Elizabeth Stott – Finding my cotton roots

Today’s guest blog post comes Elizabeth Stott.  Liz’s story remind me of the James Ruse Agricultural High School Archibull Prize entry which tells the story of cotton and draws you in through powerful imagery that focuses on the roots of the cotton plant and cotton’s commitment to using Australia’s scare water resources wisely

James Ruse Ag High School

This is Liz’s story ……..

Born in Sydney and growing up in Canberra, I am not what you would call a typical “Country Gal”. While my roots are very much in the city, my heart is definitely in the country… let me tell you how I ended up living on an irrigation farm, hundreds of kilometres from everything I have ever known.

Growing up

I grew up in Canberra with my two younger sisters. We lived in a typical family home on a ¼ acre block in the suburbs. Our spare time was spent playing sport, swimming in our pool and riding bikes around the neighbourhood with the other kids in our street. I attended Canberra Girls Grammar School from Prep right through to Year 12, graduating in 2000.

Our school holidays were often spent visiting my Grandma who still lived on the sheep farm in Berrima where my mum grew up. I have vivid memories of adventures in the nearby bushland with my cousins, going out on foot, alone, to herd sheep from one paddock to another just to feel “farmie” (really it was a fruitless exercise as there were no gates on the paddocks anymore) and fossicking through junk left in the rundown, old family home next door. I remember trying really hard to get my hands dirty so I could be just like my uncle who was a farmer on another property nearby. I suppose it was then that the country girl deep inside began to emerge.

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The old farm-house where my mum grew up in Berrima, NSW was a great place to find hidden treasures

“When I grow up, I want to be…”

After year 12, I decided to take a gap year and travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland, with my best friend from high school. We lived and worked in Scotland for five months before travelling around Europe. After returning to Australia, I started my Bachelor of Science degree at the Australian National University majoring in Zoology. I have always had a love of animals, so decided to take a part time job as a veterinary nurse while I completed my university studies. This was both an enjoyable and useful experience. Until I started working in a vet hospital, I had always wanted to be a vet. In fact, I was planning on using my science degree as a stepping stone into studying veterinary science at university. However, my three years working as a vet nurse soon changed my mind. Not because it is a bad job, but because I realised vets spend 5 years at university with a 1st year out salary of  around $45,000 a year and work around 70 hours a week. Yes, call me lazy… but I thought perhaps there is more to life than just work.

Having completed my studies in 2004, in 2006 I made the move to the “Big Smoke” (Sydney) where I started working at a specialist veterinary clinic, the Animal Referral Hospital. Instead of nursing, I worked in customer service and eventually progressed to the role of Operations Manager. Whilst working full time, I decided I needed to supplement my science degree with something more specialised, so I completed a Graduate Diploma in Applied Science majoring in Wildlife Health and Population Management at Sydney University. The best thing about this degree was that we mainly undertook field based study on a large sheep farm, Arthursleigh, near Marulan. Again, I loved being out in the wide open spaces, getting my hands dirty setting Elliot and Pitfall traps so we could study the native mammals.

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My university studies provided me with a many amazing experiences including spending a week at Taronga Zoo in Dubbo where we went behind the scenes with the zoo veterinarians.

How a chance encounter can change your life

So, how did I go from frolicking around with native wildlife and working in a veterinary hospital in Sydney to a cotton farm 700 kilometres away? Well the answer is simple, I met a farmer.

I met my husband, Dallas, in 2008 while I was visiting my family in Canberra. It was pure luck that he and I happened to be in same pub one night when we locked eyes across the room. The rest, as they say, is history. I quit my job in Sydney, packed up my cats and my meagre furniture and moved to the farm Dallas ran with his mum and dad the following year. Since then, I have immersed myself into the agricultural industry working in Policy and Public Relations at Murrumbidgee Irrigation during the week and driving tractors and changing siphons on weekends.

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Helping out driving the tractor on the weekend

On our farm we grow around 600 hectares of irrigated cotton during summer and various cereal crops during winter. Cotton is a relatively new crop in this area, which is traditionally the heart of the Australian rice industry. We started growing it three years ago as it was the most profitable water efficient crop for us to grow. Being an irrigation farm, water is our most precious resource and we are currently putting a lot of time and investment into  changing our farm layout to be as water efficient as possible.

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When I first met Dallas and he told me he was an irrigation farmer, I thought this meant he had lots of little sprinklers in his paddocks. I was soon to learn I was completely off the mark with this and a load of other things I thought I knew about farming…. and so were a lot of my friends. Having grown up in the city, I realised that I didn’t really have any appreciation of where my bread, milk and clothing came from or the hard work, commitment and high level of technology work that went into producing it. As far as I was concerned, it simply appeared in the store and the most I thought about the products I was buying was whether they tasted good and how much they cost.

Since moving out here to the farm, I have come to appreciate the knowledge, experience and multi skills needed to produce the items we take for granted every day. Farmers have to be machinery operators, agronomists, scientists, mechanics, meteorologists, and financial planners just to name a few. There are no set working hours, often no weekends and holidays are as rare as hen’s teeth. I can’t think of any other profession that requires such dedication and diversity of high level skills and knowledge.

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Picking the cotton last year with our new round bale picker

Doing things I never thought I would do

The last four years have provided me with a number of fantastic opportunities to educate fellow city slickers about where their food and fibre comes from, what is involved in producing it and how important the agricultural industry really is to each and every one of us. I have been lucky enough to attend a couple of workshops in Canberra which have taught me a lot about how to effectively communicate with politicians and other decision makers to help them understand some of the issues facing the agricultural industry and regional Australia so they can try and do something to assist us.

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I met with Senator Barnaby Joyce to discuss issues facing young farmers in 2012

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Explaining the impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan on our farm to Minister Tony Burke in front of 12,000 people in Griffith, NSW

What next?

Late last year, I was awarded the Cotton Industry Leader Scholarship for the Australian Rural Leadership Program which I will complete over the next two years. This program like the Young Farming Champions program aims to provide participants with a once in a lifetime to develop skills, build influential networks and help those who are not involved in agriculture understand that all the fresh fruit, vegies and comfortable clothing they take for granted does not just magically appear in the stores. It only happens as a result of many dedicated people involved in the supply chain including our farmers committed to producing affordable and highly quality food and fibre. I am also looking forward to the opportunity to mentor other young people and help them realise that there are a huge range of career opportunities available to them and encourage them to pursue a role in the agricultural industry.

How lucky is agriculture this city call spotted a farmer in a pub!!!!!!

You can follow Liz on twitter @lizzystottson

2 thoughts on “Elizabeth Stott – Finding my cotton roots

  1. A great inspiring story Liz ,loved reading it ,I think it should be published in the paper for all to read and appreciate farmers

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