. Currently in his final year of a law degree, Josh is completing a finance cadetship at the ABC, but his dream is to provide high quality legal advice to those living in the country, while building a large scale agricultural corporation. Josh is a Chair of the NSW Farmers- Young Farmers Council and part of the Alumni of the prestigious Woolworths Agriculture Business Scholarship program.
“We have a real chance to make these dreams a reality. We have the opportunity to make the agricultural profession as reputable and important to others as it once was. It won’t be easy, it will require a cohesive and collaborative mindset but the rewards will be great.”
Geoff Birchnell is an award winning farmer and global agribusiness entrepreneur providing exciting and innovative opportunities for Australian farmers. As an accountant Geoff runs Grow Capital Finance, providing financial solutions for agriculture, and in 2016 he helped develop the NSW Young Farmers Business Program, which in 2017 was funded by the NSW State Government for $6 million. The program provides free bank-ready workshops for young people across the state. “These days being part of a farming enterprise means not only knowing how to strain a fence but also having the capacity to represent the business at the board room table.”
In addition, Geoff keeps up his cattle interests as Director of Herefords Australia and a committee member of the Cattle Council of Australia.
“My passion is agriculture and I am proud to say I love my beef cows! Every day I know that I am contributing to help feed the world – and I also love what I do. Agriculture is an exciting place to be, yes there are challenges but there are also endless different opportunities within agriculture and that is something I hope to share and encourage a new generation to take on the challenge to help feed the world!”
“Education is the key to ensuring the Australian agricultural industry is understood and supported by our urban cousins and I look forward to a career where I can achieve this, and then come home to the farm every evening.”
“I see today’s agricultural industry as exciting and challenging and I feel privileged to be a part of an industry which is so vital to Australia’s future. I look forward to contributing to the industry through my veterinary profession and AGvoccay roles.”
“It doesn’t matter what your background may be all you need is enthusiasm, a willingness to learn and the ability to say yes to the opportunities that are presented to you and I guarantee a great adventure will be waiting! After all, as Dorothea wrote… Core of my heart, my country! Land of the Rainbow Gold, For flood and fire and famine, She pays us back threefold.”
Steph grew up on the Central Coast of New South Wales in a small coastal suburb, Green Point. A decision to study agriculture in high school created a passion for showing cattle and in 2012 she started a PhD in Meat and Livestock Science, with a project that is looking at the potential of Raman Spectroscopy in predicting meat quality.
“When I was growing up I never dreamed that I would end up joining an incredibly rewarding, innovative and exciting industry that would take me across the country and around the world.”
Bronwyn is a Grazing Land Management Officer with the Fitzroy Basin Association. Her family has a long association with the cattle industry in Queensland and her parents currently run a 5500 acre cattle property near Capella.
“I believe consumers have lost touch of how and where their food and fibre is produced. In these current times where agriculture is competing with other industry for land use, labour, funding and services, it is important that we have a strong network of consumers who support the industry and accept our social license as the trusted and sustainable option.”
Kylie Stretton and her husband have a livestock business in Northern Queensland, where they also run Brahman cattle. Kylie is the co-creator of “Ask An Aussie Farmer” a social media hub for people to engage with farmers and learn about food and fibre production.
“The industry has advanced from the images of “Farmer Joe” in the dusty paddock to images of young men and women from diverse backgrounds working in a variety of professions. Images now range from a hands-on job in the dusty red centre to an office job in inner city Sydney. So many opportunities, so many choices.”
Twenty year old Felicity Taylor is a 2015 NSW Farmers Cattle and Sheep Industry Young Farming Champion and sixth generation farmer from Moree, NSW. Felicity grew up on her family’s 10,000 acre wheat and cattle property north of Moree, before her family relocated to a smaller grazing property to the east of town, instilling a strong connection to the region. “I love the beautiful black soils, the locals walking down the main street and days spent swimming in the river,” she says.
Currently in her 2nd year of an agricultural economics degree at University of Sydney, Felicity says she is driven by maintaining the spirit of rural communities and promoting best practice farming while also seeing the great potential for profitable agricultural businesses.
“I thrive off the love of the land and dream of turning the soils the same way my family has always done, but always that little bit better all the time,” she says. “When I have a place of my own, I’m not going to be making choices on tradition or convention, but on the best decisions for my piece of land, combining the education and practical experience vital for a successful agricultural career.”
Agriculture has allowed Tegan to combine her love of science and business to create a career focusing on productivity and sustainability. With a particular interest in conservation farming she operates a wheat property with her family in the central west of NSW, along with managing ‘Yandilla Angus’. Acting as the Chair of the NSW Young Farmers Council, Tegan spends her spare time advocating for the future of agriculture on behalf of the youth in NSW.
In 2001 my family started our shorthorn herd, “Outback Shorthorns”. We don’t have generations of farming history, and we don’t even own any land. But like other primary producers we love what we do and work hard to produce cattle that results in the healthiest and tastiest beef possible sitting on the consumer’s plate. We take pride in providing beef to our local butcher and enjoy being able to connect directly with our consumers in this way.
Laura Phelps has an ever-evolving and non-traditional career. She has worked with developing nations, pork producer groups and farming organisations and is now with the Federal Government in Canberra covering anything from international policy development to agricultural communications. “Most people imagine working in agriculture as working with animals or as a farmer. My role is often behind the scenes, developing projects which actively contribute to better policy and trade outcomes for all aspects of agriculture. It’s confusing and often hard to explain but it’s exciting work.” Laura has experienced firsthand the benefits of being involved with Young Farming Champions. “The skills I have learnt at various stages have set me up personally and professionally and, while I am still learning and developing, I think it is important to remain involved so others have access to the same opportunities. This is why I have volunteered for the Youth Voices Team.”
Animal and Veterinary Bioscience student Georgia Clark has a passion for all things poultry. A few years ago the now 20-year-old began her own purebred poultry stud on a small farm near Lake Macquarie, NSW, with a focus on sustainability and the continuation of rare dual purpose and bantam breeds.
Heavily involved in the community, Georgia is chief steward of the poultry section at her local show – resurrecting the section after a 30 year show absence. In 2013 Georgia took home two Champion poultry titles at the Sydney Royal Easer Show, completed a 2013 Woolworth Agribusiness Scholarship, implemented a poultry unit at her local primary school and resurrected the local pony club.
Georgia also breeds Huacaya alpacas, and has a desire to expand into beef cattle – her family’s agricultural roots. She is a 2014 Royal Agricultural Society Rural Achiever, and a strong believer in encouraging young people to become involved in agriculture and their local communities.
“Relationships with the community are a perfect opportunity to promote agriculture as a career for people both young and old, and to connect and encourage young minds to the important opportunities and challenges of food and fibre production.”
With a plethora of schools to choose from for her secondary education in north-west Sydney, Emma Longworth was attracted to one with the novelty of a school farm. Through school programs such as The Archibull Prize and involvement with the Sydney Royal Easter Show Emma has seen this novelty bloom into a genuine passion and has even moved to the country in Armidale to study agriculture at university.
“As a young person from the city I am looking forward to inspiring other city kids to follow my career journey into agriculture,” Emma says. “I want to share with them you don’t need to buy a farm to farm and you don’t even need to be a farmer. Everyone in the agricultural sector has an important role to play.”
So where does Emma see herself at the end of her degree? “Anywhere,” she says. “With five jobs for every agricultural graduate the opportunities are endless.”
Agriculture may sometimes be perceived as hooning around on motorbikes and horses, tending animals and growing crops but Meg Rice is attracted to the policy and legal issues that make the industry tick.
Growing up on a livestock ad cropping property in the central west of NSW Meg was encouraged to pursue an agricultural career by her father. “Dad has always encouraged my sisters and I to be involved in agriculture and to consider why certain things happen the way they do,” Meg says. “We were often quizzed on car trips about the varying agricultural practises and have all developed quite a knack for spotting weeds when driving around the property!”
Now at UNE studying a Bachelor of Agriculture and Law Meg has aspirations of using legal, consultancy and policy knowledge for the betterment of agriculture as a whole.
Although Annicka Brosnan grew up on a hydroponic lettuce farm it was never suggested to her that she consider agriculture as a career, which explains why she found herself somewhat lost at university studying biomedical science, Spanish and geography.
“Nothing was fitting,” Annicka says, until she did a geography module on agriculture. “Like any 18 year-old with an epiphany I rang Mum and rambled non-stop for about 15 minutes and declared with absolute certainty I wanted to study agriculture.”
Annicka has now changed degrees and is studying agriculture externally from the family farm. She is learning the ins and outs of running a business, engaging with the public at farmers markets and consulting with industry to manage quality issues.
“Working in agriculture no longer means returning to the family place for life,” she says. “I feel like I am at the beginning of an exciting career that could take me anywhere.”