Agriculture can take you anywhere you chose

Recently Victoria Taylor asked in the Flourish Files AgScience and the Shrinking Work Force  “Why can’t we retain students in Agricultural Science courses?” Victoria suggested that one of the reasons was the lack of clarity about the highly diverse careers in agriculture and if a student decides at the end of first year that they don’t want to be an agronomist or farmer anymore, how do we let them know there are a number of other career options open to Agriculture Science graduates?

Art4agriculuture have taken up this challenge and will be posting a number of blogs written by exciting young people who have completed agriculture degrees and now work in the agrifood sector or are doing exciting things whilst completing their agriculture related degree

We recently featured Melissa Henry – Life in a country town and today we hear Hollie Baillieu’s story

This blog post has been adapted from the presentation Hollie gave at the Careers Advisors Conference in Liverpool, Sydney in November 2011.

Where can an agricultural degree take you?  by Hollie Baillieu

The answer is – anywhere you chose!

I couldn’t be happier knowing that I have a strong future in agriculture.

I think that most people have the perception of agriculture as being a male dominated industry. To put it simply, the Agricultural sector wants females, they are encouraging us and they are employing us and more and more I see no hesitation when a woman enters a room looking for a job in agriculture.

This is my story.

I am currently working in Sydney for the Australian Year of the Farmer, I am the Chair person of the NSW Young Farmer Council, I am an ambassador for Agrifood Skills Australia and I am a Young Farming Champion for the Art4Agriculture school programs.

I grew up on a small property in Exeter, in the Southern Highlands only a couple of hours south of Sydney. Here we had cattle, sheep, goats and for a time – meat rabbits. I have always been surrounded by dogs, horses, ducks and geese, chickens, and more often than not I would have a lamb or kid close on my heels thinking I was its mum.

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I went on to study Agriculture at high school by correspondence as one of my subjects for the HSC which gave me just a taste for what was to come.

After school I took a year off from study so after travelling to India, the UK and parts of America I started the season in the Northern Territory on a cattle station called Newcastle Waters.

The station is 3.5 million acres, holding 50,000 commercial cattle and 5000 stud cattle. Newcastle Waters was special to me because my grandfather had once owned it. The fact that I was there, where my grandfather had been meant a lot to me, however it didn’t really help me adjust to the work ahead.

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Dare I say it but most of the men had more ego than brain. This gave me a challenge. I didn’t know what I was doing, I wasn’t rough and blokey, I was tentative, shy, and most of the time I was just nervous I was going to mess it up.

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During the day we were on horse back mustering the cattle from their paddocks to the yards. This was a full days ride and at the start of the season we were up at 3.30am, in the saddle by daylight and walking the cattle in until 10 or 11pm at night.

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It was blistering hot, my lips doubled in size and my hands peeled from sunburn. We were tired, thirsty and so too were the cattle. The next day would be a day in the yards, sorting, culling, weaning and pregnancy testing. Another long dusty dry day and then we would turn around and do it all again the next day.

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I don’t think words could explain exactly what it was like. As I said it was a challenge. I had one thing on my side in that I could ride. There were some jackaroos who had never ridden a horse and I’ll tell you they learnt pretty quickly.

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In this environment particularly, a purely physical environment, as a girl you have to prove yourself. A couple of months in I was gradually doing that. At one point I was the only girl in a camp of 10 guys; once again it was a challenge. But I persisted, there was no way I was quitting and by the end of the year, I had gained lifelong friends and I didn’t want to leave.

However it was time to move on and I started a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Sydney University and later transferred to the same course in Wagga. Hollie 4 Blog 0007

When I started uni I gave myself choices. I also signed up for the Army Reserve. I knew I loved agriculture but I didn’t know where I could really go with it and I had always been interested in the Army so I thought if I do this and if one doesn’t work out, I have options.

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I loved being involved in the reserves and I always felt proud when I put my uniform on, but in the end Agriculture has taken me on and it’s consumed my life really. I think that there are a lot of links between the sort of people that are in the army and those in agriculture. In fact during the interview process they loved that I had a rural background. They mentioned it couple of times that country people can often do very well in the army. Apparently it’s the practical nature and easy going personality that really works in the army.

My involvement in the wider agriculture industry really began when I signed up to the NSW Young Farmers Council late in 2009.

It started with just a phone call to see how I could be more involved in the NSW Farmers Association and from that I went along to the leadership forum. It was fantastic and in 3 months I became the vice chair and in March this year I was voted in as the Chair of the Young Farmer Council. It all happened very quickly and I have no doubt in my mind that I would not be where I am and I would not have had the opportunities that I have had if it wasn’t for the NSW Farmers Association and our Young Farmer Council.

Which university?

You have those people who are perhaps more practically minded and hands on and those that are more management focused and perhaps corporate based. The great thing is that the agriculture industry can incorporate all of these people

We need practical people who want to be hands and the vocational educational training (VET) courses through TAFE are a fantastic system and can work very well. A few of my friends at university did VET courses while still at school and universities are recognising these qualifications and giving credit points towards a degree.

And the second group of students are those that are more corporate and management focused or just more suited to a university degree.

My experience tells me it is imperative that the correct educational institution is matched to the student. I fell into the trap of choosing a degree at a university that all my friends were going to. I didn’t look into what suited me and hence why I didn’t stay there very long.

When I started my agriculture degree off at Sydney University I did this for a number of reasons. It had the highest UAI acceptance, it had the best name, it was exciting and all my friends were there. I didn’t even look into other uni’s because I had made up my mind Sydney was the uni for me.

Sadly it didn’t work out for me. What I found was that Sydney unis course focused heavily on research. If I was into laboratory work and research I couldn’t recommend it more highly. It had an extremely high level of expectation and achievement and produces phenomenal graduates. What it lacks is the practical component that I love so much. The first year and some of the second I believe – we are put in classes with the med students and vet students. Us aggies didn’t get UAI’s of 99 so the standard was incredible and for me I wasn’t dedicated enough to really push myself and go through with it. And sadly there many who felt the same.

So I transferred to Charles Sturt Uni (CSU) in Wagga and I haven’t looked back since. At Sydney we wouldn’t have done the practical stuff until 4th year but in Wagga we were living within a working property so we were constantly surrounded by it, we lived and breathed it and loved it.

At CSU, they know every individual – you are not a number, you are a person. The courses are so relevant and the lecturers are so in tune with what the students want from the course

CSU have just started a really interesting element to the agriculture degree. It is now a four year course but in that 4thyear – half the year you are actually employed by an agribusiness. So you are out in the work force experiencing what its like. Which I think is really good especially if you don’t know what area you want to go into – its not so good for those people who do know where they want to be but it will be interesting to hear from the group for 2012 how it is and what they got out of it.

The other uni’s on the east coast are UNE in Armidale, Gatton in QLD and Marcus Oldham in Victoria. I have had friends at each of these with both UNE and Gatton and they say similar things to what it is like at CSU. The courses are called slightly different things but basically very similar and hands on. Marcus Oldham is a little different because it is a private university. It’s quite expensive but the courses tend to be shorter and they are jam packed rather than being so spread out like the other uni’s often do.

One thing that I have learnt over the past few years is the importance of being involved in the industry before you enter it. So at university get holiday work and jobs that fit your industry. Over the years I have worked in many areas of agriculture including an alpaca stud, a vineyard, cattle stud, a dairy and the cotton industry

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You must have an interest and want to get involved in it or when you start your first job – you are behind the eight ball.

I have found that my involvement with NSW Young Farmers Council has helped with my knowledge of the industry, I am more knowledgeable about the issues that are important to farmers in all primary industries and I have a broader understanding of agriculture and its politics in general. I used to get so frustrated at people in my own course who had no solid opinion about the live export ordeal or what was happening with grains, international trade, the price wars, competing against countries that have large subsidies – I could go on. It frustrated me because they had no interest and this was the industry they were entering into. It is so important to know your industry, to soak up all the info out there and grasp a really strong handle on what is happening and get involved.

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The way I see it we need to get a broader understanding of agriculture and how it’s related to our every day lives. I love hearing of people who combined degrees. Engineering with agriculture. Architecture with Agriculture. Agriculture with economics. All those people to feed and clothe and house. Innovation and technology – nano, GPS, VRT, GM. I could go on all day saying how I love this industry and how passionate I am – its not just some crazy whim – there is such huge potential, it is incredible and I love it.

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