Meet Eliza Star who has cotton in her veins

Our guest blog today comes from Eliza Star

My association with agriculture began growing up on our family farm in central NSW near Carrathool. My grandfather purchased the original farm as a small solider settler’s block where he and my grandmother raised 12 children! So right from the beginning, farm life was all about ensuring the enterprise could sustain such a large family.

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The nearest town- Carrathool- Population 99!

We currently grow and produce prime lambs, cotton, rice, Angus cattle and winter cereals; with numbers and area varying with commodity prices. As a child, agriculture was a lifestyle rather than a job and certainly not a career option for me. During the drought, my cousins and siblings were expected to help out a lot more and ironically that’s where I really gained a passion for agriculture. It was a very tough time to grow up as the area downsized in population and a lot of friends, family and businesses have left, never to return. Luckily, we made it through the drought despite no irrigation crops being grown and stock numbers at a minimum.

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I decided to study agriculture after I became very frustrated with the lack of information and support that was available to help me pursue a career with agriculture.

I didn’t have an Agricultural teacher in my HSC year so we were left to teach ourselves. At the time, careers advisors would steer me away from such an occupation and in hindsight it only encouraged me.

The decision to go to Wagga Wagga to begin Agricultural Science is one I haven’t regretted. It’s thanks to my father and uncles, who dragged us along to all the field days, sheep sales, farm tours and taught us to drive the tractors, headers, trucks, ride a horse and motorbike, that has equipped me with farm life skills. Since then, I actually enjoy these field days, grower meetings and farm tours!

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Saying goodbye to my weaners at the saleyard! I started with a mob of merino ewes and continue to sell the lambs to fund my university studies

Some of the highlights of my agriculture journey have included travelling to China as part of an international experience program. We saw irrigated cropping including rice and maize, camel ‘beef ‘ in the Ganzou, leading dairy producers (sourcing Friesian bloodlines from Australian studs), tea plantations and government funded sheep studs. It was an eye opening experience which highlighted how highly regarded farmers were in the community in China. This experience inspired me to be an ambassador for CSU Global to promote travel programs to students. I have plans to continue my travels and hope to go to America this year on a similar tour.

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Climbing the Great Wall of Chinaclip_image010

Standing in a rice field on our Agricultural tour-2013

In addition, another highlight has included my summer jobs and work placement opportunities. These have included; working as a bug checker for a local cotton agronomist which certainly grew my  knowledge of the cotton industry, working in a rural supplies store with a team of agronomists, a sample stand assistant for wheat harvest, a trial assistant at Rice Research Australia and pool guard at the local pool!.

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Bug doctor!Looking for bugs (beneficial and detrimental) in a cotton field

Since cotton is relatively a new industry in Southern NSW, there had been some apprehension into growing genetically modified strains of cotton. However, the industry has boomed with new cotton gins to be built in the Riverina and an increase in the number of new farmers deciding to grow cotton. It’s a very refreshing outlook for the area, with many businesses and farmers excited about the future.

One of my favourite summer jobs has been bug checking. The daily task include monitoring for pests, node counts, boll retentions, petiole collections and data entries. This information is used to assist the grower with information on when to fertilise, water and what insecticides (if any) should be used. I now have a greater understanding and enjoy getting out into dad’s cotton in my spare time to look for bugs. I do believe that cotton will continue to prosper down south with crops showing higher yields and a lower pest threshold.

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Stacking hay to feed the cows and calves at the Rice Research Station, Jerilderie

Through volunteering at the Sydney Show for the Rice Growers Australia’s I was surprised by the lack of knowledge of crops we grow in Australia. We had a lot of people through asking questions and one of the most common and surprising (since our rice producers feed between 20 and 40 million people depending on the seasons)  was ‘I didn’t know rice was grown in Australia.’ This is a statement not isolated to the rice industry.

I was excited to find as a result of this experience that people are genuinely interested in learning about agriculture and how important it is that industries and farmers provide every opportunity to facilitate this  This is an area that we in the rural sector must continue to work at overcoming so that the public has a greater understanding of where there food comes from and why they need to buy local, rather than imported, produce.

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On my break from volunteer work at the Royal Easter Show, I found a farm friend!

Simple things such as embedding agriculture into education systems, improved product labelling in supermarkets and programs such as PICSE, Horizon and RAS scholarships and Art4Agriculture all help to improve the links between producers and consumers.

You shouldn’t have to come off the land to have the  opportunity to know where your food and fibre comes from.

I have been blessed to be part of some of the above programs and this has confirmed how amazing the opportunities are for young people in agriculture. Two memories that stand out include attending breakfast at Parliament House with agriculture and local government ministers to discuss the issues surrounding agriculture.

In addition, another lasting memory was participating in the draft policy for the Blueprint for Agriculture in 2013 (Department for Primary Industries). These programs helped me to voice the challenges facing females in agriculture and also the importance of encouraging youth back into agricultural industries. Opportunities have arisen from these meetings and I have since spoken at rural succession talks and in the public media.

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This is me with my parents after receiving the RAS foundation Scholarship

Another great experience has been participating in the Intercollegiate Meat Judging Competition in 2012. This competition involves several weekly training sessions throughout various abattoirs and butchers. Meat judging then consisted of a week of lectures, intense training, judging and competing of pork, lamb and beef carcasses and commercial cuts. I learned a lot about the meat industry and met some inspiring industry representative leaders.

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Some of the beef carcasses we judged

I am also passionate about promoting and supporting social networks in agriculture. Since attending uni, I have been the 26th Annual Agricultural Race Day president, Ag Club treasurer and vice-president. This involved organising events, dinners, agricultural careers fairs and representing the student body. It is very rewarding to know that you have helped someone in their university experience, while at the same time forming lasting friendships with students. clip_image022

Ag Races committee members, (I’m on the right) before the gates opened! Nearly 4000 people walked through the gates. A huge day but worth the effort.

Although I am still very young and new to the industry, people have been extremely encouraging and have given me many opportunities which have aided my studies. At the end of this year I will have completed my studies. From here I am hoping to stay in the cotton and irrigated cropping industry as an advisor.

I still have a lot to learn about agriculture and I am sure that after I hang up my graduation gown that I will continue learning more about the industry.

No matter what I am about to endeavour at the end of my studies, my experiences in agriculture has enabled me to appreciate what the food and fibre industries have to offer. It has given me skills that will ground me for life and hopefully one day I will be able to pass on these skills to future generations.

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