A cattle girl turned cotton, Kate Lumber wouldn’t have it any other way

Today’s guest blog comes from final year Rural Science student Kate Lumber who is on track to career in cotton agronomy, but it wasn’t always going to be that way. Thanks to a summer spent bug checking crops around Moree, Kate’s interest moved from cattle to cotton and her career aspirations were quickly solidified by the mentorship of some “professional and passionate” agronomists.

This is Kate’s story…

Hi, my name is Kate Lumber and I am a fourth year Rural Science student at the University of New England. I grew up in the small country town of Quirindi on the Liverpool Plains in North-West NSW but now call Tamworth home. Despite growing up in town I spent a great deal of my time on family properties. I have wanted to be involved in agriculture all my life and I can honestly say with such strong role models in the industry, I feel as though I was destined for a career in agriculture.

Growing up, my fondest memories were on farm riding horses, doing cattle work or tinkering in the shed with Grandad. I loved getting my hands dirty and was always the first one to volunteer to jump in the ute to go out fencing or feeding. I was a very competitive horse rider and became heavily involved in showing beef cattle and livestock judging throughout high school. I have such fond memories in the sheds at small country shows, with Sydney Royal the highlight of my year; the lead up was considered Christmas Eve excitement for an “Aggie.” Whether it was talking to breeders about their stud genetics, networking and forging friendships or competing to great success, I loved every second of it.

Carcase judging, fleece judging and beef cattle paraders.

Photo: Carcase judging, fleece judging and beef cattle paraders

It was high school that truly opened my eyes to the endless opportunities in agriculture. I was fortunate to have a fantastic support network and teachers that encouraged me to explore every opportunity and move out of my comfort zone. I studied agriculture from year 9 to year 12, receiving the academic excellence award for best in subject throughout my studies.

In 2011 I was offered the Primary Industry Centre for Science Education (PICSE) Industry Placement Scholarship through the University of New England at the Animal Genetics and Breeding unit (AGBU). This was a fantastic insight into the number of opportunities to work with livestock and related industries.

From here I was selected as one of 10 students nationally for the 2011 PICSE Think Tank Forum in Canberra. This was a great opportunity to meet and network with like-minded students and well respected industry leaders. We addressed issues such as food and fibre security and feeding a growing world in a changing landscape. This forum truly inspired me to be part of the generation of agriculturalists to find possible solutions to these challenges and implement change. From here I chose to study a Bachelor of Rural Science at UNE, with the intention of a livestock focus.

On Industry Placement at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) Scanning Cattle at Bald Blair Angus, Guyra NSW.

On Industry Placement at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) Scanning Cattle at Bald Blair Angus, Guyra NSW.

It is amazing what life can throw at you. I was offered my break into the cotton industry following the completion of my first year at university. Although I simply stumbled across the position, I am so grateful I did because it honestly changed my life. I started working as a bug checker with Integrated Crop Management Services Moree (ICMS) in the summer of 2012/13. What started off as an opportunity to earn some money over the summer holidays quickly evolved into a great passion and way of life.

My first day on the job was also the first day I had seen cotton grown in the field and I tell you, I was like a kid in a candy shop and have been ever since. My job involved completing crop assessment, field data collection and tissue sampling. This data was then utilised to assist in nutrient application decisions, irrigation scheduling and the recommendation of pesticide and herbicide applications. This was an incredible introduction to cotton agronomy and I feel so privileged to have been mentored by such professional and passionate agronomists.

In the field bug checking at Moree NSW

 In the field bug checking at Moree NSW

I returned to university with a new found focus, a great desire to further my knowledge, and dreaming of the black soil plains and sunshine, a stark contrast to Armidale’s bitter winter. When the 2013/14 bug checking season came, I went to work with ICMS again. I was constantly learning and adapting in order to meet the needs of the grower and the dynamic nature of the crop. It is amazing how invigorating an early morning, the feeling of mud between your toes and the comforting brush of cotton on tanned legs is. I loved the lifestyle the cotton industry offered. I met so many passionate young people and was part of an incredible community brought together by their love of agriculture. I was having the time of my life, where work wasn’t even work. How many people can say they truly love their job? I am so lucky to be one of them.

Heading out into the field to check a whitefly trial in Moree NSW

 Heading out into the field to check a whitefly trial in Moree NSW

My third year bought about great opportunity. I was fortunate enough to be selected as a Cotton Australia Scholar to attend the 17th Australian Cotton Conference (2014). This was an amazing experience! Not only did I get to meet and network with passionate and like-minded students but also key leaders within the Industry. I was involved in some amazing youth in agriculture activities and learnt so much about all things cotton. This experience really illustrated for me the importance of research and development in the cotton industry where I was able to discuss current research opportunities with leading scientists and as a result it was a significant contributing factor in my decision to undertake honours in Cotton Agronomy.

Catching up with friends Dee George and Laura Bennett at the Wincott stand, Cotton Conference 2014.

Catching up with friends Dee George and Laura Bennett at the Wincott stand, Cotton Conference 2014.

The summer of 2014 saw me take my agricultural passion international, travelling throughout South East Asia for a two week agricultural tour of Cambodia. This was an incredibly eye-opening experience for many reasons. I was not only exposed to agricultural policy and AID projects being undertaken in a developing country but also various cropping and livestock production systems that highly contrasted those seen in Australia. Through this trip I recognised the great opportunity for economic growth and increased productivity and the growing market for quality Australian product going into South East Asia. The incredible generosity of spirit and entrepreneurial attitude of the Cambodian people was truly inspirational and is something I hold so close from my trip.

Traditional rice harvest, Phnom Penh Cambodia

Traditional rice harvest, Phnom Penh Cambodia

I then went on to spend two weeks in Thailand where I completed an internship with international chemical manufacturing company FMC, in the agricultural department of its Asia Pacific regional office in Bangkok. Going to work in a high rise building was a distinct change of scenery from the fieldwork I have come to know and love. At FMC I was exposed to commercial chemical registration, regulation and product development. I was also involved in the work behind chemical field trials throughout Thailand and the processes of running and reporting on commercial field trials, which I believe to be invaluable. This has given me commercial knowledge of agricultural chemicals to complement the technical knowledge I have learnt throughout my degree.

Looking at FMC herbicide trials on Sugarcane near Kanchanaburi, Thailand

 Looking at FMC herbicide trials on Sugarcane near Kanchanaburi, Thailand

In February 2015 I was awarded a PICSE internship with the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute (ACRI). I completed a one week internship at ACRI where I was fortunate enough to work in a number of departments including entomology, pathology, agronomy, breeding and semio-chemicals. During this internship I was able to sit down and talk to the leading researchers in each department then work with the technical officers to see first-hand the research currently being undertaken. It involved everything from field work such as scouting and leaf sampling to pathogen isolations in the lab.

I loved my time at ACRI and was offered casual work as a technical assistant for picking with the breeding team which was an incredible experience. I saw the whole process associated with picking through to the ginned and tested samples, even finding time for a little handpicking.

Field work at the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute

 Field work at the CSIRO Australian Cotton Research Institute

As an honours candidate for Rural Science in 2015 I am undertaking a project that that forms part of a trial looking into phosphorus availability in dryland cotton. My thesis looks at the correlation between whole plant nutrient content, indicator leaf tissue sampling and phosphorus uptake in dryland cotton. My field trial is being conducted at the Incitec Pivot “Colonsay” long term trial site on the Darling Downs. Alongside my project partners, I have completed all plant sampling at five sampling dates throughout the season.

I have found it very rewarding, pushing me to problem solve as I continue to find the project both challenging and interesting. It has given me first-hand experience in running a commercially focussed field trial which I see to be of great benefit for me into the future as I pursue a career in Agronomy. I very much look forward to analysing our results and providing information that can be of benefit to the cotton industry.

Field work sampling in Toowoomba for my honours trial

Field work sampling in Toowoomba for my honours trial

As I move through my final year of university study I am looking forward to finishing my degree and entering the workforce. I cannot wait to be able to pursue cotton agronomy as a career and continue to learn all I can about the Industry I love.

I can’t imagine a summer without siphons, helies, black soil and cotton. I am a cattle girl turned cotton and wouldn’t have it any other way.

What a view, how could I want to be anywhere else

 What a view, how could I want to be anywhere else?

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