Meet Alex Milner Smyth who is walking the talk in agriculture

Today our guest blog comes from Alex Milner Smyth who grew up in suburban London and has found her dream job in Australian agriculture where she is combining her love for all things rural, with her ability to communicate (talk!).

It’s a challenging and exciting time for agriculture, and a great place to work – no matter what your background is.

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This is Alex’s story ………..

It probably seems strange that even though I grew up in suburban London, I developed an interest for agriculture at a young age. I loved our country holidays and regularly begged my mum to let me go and ‘volunteer’ for the local farmers. She wasn’t so keen!

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Making friends: On a family holiday to Devon in 1991.

When I was 17 I moved to Adelaide, Australia, where my mum and her family had grown up. Initially I lived with my Aunt and Uncle and then went out into the big wide world, earning a wage and living independently in Adelaide.

When I was 21, I went to work for the rural company Elders, firstly in their banking section, and later on for the real estate division. It was here that I realized how much I loved working for a rurally focused company.

My career took me to work for Landmark, and then out of the industry where I worked for Colliers International and Hays Recruitment. In 2009, I knew I needed to make a change so I quit my job and travelled around the world for four months, visiting Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, the UK, France and America.

When I got home in 2010, I moved to the Clare Valley – a fabulous location known for it’s blend of fine wine, great food and farming. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Ecological Agricultural Systems through Charles Sturt University in New South Wales as a distance education student.

In 2011, I accepted a role with SANTFA – the South Australian No-Till Farmer’s Association. SANTFA is a non-for-profit group that supports grain growers in South Australia by providing them with technical information, events as well as conducting trials. The role aligned perfectly with my degree as SANTFA focuses on the development of farming systems that work in harmony with ecology, whilst remaining highly productive and profitable.

My position focused on the delivery of communication strategies to members, partners and sponsors through a quarterly magazine, website, events and projects. It really was a pivotal role in my career as it provided me with a huge opportunity to create value through change and innovation and reignited my passion for working in agriculture.

Most notably, it made me realize that my specific place in agriculture was building value through communication to stakeholders including government, farmers, sponsors, agribusiness and wider communities.

In 2012, I won the South Australian Rural Youth Bursary to undertake a study tour of American farms. The specific focus of my project was to investigate the potential for the integration of cover crops into cropping rotations.

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In a cover cropped paddock, The Menoken Farm, North Dakota – 2013

Cover crops are grown to benefit the soil and farm health, and while they are not harvested as a sellable product, evidence shows that they can help reduce fertilizer and weedicide use. Many farmers in America who are successfully cover cropping, have also restored depleted soils that were eroded and degraded through ploughing and over-grazing, making for much more productive and sustainable farm businesses.

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Checking out the view: Bismark, North Dakota (2013)

My trip took me through North and South Dakota, Montana and North Carolina talking to agronomists, industry staff and grain farmers about how they’d used cover crops on their farms, writing a blog on my findings. It also gave me the opportunity to develop a better understanding of American agriculture as a whole including the social and political links.

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On a farm on the tri-state border of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana (2013)

In 2013, I decided I needed a new challenge and resigned from my position at SANTFA. I knew that I wanted to find a role where I could combine my love for all things rural, with my ability to communicate (talk!).

At the same time, I was moving to the Riverland to live with my partner, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t find a suitable local position.

They say if life doesn’t give you an opportunity, build a door, so I thought about strategies that would allow me to combine my experience, attributes and interests for rural industries.

As a partner in Rustic Evolutions, I now have my dream job! I work predominantly with non-for-profit groups in the grains sector, on a range of projects such as the delivery of strategic planning sessions, technical workshops and project management.

My work involves a significant amount of travel around South Australia and interstate, and dealing with people from all parts of the sector cross-section.

Having multiple clients and regularly developing business gives me the constant challenge I was seeking when I resigned from SANTFA. I thought I would be nervous when I started to pitch to potential clients, but it’s pretty easy to sell a service when you believe in it.

Rustic Evolutions also has a commitment to rural Australia through a strong Corporate Social Responsibility Policy. With a desire to give back to the communities that sustain us, we will be raising money for rural and agricultural causes by participating in several sporting events a year. The first one is a 12km obstacle course in April – I’d better start training!

I live with my partner, Richard, on a 100-acre vineyard at Barmera, in the South Australian Riverland. As well as managing his grape operation, Richard is a seeding and grain haulage contractor and spends almost three months a year on the road.

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With Richard, on our block in the Riverland, February 2014

I’m truly lucky to have had the opportunities that have presented themselves, and even luckier to have forged a challenging career in the country. Running your own business allows you to custom create a position to suit your skills, experience and interests – giving you the opportunity to combine a fulfilling career while living in the bush.

It’s a challenging and exciting time for agriculture, and a great place to work – no matter what your background is.

Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexMilnerSmyth

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