Today the Art4agriculture team is delighted to introduce you to Andrea Crothers whose friends describe her as incredibly driven, cheeky and willing to talk to just about anyone.
This is Andrea’s story ……………………………………..
As a journalist for one of Queensland’s leading agricultural news outlets, I thrive on telling other people’s stories. So when faced with the daunting task of sharing my own, I thought I’d better turn to my own friends to give me some descriptors. The words competitive, tenacious and occasionally blonde (not all together thankfully) also ranked highly.
Based in Brisbane, I enjoy the best of both worlds as I frequently hit the beaten track to share some of rural Queensland’s cracking yarns for a living. So how does a dandy lass from Dirranbandi end up here? Well, nature and nurture both played a part.
I was five years old when I made my first big life decision.
My father was planting one of his first ever cotton crops on our family owned and operated property, “Booligar”, 44km south-west of Dirranbandi.
Unaware he was sowing the seeds for a family love affair with cropping’s white gold, he happily allowed his three young children – my two older sisters and I – to ride alongside him in the tractor cab.
Typically, it was a small and confined cab – one that usually only has room for the operator in centre position, a small and patient passenger to their left, a lunch box and water bottle by their feet, and a mixture of clunky tools and oily rags thrown into the limited space behind the seat.
So wedged behind the tractor’s driver’s seat, I lay head-to-toe next to my eldest sister, Caitlin, cramped up against the back window with Dad’s tools.
Meanwhile, our other sister, Lauren (my twin) was proudly perched on the passenger seat beside our father.
There and then I decided if I was going to be doing laps in that tractor all day, I wanted to upgrade to prime position where I could be amid all of the action. That’s something that has carried through my entire life.
Virtually raised in the back of a tractor, I developed an early love for cotton.
Backed by 150 years of family farming
It was the 1990s. My parents, Douglas and Lorraine Crothers, in partnership with Dad’s brother and his wife, had recently completed purchasing the family property only to be thrashed with one of Queensland’s worst droughts on record.
The original block was purchased by two brothers, Henry and Thomas Crothers, in 1864. Backed by three generations of Crothers brothers, mothers and others, Dad always said how special it was to live and work the very same land our ancestors had for what is now 151 years.
It’s in his hands and in his blood – Dad’s the fourth generation to live and work on “Booligar”.
The 11,253 hectare (27,800 acre) property had always been a sheep and cattle station, with diversification into cropping coming later.
It was with the harsh drought of the 1990s, followed by a humdinger of a flood in 1996, that pushed the family to fully explore intensive row cropping to ensure Booligar’s financial sustainability.
They planted their first cotton crop, irrigated, late in 1996 when I was only three years old.
1997: Donald and Douglas Crothers (Dad) with their first cotton crop. Photo: Queensland Country Life.
Like most farm kids, we pumped poly pipes to irrigate the crop as early as our little hands could fit over the mouth of the siphon (my competitive streak proved handy in racing my sisters to complete a water shift).
With my cousins, we’d wake early to walk up and down furrows, chipping weeds out of the cotton fields in the cool of the morning.
There was also the dreaded stick picking – walking up and down bare developed paddocks to clear remaining timber that would affect machinery and equipment working the field.
These tasks, though arduous at times, were always made worth it when we saw the crop progress.
In March, the familiar white specs of cotton would creep across the green glow of fully grown crops.
Bolls of fluffy white gold burst open until the entire crop was a field of glorious white. And every year, when we jumped in the cotton picker with the contractors, grasped a big bundle of cotton spilt on the module pad or reviewed the ginned product with Dad; we shared a sense of pride in producing something magnificent from the land on which we lived.
Cotton is Queensland’s fourth highest-value cropping commodity, but the most rewarding by far at “Booligar”.
Cotton picking at St George and Dirranbandi occurs March-April. The introduction of round module pickers (pictured)in the last few years have greatly improved efficiency and safety.
A craving for rural storytelling
ABC radio playing in the background, politics frequenting dinner conversations, and the Queensland Country Life newspaper received in the mail were all symbols of my childhood that have driven my thirst for rural news.
My burning desire to find out ‘why’, and how issues affect those on all sides of the story, drove my parents crazy throughout my childhood.
Being sent away to boarding school on the Gold Coast – the complete opposite of my one-teacher primary school at Hebel – was a fantastic opportunity to gain greater understanding of urban Australia. It also helped me unconsciously create contacts to open the dialogue of communication between the regions.
One might say the beach is hard to turn your back on, but studying near the ocean has only made me appreciate the country even more.
This was particularly realised when I returned to Dirranbandi for a working gap year in 2011.
Stepping off the family farm and into a corporate farming operation just up the road, I took the opportunity to work on Australia’s largest cotton producing property, Cubbie Station. I was the only female in my team, but that didn’t stop me from getting in and having a go. The region is recognised for producing some of the best quality fibre in the world. What stuck is that it takes an entire community to earn that badge.
A few years later I was able to combine two loves – cotton and journalism.
Returning to the region on university holidays, I did a bug checking season under a local agronomist. We’d start at 4.30am, trudging through muddy cotton crops all day to collect field data.
Bug checking cotton during its growth involves extensive data collection from which an agronomist will consult a grower on crop care.
Any spare moment I had I was in the office of the local newspaper, where I focussed on using my local knowledge to bring more agricultural stories through.
Reliving my grape harvest days while covering a story for the local paper.
It was one of many internships I eagerly completed over 10 months – including WIN News Sunshine Coast, WIN News Toowoomba, and Queensland Country Life – before being offered an interview with my current workplace.
Catching up with good friend and WIN News Toowoomba Chief-of-Staff Caitlin Holding at the Brisbane Royal Show in 2014 – one year after she’d encouraged me to pursue a career as a rural reporter.
And now I couldn’t be happier! Working as a rural reporter has further ignited my passion for agriculture and rural Australia.
It has granted me a position to interact with all areas of the industry. What I have learnt so far is driving my ambition to make rural news a greater part of mainstream media.
I’m very fortunate my work takes me across the state to shine a light on agricultural stories. Pictured here with a colleague in cotton seed at a feedlot near Roma.
The bigger picture: putting rural news in focus
It’s clear family farming has been important in shaping Australia’s agricultural landscape.
But just as the Crothers family have adapted their lifestyle to ensure our property’s sustainability and continued business growth, so is the need to adapt the way agricultural stories are told.
There is a thirst for rural affairs news in metropolitan areas – there’s no denying that.
But the content needs to be digestible. Our goal as rural reporters hoping to penetrate mainstream media is to package agricultural news stories in different ways, for different audiences.
That doesn’t mean becoming public relations tools for agriculture. Rather, it means finding those great stories within the agricultural industries and sharing them.
You only need to look at cotton to see there’s an abundance of content: adoption of biotechnology, pest management practices, global market competition from synthetic fibres, demand for increased water efficiency, succession planning and the role of foreign investment in agriculture.
It’s about telling the story in the right way, for the right audience.
Because after all – don’t we all love a good yarn?
Follow Andrea on twitter @abcrothers