Today’s guest blog post comes from Sally Beer whose taken every opportunity that has come her way to prepare her for a career in agriculture
This is Sally’s story ……..
I had a fairly typical country kid childhood. Growing up on a mixed cropping and livestock property in Deniliquin, NSW, we always had a myriad of animals to look after- horses, poddy lambs and calves, dogs, cats, budgies, a wild rabbit that my brother rescued from under a bath tub at a polocrosse carnival and somehow convinced my Dad he should keep, and a couple of joeys.
We still have Milly the poddy lamb, who turns 11 years old this year, in the back paddock, and we would take ‘Dimitry the Roman Kangaroo’ to every horse event in the Riverina when he was a joey, where he would act as our mascot hanging in his green Coles shopping bag on the truck dividers.
Of course, there was always jobs to help with on the farm, whether we were checking the rice paddocks and irrigating with Dad or mustering cattle. Mum’s favourite story from when I was a baby was when I was crying in the night, so she asked Dad to check on me- Dad took me for a walk around the rice paddocks checking water levels, and was gone for over 2 hours. When he returned, Mum was frantic and I was fast asleep. I was definitely a Riverina baby!
At high school my enjoyment for agriculture was fostered and enhanced by the fantastic agriculture and primary industries teachers. They pushed us to develop our practical skills on the school farm. They also encouraged us to recognise the huge range of opportunities available to career seekers in the agriculture industry beyond the farm gate as well as behind it. It was without a doubt the influence of these teachers that started me on the path I’m on today.
High school finished and, like many 18 year olds, I heard the irresistible call of a gap year. I spent 12 months working on Clonagh, Paraway Pastoral Company‘s backgrounding property near Cloncurry, QLD. During this year I learnt several things: that black tea is always the better option when there is only powdered milk available for smoko; how to leap stock yard railings in a single bound, faster than a speeding Brahman (so much more impressive than Superman); that I have shocking directional skills (this continues to haunt me, and is a source of hilarity to anyone in a car with me); and finally, it is perfectly acceptable to drive 6 hours for a weekend away at a campdraft, and to only hit one town during the interim. During this year, I improved my stock handling skills out of sight and was exposed to an industry vastly different to what I had grown up with, and from there my university career was set. Judging from the people I had met during the year and their varying roles at Paraway, it seemed there was so much variety within agriculture, and I wanted to experience all of it!
I did a Bachelor of Agriculture/ Bachelor of Business at the University of New England, and in my third year completed an exchange year at the University of Wyoming, USA.
I know every student is tired of hearing it, but university really is the best years of your life, and you should take advantage of everything that comes your way. You never know who you will meet, where you will go or what doors will open up later because of it. During my exchange year in the USA I was fortunate to complete an internship with a contract ranching and harvest crew in Montana during my summer away from university. I learned to rope(badly), wrestle calves and to debate with my colleagues (the virtues of roping compared to a crush when vaccinating and castrating calves was our usual topic). I also travelled to Kenya as part of an ‘Agriculture & Culture’ study tour with my American classmates.
We visited tea and coffee plantations and an enormous rose greenhouse, visited a Masai tribe in Masai Mara National Park, and stayed at Manor House in Kitale, which is a training facility for young Kenyan men and women to learn best practise in bio-intensive agriculture.
The students and staff at Manor House were inspiring, and this was, without a doubt, my favourite part of the trip. The Manor House trains its students in low input farming to improve sustainability and efficiency compared to traditional methods, then they return to their communities and teach others. To compare with the students how their families had previously farmed compared to their passionate vision for the future was an eye opening and humbling experience.
Finally, I was lucky enough to be a part of the UNE International Food and Agribusiness Management Association student team in 2016. As part of this we travelled to Denmark for the annual sustainability conference and competed in the student competition.
Though we did not get through to the final round, sitting in on the conference for the rest of the week was well worth the trip as we discussed major issues surrounding food waste, improving technology in agriculture, impacts of climate change and attracting young people to the industry from the differing perspectives of developing and developed countries.
I’m now finished at UNE, and have taken up a job as a ‘Junior Accounts Manager’ for GeoCommodities, a grain and pulse broking company based in Horsham and in Bendigo. My primary responsibility is organising freight for the grain we sell, and there is no two days that are the same! We are working in domestic and export markets, with buyers and sellers of varying sizes. It is an enormous, dynamic and welcoming industry that requires fast thinking and good interpersonal skills (because you will be on the phone. A lot!). You are constantly thinking on your feet to get the best result for both your grower and buyer, or in the event of a delay or truck breakdown you need to be able to change things quickly.
Though I still have much to learn, the main thing I have picked up on my travels is that we are incredibly lucky to have the training opportunities that we do in Australia. Agriculture needs to continue to attract and retain talented young professionals at every level in the value chain to ensure we continue to improve and meet every challenge of sustainable food production. By using programs such as Art4Agriculture, and young Livestock Breed Societies, and Farming Challenges at the local agriculture shows, we are showing school students during their formative years that agriculture is a dynamic and exciting industry that needs them in it.
I will finish with the classic Dr Seuss quote; ‘Oh the places you’ll go!’ I have adapted this as my personal slogan for the agricultural adventure I am on. I hope that I might be able to encourage some other young people to come into an industry they otherwise they may not have considered, because…