The Young Farming Champions (YFC) are identified youth ambassadors and future influencers working within the agriculture sector. The YFC promote positive images and perceptions of farming and engage in activities and innovative programs including The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas to get these messages across to wider audiences. The YFC demonstrate passion for their industry, while providing real life examples to young people who may have never considered a career in agriculture. Because they are young they can relate to students and are adept at breaking down stereotypes of farming and agricultural careers.
Taking part in the YFC two-year induction program Cultivate-Growing Young Leaders involves undertaking a series of immersion workshops and complementary activities under the mentorship of some of Australia’s finest communication, marketing and professional development experts.
The program’s focus is developing confident, independent, reflective thinkers who can share their story and their personal experiences, while voicing their own opinions about agricultural issues in their industry and more broadly.
The program equips and prepares the participants for that often very daunting experience: of standing up to be counted, even in difficult circumstances. The YFC leadership development model is providing the rock-solid foundation and pivotal stepping stones as part of a journey to lead agriculture’s next generation.
Through these workshops and the program’s lifetime mentorship opportunities, the YFC are also equipped with unique insights into all aspects of the agricultural supply chain as well as consumer attitudes and trends.
The Young Farming Champions are focused on the big picture and have shared interests in mobilising movements that influence policy, practice, and culture.
A Temora farmer by birth, Sam O’Rafferty’s agricultural journey has been determined by water, and the lack of it. He grew up in the Millenium Drought and for 18 months helped his family cart water from town to support the needs of their mixed farm.
But farming was in Sam’s blood and the drought did not deter him from following agriculture to university. During holidays lack of water once again influenced him when he worked as an irrigation overseer, experiencing extended extreme heat periods, which caused increased water demand for crops and tightened irrigation schedules.
Coming full circle, Sam now works as an irrigation agronomist in the Riverina in a wet year and is seeing 100% water allocations lead to record crops, though he knows the next drought will be just around the corner. “My aim is to continually improve water use efficiency and productivity on farm and help producers adapt to the variability in the climate. This will come through a variety of improvements to on-farm water delivery systems, plant genetics and improved soil management practices.”
Kate Webster has completed an agricultural degree from Charles Sturt University, coached the university’s meat judging team, coached the Pakistan national meat judging team, interned at a Texas University and written a children’s book called “What is Meat” to connect the younger generation with agriculture. And that is aside from her 9-5 career with the National Meat Industry Training and Advisory Council.
As a dynamic advocate for agriculture Kate also instigated a children’s educational section at the Wagga Wagga show, which was the inspiration for a further series of books, which will follow the production of meat, milk, eggs, and wool from producer to consumer and all the steps in between.
“It is up to us as the new generation to paint agriculture in a positive light and spark the interest we have all found on our own paths into the wider community and in particular drive the generations coming up behind us to seek out their own passions in agriculture.”
Katharine Charles’ passion for agriculture began the day she stepped into the school farm on her first day of high school. As well as during class, she spent lunch breaks, weekends and holidays developing this new-found passion – working on the farm, showing cattle at agricultural shows and mentoring new students as they too made their first forays into agriculture.
After high school she volunteered on a dairy farm in Ireland before, naturally, enrolling to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University. Here she was introduced to the world’s “wicked issues”, those with complex challenges and limited understanding such as climate change and biodiversity loss.
“As a young person coming into the agricultural industry, these challenges felt insurmountable at first; but I have now realised that the learning journey I have been on means I am perfectly placed to work with others to play a role in addressing these issues, and I am excited to make some real, positive change.”
Florance McGufficke’s “daddy day care” was the paddocks and shearing shed on her family’s sheep property near Cooma in southern NSW. As she grew up she involved herself with sheep husbandry activities, data analysis and genetic data collection, to improve the family business’ Merino wool products.
Florance extended this love of wool and agriculture with Bachelors of Agriculture and Business from the University of New England where tertiary education offered her insights into genetics, the overseas supply chain and wool’s position as the answer to fast fashion. “The characteristics of the wool fibre make it highly sustainable and environmentally friendly and I believe wool’s superior qualities need to be promoted to highlight the environmental benefits.”
Florance believes the wool industry will benefit from greater communication and transparency between the consumer, the supply chain and the producer. “I know the benefits of this luxurious fibre, and I have a desire to be a leading advocate for the future of the wool industry.”
Lachlan White was not born into a farming family and is passionate about showing others that agriculture welcomes all-comers with open arms.
His interest in agriculture was sparked while still at school as he began to explore the science behind growing food and fibres by managing plant and animal systems, and during holidays this exploration led him to a world of adventure and ultimately to a gap year in the sector. In his short experience Lachlan has worked with beef, cotton, sheep and dairy.
Currently studying a science and agriculture degree at The University of Sydney while managing a beef property, Lachlan is grateful for the skillset his diverse experience has provided him. “I have learnt many transferable skills along the way and one thing that really stands out for me is the willingness for all the farmers who I have learnt from to pass on their knowledge. I want to share my story to show farming is a career that welcomes people from all walks of life, not just kids whose parents were farmers.”
Growing up in Western Sydney Danielle credits many sources for inspiring her love of agriculture, including being part of the winning Archibull Prize team with Caroline Chisholm College in 2011. Post high-school, in 2016, she realised a dream to attend Tocal Agricultural College where she excelled, attaining the rare accolade of ‘Double Dux’ in the college’s two agriculture courses.
Three years in agribusiness followed but Danielle was seeing a disconnect between agriculture and the environment. “There was a significant lack of environmental knowledge and respect and it was common to see reliance on outdated practices, chemical abuse, and exploitation of natural resources. I knew I had to learn more, to broaden my perspective, and jump in to be part of the solution, so, in 2021, I started a Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management at the University of Newcastle.”
Faced with the uncertainties of a changing climate Danielle is determined to position agriculture as the industry to combat and control these issues through technological innovation and integration, sustainable and regenerative practices, environment researcg and rehabilitation and carbon capture. “The opportunities for agriculture to be part of the solution are endless.”
Sometimes a school arises that turns agricultural education on its head and reimagines the industry for those who had never considered it. Barker College in Sydney’s northern suburb of Hornsby is a shining example, and graduate Ani Dilanchian is the perfect model. Ani did not even realise agriculture could be studied at high school until she moved to Barker College in Year 10. This exposure, during her teens, led Ani to The University of Sydney and Bachelor of Food and Agribusiness, and to a career at Corteva as a sales associate, also in Sydney.
“[Agriculture] offers a diverse range of career opportunities with many located in urban areas, a point that was very influential in my decision to pursue a career in agriculture.
“There is an opportunity for my generation to contribute towards improving awareness of the complexities and challenges from paddock to plate, and fostering meaningful communication between the industry and community to work towards strengthening the sustainability and resilience of the agriculture sector.”
New Zealand bred and born Morgan Bell grew up in town and, like many of our YFC, was introduced to agriculture through high school. It proved a pivotal time for her and “Gateway Agriculture” became her most anticipated day of the school week. Even when there were not enough students for a full agricultural subject in Year 11, Morgan studied it externally, and followed her new passion to a Bachelor of Agriculture Science at Massey University.
Weekends and holidays became devoted to learning all she could about agriculture, working on dairy, sheep, beef and deer farms. Her current role with Corteva expands her horizons even further. “Three years in and I have learnt so much and had the opportunity to work with so many amazing and inspiration people. Every day there are new opportunities and challenges to keep me on my toes.
“One thing I would love to change is for young people, especially those from an urban background, to see all the amazing opportunities out there in the primary industries. I think it’s important for people to realize they don’t have to be born into agriculture to help make a difference in the future.”
Recently completing a double degree in Agriculture and Business at the University of New England (4 months early), Kempsey Show Young Women of the Year, Assistant Manager of ‘Taylors Run’ a regenerative mixed farming operation, embarking on a further study in agriculture, sitting on agricultural committees and owning a share in a mob of cross-bred ewes, perfectly illustrates the dynamic drive of Katie Barnett.
Not surprisingly, Katie has gained diverse agricultural experiences including work with beef cattle and pasture agronomy, but it is to sheep and wool she is drawn. “I am proud to be a part of an industry where sheep turn basic environmental resources into wool – a natural fibre that will last for years and years in your wardrobe, needs less washing, is fire resistant, breathable, recyclable and biodegradable and does not contribute to microplastic pollution.”
Growing up in Kempsey Katie was not directly involved within the sheep and wool industry but has developed the passion throughout her life. “Besides sheep and wool, I have an enormous interest in women and youth in agriculture and would like to show that it doesn’t matter what your background, age or gender may be, if you try hard and keep preserving, you’ll achieve your goals.”
Reynolds Tang-Smith is a business analyst with management consulting firm McKinsey where he, like Action4Agriculture, helps create positive enduring change in the world by solving problems for large companies, governments and NGOs.
Earlier in his career Reynolds, from Perth, studied Economics and Physiology (pre-med) at the University of Western Australia (UWA), completed an exchange program at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, USA, worked as a cardiac physiologist and interned at a digital healthcare start-up in Sydney.
Reynolds’ goal is to work once again in the healthcare industry where he hopes to make scalable impact by leveraging entrepreneurship and technology. “When I mention healthcare, I also extend the definition to the ‘health of the planet’, which includes our plant, soil, water, fungi, animal, family, community, mental, financial, and spiritual health. Therefore, my aim is to become a wholistic doctor where I can help myself and people live more sustainably with the Earth. A huge and underrated part of this are our agricultural food systems.”
As a mentor Theresa will join Cultivate participants in workshops and act as an ally in the workplace and community.
From seven generations of sheep farmers Theresa believes she has wool wrapped around her DNA. Continuing the tradition, she now runs a super-fine Merino flock and trains working dogs and horses as part of the family farming business. She is also a Livestock Officer for Hunter Local Land Services where she engages with producers about all things livestock, nutrition and grazing.
With such a foundational background in agriculture Theresa has seen highs and lows but has faith in the future. “This industry is always changing, the goal posts move regularly. We are governed by climatic conditions, markets, and decision making bodies that are sometimes out of touch with what’s happening on ground. At the same time agriculture is full of very successful and supportive people who are willing to give you a leg up, support your goals and mentor you through. My network grows every day. This is an exciting industry to be a part of, and I look forward to sharing my story further with the Young Farming Champions Program.”
Bryan Van Wyk is PYiA’s inaugural fishing Young Farming Champion and he is living the life of his dreams as head of operations for Austral Fisheries’ northern prawn fleet, based out of Cairns in far north Queensland. It is fair to say Bryan grew up in the sea off northern Tasmania; fishing, diving, exploring rock pools and spear fishing whenever the opportunity presented; an upbringing that inspired him to study marine science at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston.
Bryan’s love for the ocean is reflected in his work with Austral and his desire to join the YFC program to advocate for Australian fisheries.
“I would like to become a respected influencer and leader with a positive impact for the industry I work in. I believe that one day I will be leading my organisation in the Northern Prawn Fishery and hope to maintain a profitable operation while staying true to important values such as environmental sustainability and crew wellbeing. I would also like to empower others around me to think about the bigger picture and work collectively to tackle common threats such as climate change, pollution, bycatch and water development.”
Dylan Male is our Riverina Local Land Services scholarship winner and he brings to the table an indigenous agricultural perspective.
“I’m passionate about agricultural systems that produce enough healthy food for all and reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This passion has led me to commence my PhD studies investigating the agronomy and ecology of a native Australian grass species that was cultivated for grain by Indigenous Australians.”
Dylan is a Riverina local and has vivid memories of the millennium drought from growing up on a farm on Wiradjuri Country. Wanting to make a change he completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University before commencing his PhD in partnership with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Latrobe University.
“Participation in the two-year Young Farming Champion program will complement my PhD studies by providing me with a greater sense of empowerment as an emerging leader in the rapidly evolving agricultural industry. I am looking forward to the journey and graduating the program as a Young Farming Champion.”
A month long stint as a jillaroo on a Northern Territory cattle station has led Perth girl Shannon Chatfield to an extraordinary career with Australia’s northern beef industry. Shannon works with Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC), currently based on Newcastle Waters Station in the joint roles of Research Project Officer and Assistant Manager.
When she began in agriculture Shannon had no idea of the career paths available. “What started out as a month contract on a station out of pure curiosity has turned into a new passion and a career with long-term goals.” Those long-term goals include leadership in an industry Shannon has come to love.
She sees social licence, research and technology and the retention of young people as important issues and would like to see the northern beef industry lead in sustainability both economically and environmentally.
“I want to be a leader people look up to; someone who can confidently promote the industry but also talk about the tough issues challenging agriculture and help the industry take steps to overcome these. I want to be part of the solution encouraging conversations between producers and consumers and help support young people within the industry to be future leaders.”
Olivia Borden is a YFC who exemplifies the spirit of having a go. Raised on a piggery in Victoria Oliva has crafted a diverse career in agriculture, having worked in western NSW shearing sheds, NT live export yards and with aboriginal stockmen on vast northern cattle stations. Never one afraid to get dirt under the fingernails she is currently an agronomist based in Katherine, NT and has discovered a desire to take a leadership role in the industry she loves.
“They [her bosses] threw me in the car and introduced me to the world of tropical pastures, watermelon and mango growers but it was the developing northern cotton industry that won my heart over. I find every day incredibly challenging and stimulating and I haven’t looked back.”
Realising her somewhat unconventional career pathway may have set her back in professional development, Olivia has joined the YFC program to rapidly upskill to enable her to give back to agriculture.
“I hope to move from being an average employee at the risk of getting lost in the business world, to being a humbly confident, supportive agronomist and businesswoman, who can advocate for NT agriculture, build strong community rapport and encourage other young people to join agriculture and be part of the fast pace of its future development.”
Connie Mort grew up on a sheep property near Mudgee and spent her childhood running her hands through fine wool and learning the finer points of stock husbandry, but spreading her wings was always high on her agenda.
Like many young people Connie took a closer look at the world post high-school working on a station in South Australia, travelling overseas and teaching English in Tanzania. However her deep-seated love of agriculture brought her home to a Bachelor of Science at The University of Sydney. At university she stepped away from her sheep and wool upbringing to explore other aspects of agriculture including soil science and farming systems in developing countries.
This exploration continues today with her current role as Territory Account Manager for Corteva Agriscience. Connie sees many challenges and opportunities for agriculture and has joined the Young Farming Champions program to develop her communication skills and to build a network of colleagues from across agricultural industries.
“I am passionate about people being provided with information backed by science and the latest research so they can draw their own conclusions and opinions from a position of fact.”
Growing up in Sydney Steph Tabone never imagined she would have a career in agriculture, nor that this career would take her to vegetable paddocks of south-east Queensland and then back to the city streets of Sydney.
With a love of animals Steph initially wanted to study veterinary medicine but a change saw her study agriculture at university.
“I soon learnt that agriculture was a small, close-knit faculty where everyone became like family. Through laboratory and field practicals, rural field trips and placements on-farm, I quickly learnt of the diverse opportunities the industry had to offer and it was here I developed my true passion for agriculture and came to appreciate the industry’s importance in providing food for millions of people.”
Post university Steph was working for a vegetable grower when she was nominated for the Corteva Agriscience sponsored Young Grower of the Year award. It was a portentous meeting of minds and when circumstances presented she took a job with Corteva back in her hometown. She has joined the Young Farming Champions program to share her story and to help “growers have the expertise and tools they need to meet the challenges they face now and in the future.”
Like Steph, Veronika grew up in Sydney and discovered agriculture while at university. With a foot in both the rural and urban camps she sees the need for genuine and lasting relationships between producers and consumers.
Veronika studied a Bachelor of Animal Science at Charles Sturt University and now is a PhD candidate at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation where her research involves the beef and dairy industries. “Consumers in our society are becoming increasingly conscious of animal welfare standards, the quality of their food and where it is sourced. My first-hand experience has shown me consumer views can be distanced from the reality of modern agricultural practices. The diversity of views shared on social and in print media can either expand the urban-rural gap, or minimise it. Bridging the gap is where I believe we should begin.”
Bridging this gap by telling her own story is what draws Veronika to the Young Farming Champion program, where she is looking forward to learning communication and leadership skills. She believes enabling others to broaden their agricultural knowledge and to encourage individuals to enter this diverse industry will strengthen agriculture.
Emily May is a Young Farming Champion alumna continuing her advocacy journey into peri-urban agriculture. Emily saw first-hand this agricultural frontier, growing up in the Hawkesbury district of Sydney’s western food bowl where she witnessed farming land give way to urban development.
Emily studied a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of New England and volunteered with Hawkesbury Harvest to advocate for peri-urban agriculture.
“I am proud to be part of a passionate team adapting to a changing world. I am excited to be part of the movement to ensure that agriculture is valued and prioritised as an important land use and economic activity within our communities and ensuring buying local food is a choice that consumers can make in future.”
Emily is currently expanding her agricultural horizons as a graduate agronomist with Thomas Elder in Forbes and is looking forward to continuing her association with Young Farming Champions.
“I am very committed to learning how to effectively amplify the voices of youth, advocate for the industry I love and inspire the next generation to follow in my footsteps.”
Francesca Earp has worked at white shark research centre in South Africa and as a farmhand on a goat property in central NSW but it was while studying a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience that her honours project in Laos redirected her life. In 2018 Franny flew, once again, to Laos – this time as the in-country implementation officer for two agricultural development programs – determined to make a difference.
Her work in Laos has made Franny hungry for gender equality.
“I became dedicated to the inclusion and empowerment of female farmers in a culturally appropriate manner…. And I became a PhD candidate, investigating the impact of socio-cultural factors on the uptake of agricultural development training programs, with an emphasis on the female farmer.”
Covid travel restrictions mean Franny’s PhD is currently suspended but, not one to waste time, she is now studying a Master of Global Development at James Cook University. Franny joins the Young Farming Champion program as a Gender Equality ambassador and is looking forward to fighting for gender rights alongside the team.
“I believe in order to achieve true gender equality we must engage with all sectors, cultures and societies to ensure everyone feels empowered.”
Sally Downie grew up on a dairy farm near Forbes. Sally recognised early on her career would be in agriculture, and she initially envisioned this as on the farm. But life has a way of throwing curve balls and after being diagnosed with an eating disorder, spending time in hospital and battling the resultant mental health issues, Sally has found her own path.
“I took a job with my local council as Drought Coordinator. I had no idea what to expect and it was strange to not milk cows every day. But I love it. It’s diverse. It’s meaningful. It’s challenging. It allows me to live out my visions. I saw my new paddock, a new life; a life where I was me, who I am meant to be and not who I thought I had to be. This paddock will change but my passion will not.”
Matt Cumming owns and operates his own contracting business, a one-stop shop for all shearing needs from mustering to wool pressing. He employees a core team of six, under the age of thirty, and encourages them to reach for the stars. “I am very proud of my team for their workmanship and the pride they take in their work and I especially enjoy the moment when they reach personal milestones, which enables them to build confidence in themselves and their work.” Matt and his team compete in shearing and wool handling competitions, and believe Australia’s reputation for high quality wool demands a high-quality shearing and wool clip preparation.
“I have been mentored by many Australian and World Champions and it is important I pass on my knowledge and experiences and continue to be an advocate for professional standards within the sheep and wool industry.”
Rebecca George grew up on a farming property near Nevertire in central west NSW immersed in agriculture and always felt supported and encouraged by the industry. Throughout her school years Rebecca participated in the local agricultural show and in multiple cattle showing events. Now, in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE, Rebecca is paying that goodwill forward. She volunteers on committees for the National All Breeds Junior Heifer Show, the Angus Youth Round Up, the Dubbo Show Society and UNE Robb College’s Rural Focus committee.
“I appreciated those who put in the time and effort to invest in the next generation of agriculture [in me] and in the last two years I have found my own passion to support and inspire the next generation of #YouthinAg.”
Tom Squires grew up around sheep in Tasmania and owned his first mob by age sixteen. He completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce in New Zealand and is now living his dream job as a shearer. “There’s an incredible feeling of excitement as you hear sheep hoofs trotting down the ramp into your stockyards, knowing they’re your sheep. But the true thrill comes when you stencil your name onto your first bale of wool. There’s that sense of achievement in seeing a fleece being packed into a bale, knowing someone will benefit from what you produced.”
Tom wants consumers to understand the entire wool supply chain and to realise the true pride farmers have for their produce.
“It’s a long road to this destination but I want to be a part of the change: One voice, one education, one person at a time.”
From Orange to Asia Jessica Fearnely knows a career in agriculture can take her anywhere. With a degree in rural science from UNE Jessica works as a development officer with temperate fruits for the NSW DPI and her role here, amongst apples and cherries, is strengthened by her varied agricultural experiences in the past.
Not afraid of a challenge Jessica has worked with government researchers, farming advocacy and education groups and software development companies. She has participated in agricultural tours of Cambodia and Laos, competed in meat judging competitions and has been an active member of university clubs and groups. “All of my study and work experience have led me to my current role, which focusses on developing the horticultural industry to help growers and associated people remain competitive in markets, as well as to supply Australians with quality fruit.”