I was recently asked by Stephanie Coombes to answer the question “Why do you think less people are becoming involved in agriculture?”
My answer was “I think less people are getting involved because industry is not exposing the next generation of potential agriculture entrants to the enthusiastic inspiring young professionals in our food and fibre industries who are living the dream and have the capacity to promote Australian agriculture as a dynamic, innovative, rewarding and vibrant industry and a great career opportunity”
Now whilst industry may not be getting out there and telling its story the media is. Sometimes the outcomes are positive and too often they are very damaging. However there have been some very successful vehicles such as McLeod’s Daughters that captured the imagination and heart strings of many young girls particularly young girls who love horses and attracted them to agriculture career pathways.
What’s exciting about these young people is they inject new ideas, promote change and generate innovation. Today we providing you with a perfect example of this, Stephanie Coombes doesn’t just want a career in agriculture she wants to start an domino effect and inspire other young people to join her. To kick start this she has developed a “Careers in Australian Agriculture” website www.ausagcareers.com
This is Stephanie Coombes story …….
Ten years ago, if anyone had told me I would be working in the agricultural industry when I was older, I probably would have answered- “You think I’m going to be a farmer?”
Born and raised in the suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, agriculture wasn’t something I was connected to growing up. I had always had a love of animals, especially horses, but that was as far as it went. Furthermore, I didn’t really know anything about agriculture except the anecdotal stories of farmers on tractors out in the paddock, and shearers shearing sheep
Some years later, I still have trouble explaining to people why this city girl chose an agricultural science degree. I think I thought I would end up working on a farm like “McLeod’s Daughters” (try not to roll your eyes!). I loved that television show growing up, and I would have to say it is what definitely sparked my interest in agriculture.
Stephanie McLeod… could I be another illegitimate daughter?Mum, is there something you aren’t telling me?
Going into the Agricultural Science degree, I actually had no idea what I was getting myself in to… as in NO idea! The reason as to why I chose that degree, and why I remained enrolled in it, are very different. Once I got into my degree, I discovered this whole other world, and I haven’t turned back since. I thought I was going to work on a farm as a labourer, like in McLeods Daughters, but at uni I learnt about the science, business and technology which underpins agriculture. There is just so many facets to this industry I often got overwhelmed thinking about them all, and what I wanted to do when I finished.
Initially I became really interested in soil science, and by my second year I was hooked, and odd as that sounds. I was a bit nerdy sometimes, because this was all new to me, I found it so interesting and I just wanted to learn it all. However, in the winter holidays of my second year I went out mustering to a cattle station in for their annual 6 week muster. It was then and there that I decided that beef cattle production was the area I wanted to pursue. However when I got back to university and took another class; pasture science, cropping system, grain marketing etc., I could easily imagine myself having a career in any of these industries. My interest in cattle remained strong, and that’s how I got to where I am today.
The first yard up of the season at Wongawol Station, 2008
Fast forward a couple of years, and I have graduated with first class honours, and I’m currently editing my thesis so it can be published in a scientific journal. I completed my thesis in the field of meat science. Yes, the science behind steak! I didn’t even know it existed until my 3rd year of university! Gosh, the amount of work that goes into producing and developing each and every one of the commodities and products available at the local supermarket is astounding. Meat science was something I had only had one lecture on before I chose it as the field of my thesis. The lecture wasn’t from my university either, my lecturer had invited a guest from another university to speak, and I am so grateful that she did! Completing my own research was an awesome experience, but to also be researching something I was genuinely interested in and passionate about… I know how I lucky I was.
Taking muscle samples from beef carcasses in 2011 for my thesis
This certainly is not where I thought I would be when I was saying “when I grow up…” as a child, and needless to say my family are still somewhat confused as to how this city girl became mad about beef cattle! The things I have learnt and experienced throughout my degree, not to mention the places I have been and they people I have met, make me feel very lucky. I have been able to go to work/ university/ tafe each day and do something that I enjoy, and be a part of something that actually interests me. I love what I do, and I often joke that my some of my jobs are a “working holiday” because I enjoy them so much. Don’t worry though, there are days when I would rather stay in bed, but for the most part, I love what I do.
In 2010 I took a semester off uni and moved to Katherine, NT, to complete a Certificate II in Agriculture. I had spent 3 years building a solid foundation of knowledge based upon theory, and had done two mustering seasons, but I wanted to develop my practical skills and have them recognised with the certificate. Going to college was one of the best things I have ever done. It was not only an incredible experience to live away from home, and learn about beef production in a new environment, but I met my best friends through the course. It was also a really safe learning environment, as in we could all have a go at learning and not feel silly or embarrassed if we didn’t get it right. I was lucky to do the course with a really good group of kids, and as there was only about 12 of us, we were a tight knit bunch.
Some of the KRC class of 2010 having a happy snap in the workshop during out mechanics class.
We learnt a range of skills at college, from welding, mechanics and tractor operation, to branding, castrating and mustering cattle. The best experience for me though, was being able to work with show cattle, and take them to a rural show on display. I had only ever worked with commercial cattle before, and they aren’t the type that liked to be patted! Show cattle, are completely different, because you can lead them around like a horse. We not only led the show cattle, we brushed and bathed them, and played with them. I really got the chance to learn about the cows up close and personal, and fell in love with the Brahman breed, even though I was showing a bull who was not too fond of me!
Rambo and I having a stand off. I had Chris as my protection, but maybe he would have been better placed between Rambo and I!!
Luckily Star was much more of the cuddly type!
In the second half of 2010 I then moved to Gatton, Qld to do a semester of classes through the University of Queensland. UQ had really different classes to my uni at home, and they were way better too! I took specialised classes in animal biosecurity, animal health and diseases, and animal biometeorology, which is about how animals interact with the weather. I also took a grain marketing class, as I mentioned above, I still had interests in other areas of ag. Animal biometeorology was by far my favourite class. Again, I suspect my inner nerd is to blame, but I loved all of the practical classes, and doing research for my assignments. Living on campus was a great experience too, it’s how I met the rest of my best friends! The people were great, and no one cared that I was from the city!
Dressing up as a cowgirl for a “Cowboys and Indians” themed party on campus. Even several years later, I was still trying to play the role of a cowgirl!
Everywhere I have been I have learnt something different about the industry, and learnt how interconnected it is with the way our society functions on a day to day basis. I am continuously surprised by how innovative and technological the industry is, and what role Australia plays in feeding the world.
Now that I have finished university, I have two career goals. 1) To work in the live export industry, in animal welfare, training, education and supply chain management and 2) To be an active advocate for agriculture, to do my part to reduce the urban/ rural divide, and run a campaign to expose people with no agricultural background to the industry and the opportunities it offer. The latter is what led me to create my website Careers In Australian Agriculture
My advice to anyone thinking about getting into agriculture is… do it! We need you! The world needs to feed 50% more people by 2050, and as Australia is one of the most efficient food and fibre producers in the world, we will play a fundamental role in that. People need to eat, and Australia has the ability to feed the world in a clean, green and ethical way. No matter what experience you have, or what your strengths are, there is a role for you in the industry. The agricultural industry offers careers from the boardroom to the bush, so no matter whether you are more comfortable behind a motorbike or a microscope, there is a role for you!
Wow Stephanie cant wait to see where you be and what you have achieved in ten years time. I am highly confident you wont be standing still
Stephanie now has her own blog you can follow her journey here