CONGRATULATIONS to Young Farming Champion Anika Molesworth who tonight picked up the Australian Farmer of the Year – Young Farmer of the Year Award. Anika is a shining example of the new generation of Australian farmers bringing a worldview back to the farm both here and in developing countries #GOGIRLFRIEND we are so proud to know you.
Anika was recently profiled in Leading Agriculture here
This is her story
From the lush rice fields of Southeast Asia to the scorched paddocks of the New South Wales outback Anika Molesworth is forging an agricultural career spanning continents and cultural divides.
As a research assistant for a Laos based project, by the end of the year Anika will have spent most of 2015 working with farmers towards achieving food security and poverty alleviation. The Charles Sturt University project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), seeks to develop crop-livestock farming system platforms for capacity building, testing practices, commercialisation and community learning. Anika’s thesis for her Masters in Sustainable Agriculture focuses on using crop residue in integrated crop-livestock farming systems for improved climate resilience.
“It is really eye-opening to see the difference in available technology, skilled labour and finance over there,” Anika says, fresh off the plane from Savannahket this week. “In the first week I was there they received a new direct seeder and although direct seeders in Australia are these huge, expensive machines, a direct seeder in Laos resembled a wheel barrow with an engine that you push by hand across the paddock,” she says.
‘Every day it’s a new challenge, a new experience,
You can really be yourself in the outback, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…”
“Yet just like Australian farmers they are incredibly innovative and adaptive, and although most of them have never had formal training, they have incredible understanding of how the climate is changing. They have been noticing an increase in floods and longer dry seasons and have been developing new practices and technologies for managing their land for the future.” The Crawford Fund supports young Australian agricultural students and scientists with a keen interest in contributing to international agricultural development, and as a 2015 Crawford Fund Scholar, Anika will be participating in this year’s Annual Conference “The Business of Food Security: Profitability, Sustainability and Risk”.
Climate science in agriculture is a key interest area for Anika, fostered by her adolescence and early adult years spent in the semi-arid drylands of far-western New South Wales. The Molesworth family have always lived in Melbourne, but when Anika was 12 years old her parents bought Rupee Station, east of Broken Hill. It was the year 2000 and the beginning of the decade long drought, though Anika remembers it had just received some rain when she first visited.
“I was super excited and there were puddles lying about,” she recalls. “We went out in the four-wheel drives to explore the property and the tracks were as rough as anything so we’re bouncing along, looking at kangaroos, emus, endless horizons, rolling foothills of the Barrier Ranges, all the wildlife and open spaces to explore; it was an adventure playground for us.”
Anika says it was unbelievable, for a young kid who’d grown up in the city. Her parents both worked in the environmental sector so bushwalking and camping had been typical pastimes, but the family began spending school holidays and long-weekends at Rupee. With a love of the outdoors instilled from a young age, Anika says it was always at the forefront of her mind to respect the environment and its fragile nature.
The family de-stocked Rupee for several years before introducing Damara sheep when the seasons permitted and in 2005 they purchased the neighbouring property. With the changing fashions, their sheep flock moved from Damaras to Dorpers. Still travelling back and forth from Melbourne, they hired a retired station owner living in Broken Hill help manage the 4500 hectare property. Working with them to this day, Anika describes 82-year-old Colin as a “salt of the earth, absolutely incredible man who has taught us everything.”
Anika says signs of erosion and degradation of vegetation and native species were evident around Rupee from past rabbit plagues and removal of timber for the mines around Broken Hill. Environmental conservation has been at the forefront of their operations since day one.
“When we were building new dams we built bird islands in some of them to protect wildlife and provide nesting islands for ducks and we identified rare plant species and applied for funding from the [then] Catchment Management Authority to fence them off to protect from grazing. We also do extensive tree plantings around the homestead and tracks, put in nesting boxes, and do pest control of goats, foxes and rabbits,” she says.
“We also keep the stock levels at a conservative level so we’re not over-grazing. We keep good records of the vegetation, monitoring what we’ve got on the ground definitely determines the stock numbers that we run.”
Anika saw Rupee in a new light each time a school term ended and the Molesworths made the 870 kilometre pilgrimage from suburbia to scrubland. Seasonal conditions changed the fragile landscape rapidly and dramatically, “and that always kept me interested,” Anika says.
Fascinated by running a farm business in conjunction with protecting the environment, Anika studied a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Agribusiness, through Charles Sturt University. At the age of 19 – after a gap year jillarooing on multi-million acre cattle stations in outback Queensland – she moved to Rupee, where she studied by correspondence and managed the property alongside Colin‘s visit every few days. “I loved the experience and I believe it has built up my skills and capabilities to what I’ve got today,” Anika says. One year into the move, Anika met her partner Corey in Broken Hill.
After graduation she was picked up by Suncorp Bank, taking her to Tamworth and Orange before she and Corey moved to Griffith, where Anika has worked as a Suncorp Agribusiness Consultant for the last four years. “It has opened up my eyes that no matter what you farm or how big, you’re always at risk of the elements, of markets, and of fashion,” she says. “Just being exposed to a whole range of different agribusinesses I’ve seen how dynamic agriculture actually is, that anyone can have financial strain and that each situation requires a unique solution to help stabilize that.”
Still captivated by the sciences behind climate Anika began her Masters, focussing on how farmers can adapt to climate change and mitigate Greenhouse Gas emissions. “There is so much science behind climate and its effect on agriculture, and it’s a terribly complicated area to understand,” Anika says. “So I decided that seeing as I was doing so much reading about it for my Masters that I should find a way to disseminate it to the public in a format everybody can understand.”
In early 2014 Anika founded Climate Wise Agriculture, a “knowledge sharing platform for climate-smart practices.” Across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and a website Anika presents current and credible information on climate science in a way that’s not overly scientific. “The layperson can understand it,” she says, “it’s a way to get more information out there to help land managers and practice adoption of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies.”
Earlier this year Anika harnessed her strong interest in heritage conservation – also inspired by her parents – to launch the International National Trust Organisation (INTO) Sustainable Farms project. As the global body of the National Trust, INTO is involved with 52 countries. Anika’s Sustainable Farms project showcases National Trust farms from across the globe that have stood the test of time and employ heritage conservational practices. She will be representing INTO Sustainable Farms this September at the International Conference of National Trusts in Cambridge, where she hopes to educate, inspire and encourage participation in sustainable agricultural practices and associated natural and cultural heritage conservation, with Trust farming properties providing the catalyst for imparting a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“For example some farms in Australia might be doing great things with preservation of natural resources, heritage breeds and heirloom species, or a farm overseas might be using traditional farming and cultural practices,” Anika says. “We share that information with the public while also allowing it to be passed on and utilised by other National Trusts around the world.
“This project combines a few factors that I’m really passionate about: looking after agrarian communities, the environment, and built heritage that showcases how the early farmers did things, those traditional, pioneer skills. Most of these properties are still being run as farms and I love to see what lessons we can learn from them that we can combine with innovation, technology and science to contribute towards building a more sustainable agricultural system.”
Behind the webpages and social media accounts, Anika has honed and developed her communication and media skills to help connect with her audience. In 2014 she entered the Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champions (YFC) program. Its training workshops with journalists and marketing experts have influenced the way she communicates on social media.
“Speaking positively, focussing on the highlights instead of the lowlights and speaking in terms that people in the city centre would understand are really things that hit home for me,” Anika says.
“It’s tricky because I spend so much of my time writing science and reading scientific journals it is a language that I understand and I probably forget that when I write posts. I still do like to throw a few challenging concepts at people though, so they understand that farming is a very complex thing with a lot of science, marketing and economics behind it,” she says.
“I found the YFC workshops about marketing agriculture really interesting. I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it before, but it really drove home the importance of marketing agriculture as a thriving brand because the majority of the population who live in cities don’t have the opportunity to understand what happens in rural Australia.”
Anika says the highlight of the program was building connections with other young agriculturalists from different backgrounds and involved in diverse work. “I felt privileged that I was able to be put in contact with these people. I think it’s such a great support network and ideas network that I really hope to stay a part of,” she says.
Last month Anika and fellow Young Farming Champion and Central Coast farm manager Tim Eyes featured on SBS program The Feed, which asked the question, ‘Why do young people choose to become farmers in this day and age?’ “Every day it’s a new challenge, a new experience,” Anika says over images of the quintessential, rugged outback landscapes of Rupee. “You can really be yourself in the outback, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else…”
Young producers developing and nurturing the beef industry was the topic of conversation at BeefJam, run by Youth Food Movement at Target100. Anika enthusiastically joined the conversation on how links can be made for consumers to better understand the beef supply chain- from production to consumption.
Anika and Corey get back to Rupee at every opportunity. Visits always manage to coincide with mustering, lamb marking, yard work or fence work – such is the life of a farmer – but Anika loves it.
She loves work that displays a real, physical benefit. “You swing a gate and know that gate is going to be in place, helping the operation efficiency for the next 20 years,” she says. “And every day when you use that gate you’re going to appreciate that it has been swung properly.”
She loves to question when things mightn’t be running as efficiently as they could be. “If it can’t be explained why we’re doing something a certain way then say, well why don’t we do it this way instead? Why don’t we try something new?”
And she loves the idea of producing quality and healthy food that has been produced with good animal welfare and land management. “I take real pride in being a part of helping to feed the country. I think it’s an incredibly important job,” she says.
“I would absolutely love to own and manage my own farm in Australia one day, while working in research and development, continuing international travel and working with people across the globe. I think we’re here at a lucky time when you can do all these things.”
A similar sense of pride, and luck, shines through from her time in Laos. “The Laos people have an incredible sense of humour so it was all charades and laughing while trying to understand each other,” Anika says. “The language barrier was great but it was incredible when someone would ask a question about climate change or farming systems and I explained a concept or why we were doing something, and you saw that lightbulb moment. But in honesty, I learnt just as much from them as they did from me, and it has been truly inspiring and rewarding working in this industry.”
Read more about Anika and what drives her here – Young Farmer of the Year feature on the ABC is a champion for the global farming tradition –
Climate Wise Agriculture http://climatewiseagriculture.com/
INTO Sustainable Farms project http://intofarms.org/