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?

James Kanaley lives to work, breathe and love agriculture in rural Australia

Today’s guest blog from James Kanaley highlights the diversity, excitement and huge range of opportunities available in agriculture. From family farming in southern NSW, to following the harvest trail from Texas to Canada, James has taken the road less travelled to reach his current home among the cotton crops of Moree.

Here is James’s story….

james cotton

Agriculture is my life. My name is James Kanaley and I am a 5th generation farmer and agronomist from Illabo in southern NSW where my family has been farming for over 100 years.

Farming dominates my earliest childhood memories. Whether it was clunking around riding in the dusty old header cab harvesting wheat with dad or steering the old truck without reaching the pedals as the sheep followed behind gobbling up their rations of barley and lupins.

tree planting

Me with my two younger brothers and father, “helping” him plant trees in creek lines in the early 90s. This was common on our farm and others, aiming to improve vegetation areas whilst decreasing salinity and erosion problems initiated by previous generations.

I spent my childhood on our family farm, which is a mixed farming operation. On half of our farming area we grow crops of wheat, canola, lupins and barley. The remaining 50 percent of the area is sown down to lucerne-clover pasture for our merino sheep flock to graze on and produce fine wool. The entire farm is worked in rotation, each paddock will go through a cropping and a pasture phase. Our farm is set on picturesque undulating red-brown earth with a winter/spring dominant rainfall pattern – although we take it when we can get it!

Like any farmer’s son I grew up learning from my dad and was lucky to have an intelligent, hard working father who has taught me a lot over the years and still teaches me plenty today! I am the eldest of three boys and a farm is the perfect place for three brothers to run amok on, most of the time at the expense of our parents’ tolerance and energy. Although three boys with a lot of energy can come in very handy when you the kelpie working dog is out of action and the sheep need to be mustered up.

I have always had a love for growing crops ever since I can remember. There’s nothing quite like growing a crop from seed, nurturing it through to harvest and turning the land you work into a productive food bowl. I can still remember how excited I got each harvest as a young fella as the headers fired up and burnt diesel day and night to bring the year’s crops in.

James Sowing

Planting a crop of grazing wheat on our family farm after some good autumn breaking rain, to be grazed by sheep and then taken through to harvest grain.

I also know how important our livestock are to our mixed farming system and will always have a soft spot for our merino sheep. I am a strong believer in diversification in farming systems and believe the strongest farming operations are able to optimise climatic and economic forecasts for agricultural commodities and manage their cropping and livestock enterprises to complement each other.

My first job outside the farm was at our local rural store. I sold agricultural chemicals, animal supplements, clothing, dog food and everything in between. We had one agronomist who would come back into the store covered in mud up to his knees telling us about what was going on out in the paddocks and enjoying having a laugh with the farmers. At the time I was only just learning what an agronomist was but this was the moment I realized the career I wanted to be in: Agronomy.

I attended the local high school in Junee and when I went to choose agriculture as one of my year 11 and 12 subjects I was told I was the only student choosing it. It was then I thought, why? We are in a strong agricultural area, how can I be the only student interested in agriculture? Agriculture is a way of life for our region and is the backbone of the local economy. Agriculture has always been one of my greatest passions. Why was an area that was rich in agriculture and dependent on the industry not attracting young people? By sharing my career journey I am hoping I can buck this trend and inspire other young people to aspire to agriculture related careers.

James Canola

Inspecting a very good canola crop flowering during September, spring is a spectacular time of year when all the canola is flowering.

After gaining entry to Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga to study Agricultural Science I decided to take a gap year and work for a year…

Then, on New Year’s Day 2006 a fierce and terrifying bushfire ripped through over 25,000 ha of prime farmland and our property, leaving nothing but ash and dust behind it. It was the middle of the drought and we had just had the first decent spring rainfall in years, which only added fuel to the fire. I spent a good portion of my gap year clearing trees, re-fencing and fixing up our devastated farm. The drought had already pushed and tested many farmers but even after the bushfire everyone remained positive. They kicked the charred earth and barren landscape but knew the autumn rains would come again and trigger a rush of green to blanket the slopes and plains once again.

The bushfire and millennium drought showed Mother Nature at her worst, putting farmers under sever emotional, financial and physical pressure but it showed the resilience of our farmers and their determination. It made me proud to be part of an industry that could go through so much and work so hard without much reward, sometimes only to wake up the next day and do it all again until the drought breaking rains came.

During my study in Wagga Wagga I was lucky enough to travel to Vietnam with our 3rd year Agriculture class for a tour through farming regions in the Mekong Delta. The trip was amazing and a real eye opener getting off the beaten track to look at farming operations in third world regions of a developing country. It did make us feel very lucky to live and farm in Australia but at the same time it was interesting to see people who were less fortunate, and with less access to technology, productively use the land to feed their families and communities.

I spent a lot of my uni holidays working for a corporate cropping farm close to home. It was a great experience coming from a family farm environment to see the differences in how the corporate farms operate. Corporate farms are run with a lot less emotion than family farms and treated more like business investments.  The company I worked for which was a large asset management group called Warakirri Pty Ltd.

The sheer size and scale of corporate farms appeal to young people who may never have the opportunity to own their own farm and realise you don’t have to own the farm to farm the farm. They are also be a fantastic experience for young graduates like me keen to take strong business skills and a diverse knowledge bank back to the family farm. Foreign investors employ local people and spend money in local communities and whilst it is important to recognize the role the corporates play in the industry I believe the future of agriculture in this country will always ride on the back of family farming businesses. .

After I graduated from university I travelled to the USA in 2011 to work on the wheat harvest trail. It was a fantastic experience working from the Texas plains to the Canadian border harvesting wheat, corn and soybeans. It was great to learn a lot about the American style of farming but what I think my trip highlighted most was how underrated Australian farmers actually are. My American experience made it clear to me just how adoptive, adaptive, innovative and resilient our farmers are.

Snow in Kansas

Waking up to an unusual morning during corn harvest in Kansas, USA for me and the other Australian workers.


Harvesting wheat in the rolling hills and plains of Montana, USA.

After getting some of the travel bug out of my system I started working as a dryland agronomist in the Henty area in southern New South Wales, working with mixed farmers to advise them on their crop and pasture systems. This is where I started learning the ropes as an agronomist or ‘clod kickers’ or ‘plant doctors’ as we are affectionately called. I get a kick out of interacting with farmers and enjoy helping them get the best return on investment from their businesses.

I found I was extremely excited by the cotton industry and was keen to learn more about it. To do this I left Henty in 2014 to work as an agronomist in Moree, northern NSW. The Moree region is a very diverse farming area and I’ve had the chance to work with everything from cotton to faba beans. Irrigated cotton is grown as an opportunity crop whenever growers have access to water and is the lifeblood of the area. I love working as an agronomist and working hard to produce as much as possible from every millimeter of rainthat falls or every megalitre tof water that is siphoned down a field during irrigations.

checking wheat

Checking wheat during the winter, tools of the trade for an agronomist, Quad bike, moisture probe and iPad. Technology enables us to record and send data from the field saving extra office time

Working in the agricultural industry is not the only perk, the lifestyle and community that comes with it is something that I would never change, whether it’s trotting around on the rugby paddock or water skiing on irrigation dams. We are all in it for the same reason to work, breathe and live agriculture in rural Australia.

I want to be able to share my passion and knowledge of working in an industry that feeds and clothes an increasing world population.

I want to be able to share how exciting the constantly changing technology and science is in the industry.

I want to inspire other young people to aspire to careers in the agriculture sector.

I want to raise awareness of how important agriculture and farming is to our communities and create a wider appreciation of the role our farmers play.

Agriculture is my life and it is a diverse industry that I can’t imagine not being a part of.


You reap what you sow, a fantastic wheat crop at home approaching harvest and filling well with large plump grains of wheat.

Cotton enthusiast Liz Munn believes in reaping what you sow

Liz Munn brings us today’s guest blog which takes us on an 800km journey that begins and ends with cotton. The 21 year old technical officer with the DPI lives by the motto “You can only take out what you put in” and believes the more people show their confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry, the more it will become contagious!

Here’s Liz’s story…

My name is Liz Munn, I am 21 years old and I’ve just moved 800km across the state to work in the field I love – cotton!

Home for me is the rural community of Moree in the North West Slopes and Plains of NSW. It’s the centre of a large agricultural area, known for the rich black vertosol soils which allow crops such as cotton to thrive and is also renowned for its natural hot springs. In the past few years the community has been brought together in crises of major flooding, fires and drought, but the people always manage to come out stronger.


At the Sydney Royal Easter Show, about to accept the Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship in 2014.

I believe that for a rural agricultural region to survive it needs a supportive, cohesive community – and I love to get involved! I work with groups such as the Moree Show Society, Leeton Show Society, NSW Farmers, ASC Youth group, ASC Group 14 Ambassador, and the Young NSW Farmers group. I love that show events bring the whole community together to experience all of the rural and agricultural aspects of the area. Getting amongst the hive of activity not only keep me up to date with what is happening in the agricultural industry at a regional basis, but also at a legislative and national basis.

My love of the land came from my grandfather. Some of my best childhood moments was the time spent following him around the farm and learning as I went. He had a mixed farming enterprise, so my parents and I helped with jobs such as lamb and calf marking, shearing, tractor driving and harvest. Over the years the farm changed to focus more on grain growing.

My grandfather taught me that you can only take out what you put in; which is a good motto not just for agriculture but for life in general and I have followed it throughout my life.


Looking after a poddy lamb named Claire after it lost its mother.

At school in Moree I was the type of kid that enjoyed getting involved with everything. I was sporting house captain in year 11 and a school leader in year 12. I was active in a range of sports from horses to soccer, and was lucky enough to compete at state level in Sydney for athletics. I also loved learning to play classical violin for five years, and won a few awards along the way.

When it was time to think about university degrees my interest in agriculture lead me to a Bachelor of Environmental Science at University of New England.

I lived at St Albert’s College where made many friends and was introduced to several sporting, academic, and cultural groups. I was highly active in the college’s netball and chugby (women’s rugby) teams and also held the position of pastoral advisor (PA) where I supported my fellow students in any way possible and helped organise events.


On the far right of the top row, after we played our first game of chugby in 2013.

My Environmental Science degree has given me a deeper insight into the need for a partnership between the needs of the native landscape and productive landscape and instilled the importance of preserving the productive farmland that we are lucky enough to have in Australia.

Agriculture is a constantly evolving industry and there is an important place for leaders who are up to date with the latest technologies and techniques to give the best protection against our unpredictable seasons while also enhancing competitiveness on the world market. The cotton industry in particular is at the forefront of innovation, and so I took my first steps to become involved.

During my first two summer breaks at university, I worked for a local agronomist as a cotton crop scout. When I first applied for the position I considered it purely a learning experience. But the more I learned, the more I enjoyed myself. I found the cotton industry fascinating! Now I’m striving to become an agronomist.

In just a few years I have worked with many great people who were as enthusiastic about the industry as I now am too. Last year I toured one of the local cotton gins where we were shown all of the aspects of the ginning process. I also completed two subjects directly related to cotton and its management.

My dedication to regional communities and agriculture was last year rewarded with the 2014 Coca-Cola/ ASC Scholarship for my work in agriculture and my local show society, as well being appointed as an ambassador for the Agricultural Societies Council (ASC) group 14.


Checking some of the first open bolls for the 2014/2015 season.

This year my career has taken off. When I finished my degree in late 2014 there was a drought around Moree so I had to move to southern NSW, almost 800km away to a town I had never been to, to start my career.

In January 2015 I began working with the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) at Yanco in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area doing research into integrated pest management in cotton. Cotton is a relatively new crop for this region, so I am at the forefront of its progression and success. I am a technical officer, collecting field data, managing and organising others in the field, consulting with growers, and assisting in the creation of trials and data collection methods of those trials.


To most people involved in agriculture it is not just an industry, but a lifestyle that travels down the generations. According to the National Farmers Federation, 99% of all Australian farms are family owned.

Agriculture influences every person in the world even if they are purely a consumer.

With a fast growing population and unpredictable climate, I believe we must protect farms for future generations, and it must be done sustainably and profitably.

I would also like to help change the stereotypical image of the average Aussie farmer. Agriculture is a great industry for young people and women. There are so many fantastic things to attract young people and as an industry we need to make sure we are looking after our youth, helping them survive and flourish so the industry can too.

Agriculture provides 1.6 million jobs to the Australian economy, but there is still miscommunication between farmers and consumers. I believe we need more communication to build support from the community and it is vital our farmers are supported in every sector.

People involved in Australian agriculture put everything into it and I want to make sure that they can always get out what they put in.


There are so many young agriculturalists in Australia trying to make their voice heard, as I am. I want to be involved in advocacy for the cotton industry, particularly through engaging with consumers of Aussie cotton. I believe the industry can reach its goals. The more people who get involved and strive to enhance their skills, the more our confidence and enthusiasm for the cotton industry will become contagious. We will get out what we put in.

Emma Ayliffe says agriculture in the outback is the journey of a lifetime

Today’s guest blog from Emma Ayliffe starts on a sheep station in outback South Australia and takes us to the lush lakebed cropping fields of one of New South Wales’s most unique cotton operations. She’s a girl from the bush who’s found her way back again as on-farm agronomist, an enthusiastic photographer and a lover of all things crops and cotton.


This is Emma’s story…

I have always had a love of the bush and that is where my journey began, on a station in the North-West Pastoral District of South Australia. I spent my childhood riding my horse behind mobs of wild merinos on stations west of Port Augusta and grew up a typical station kid. In between School of the Air lessons my days were spent outside on water runs, mustering and ‘helping’ dad and the station hands out in the shed.

So how exactly does a station girl from half way between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy end up growing cotton on the bottom of the Menindee Lakes…?

My father has always been passionate about agriculture and I guess that rubbed off on my mum and me too. When I was 12 my parents moved me and my two younger sisters closer to a town so we didn’t have to go to boarding school and this opened up a whole new world to us. Along with the introduction of ‘normal’ school we were introduced to world of cropping. And although we had moved from a world of station dust to tractors and green paddocks my father was as keen as always to get us involved where ever possible.

Me with my sisters and ponies

At the end of school I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps and began studying a Bachelor of Science (Agricultural Science) at the University of Adelaide. I went into the degree thinking I would end up doing something livestock related but, like most kids, changed my mind. I enjoyed agronomy much more and changed the direction I was heading.

As part of Uni my year helped set up an “Ag Experience” trip overseas. It was a lot of hard work but we successfully got sponsorship for our trip to India and it was amazing. We toured research facilities and met with farmers. We viewed community farming groups and toured rural villages. It was amazing to see the variation in this country from the richest farmers who owned tractors and employed workers, to the poorest of farmers who were still planting their crops by hand. I had a go at cutting rice straw, which is a lot harder than it looks, as well as visiting some of the tourist destinations like the Taj Mahal.

Cutting rice straw

After completing Uni I began working in broad acre agronomy in the mid-north of South Australia and spent a lot of my time in fields of canola and wheat. I had a great boss and mentor who really helped me to get even more excited about the career path that I had chosen. After a little over a year I decided that it was time for a change of scenery and a new challenge, so I began hunting for my next big thing.

Stacking Hay

I stumbled across an advertisement for an on farm cotton agronomist working in the bush, and I though what a perfect combination of the career I have chosen and my love for the outback so I applied. Tandou is an amazing place to see for the first time. I still remember driving out for my interview, 140 kilometres south of Broken Hill, in western NSW, rounding a bend and over a sand hill to see the fields of green…

Tandou Map Google Earth

I had only seen cotton once in my life, so I had no clue about how to grow it, but I got the job, packed up my stuff and moved in to my one bedroom Jayco unit (in the middle of 24 other units!) and had my first experience with irrigation and cotton. Nearly two and a half years later, it is the best decision I have ever made!

I am an on-farm agronomist working at Lake Tandou, 50 kilometres out of Menindee at the bottom of the Menindee Lakes. My job includes everything from rotation and fertiliser programs, irrigation scheduling, insect and weed management and picking through to driving tractors, loading seed trucks, taking people on farm tours and fixing things. It is an amazing job that has helped grow my skills as an agronomist, but also my general life skills. It has also given me the opportunity to meet and work with a range of amazing people!

As part of my job now I have found a love for photography. I spend some time every week taking pictures of the crops and the operations around the farm to document the growing of the crop, as well as the unique operation that we run here at Tandou.

One of my photos of the crop

Cotton is an amazing crop and an an amazing industry to be part of. Coming from SA – and downstream of the Murray-Darling river system – I grew up hearing many misinformed negatives about it. But it’s not until you immerse yourself into this world that you truly appreciate how the industry is so open and excited about sharing its story. There is great comradeliness and flow of information between growers and everyone is willing to help everyone else out and share their success stories.

It is hard not to have love, enthusiasm and motivation for a job that is so diverse in an industry that is at the forefront of many aspects of agriculture and provides so many opportunities to learn, network and get involved. I find myself talking to anyone who will listen about the good stuff and the challenges and the opportunities; I am sure that people must get sick of me talking cotton!

While working here I have also become the secretary of the Menindee and Lower Darling Cotton Growers Association, one of the most unique as we only have one grower, which is us! Through this I have been able to start sharing my love and passion for the job with the future agriculturalists of Australia as we often support events at the local school in Menindee as well as facilitating farm visits for other schools from cities like Mildura. This gives kids an opportunity to see what agriculture is actually about and helps dispel many myths that people still have about the cotton industry.


 I love my job, I love the outback, I love sharing what I know and enjoying this journey!

Felicity Taylor: ahead of the pack and ready to work for a strong future for agriculture

Meet Felicity Taylor
I aspire to lead a generation of educated rural women who can spend the day on the tractor or out fencing, then come home to cook a mean roast dinner. I want to be ahead of the pack, owning my own cropping property, experimenting with varieties and innovative techniques. I want to share information with my neighbours and market my own produce. Alongside this, I dream of a rural journalism career, ensuring farmers can stand united in fair, positive and accurate media to appeal to consumers and policy makers. I want my children to be as fortunate as I was in experiencing the strength of character a rural community provides.

Today’s guest blog comes from Felicity Taylor who says she loves to chat about agriculture to everyone. Born into a farming family and growing up on a broadacre cropping property near Moree, it has taken stepping out of her comfort zone for Felicity’s aspirations to take direction. And her sights are set firmly on bringing the best knowledge and skills back to farming in rural New South Wales.

This is Felicity’s story…

My name is Felicity Taylor and I’m a 2nd year Agricultural Economics student at the University of Sydney, a long way from my home in Moree, Northern NSW.


Until age 16, I lived on a 10,000 acre broadacre cropping property between Moree and Goondiwindi. I ate my fair share of dirt growing up; I had my first day of cattle work at four weeks old, constantly quizzed Dad on all the buttons in the tractors and compensated the isolation with a profusion of poddy calves. I was raised on my grandfather’s ‘back in my day’ stories, but despite the challenges farming brings my family had great pride in our high grade grains and Hereford cross cattle.


I spent two hours on the school bus every day, before being shipped off to New England Girls’ School, Armidale, for my secondary education at age 11. As we headed down the driveway after each school holidays back home, there’d be tears in my eyes knowing I wouldn’t be back for the next ten weeks. Luckily, my attitude towards boarding school improved once I could study agriculture in Year 9, and by my final year in 2012 I finished as Sports House Captain, Tennis Captain, President of the Charity Committee and the HSC Dux.

However, by 2012, corporatisation had totally changed the social atmosphere of Moree, and like most of our neighbours’, our family farm was sold. With the machinery gone and the cattle loaded up, we relocated 15 kilometres east of Moree to a smaller grazing property. It was a massive blow, and while I’d received a place at the University of Sydney and Wesley College, I put study on hold to spend a year at home.


I used this time to master power tools as a labourer on the building site of our new house. I cooked pizzas, sold dresses, worked bars and cared for kids when the opportunities arose. I bought and sold steers. I spent a month exploring the European summer. I entered the Showgirl Competition, hoping they’d overlook my shocking sock tan, and came away with a tidy second place. I took on the oldies in the local tennis competition. I travelled the state harvesting seed trials with a research agronomy company. I said no to nothing.

I learnt very quickly that I’m a Moree enthusiast. I’d thrown myself into my hometown headfirst and loved every second of it. But at the same time I saw the community decline, noticeably so even within just a year. Shops shut and jobs were lost, families moved away. So I made the shift to Sydney in 2014 knowing that I had to bring my Agricultural Economics degree back home, and that the valuable resources of my country town needed protecting. How to do this though, I did not know.

I approached university with the same enthusiasm I lived by in my gap year. I networked my little heart out and opportunities kept presenting themselves, I often found myself in positions or at events without any real clue how I got there. I toured central and southern New South Wales with the agriculture faculty and was an ambassador at Youth in Ag Day at the Royal Easter Show. I attended the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Club and UNE Farming Futures industry dinners and University of Sydney Agricultural Ball. I went home as much as possible, continuing to work in research agronomy including harvest in Victoria and South Australia. Oh, I did a bit of study too.


I was extremely fortunate to be selected for the RIRDC Horizon Scholarship for agricultural leadership, sponsored by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation. This led to more adventures, notably a week in Canberra for a development workshop, another at the Gold Coast for the Australian Cotton Conference and soon a stint of work experience at the Cotton Australia Head Office. The more people I meet, the more I learn about progressive agriculture and the more excited I am to graduate and put my knowledge into action.

2015 so far has been yet another whirlwind. I purchased a mob of heifers to be the foundation of my future breeding stock and am keeping a close eye on the market for more. I have been appointed Residential Advisor, the head of my wing, at my college and was invited into the Economics Honours stream due to my strong university results last year. I am constantly on the lookout for networking events or work opportunities.

Just a year ago, I had no idea how to procreate change for the future of Moree, but now my studies have made my strengths clearer. I understand business and economics well and my technical knowledge of farming is growing by the lecture. I know I can chat to anyone about agriculture, and the value of this skill is reflected in the Young Farming Champions program.

Young Farming Champions and the Archibull Prize foster a successful future for agriculture through building the positivity and confidence of young people. These initiatives generate appeal and interest in rural industries by showcasing the rewarding careers the sector provides. Harnessing the opportunity to engage with consumers will ensure Australia’s fresh, nutritious food and durable, versatile fibres are not undervalued. Also, it gives up-and-coming rural enthusiasts such as myself a platform to promote their passions and develop their own futures.


And what does my future hold?

I aspire to lead a generation of educated rural women who can spend the day on the tractor or out fencing, then come home to cook a mean roast dinner. I want to be ahead of the pack, owning my own cropping property, experimenting with varieties and innovative techniques. I want to share information with my neighbours and market my own produce. Alongside this, I dream of a rural journalism career, ensuring farmers can stand united in fair, positive and accurate media to appeal to consumers and policy makers. I want my children to be as fortunate as I was in experiencing the strength of character a rural community provides.

Chris Kochanski from Southern Ag Grain stood up at the Wagga Ag Ball last year to say, “Agriculture can take you anywhere, but it will always bring you home.” That’s the perfect encapsulation of my life to date. I’m meeting people daily, dipping my toes into a number of rural industries, giving it all a go. There’s farming in my blood and work to be done and I’ll happily step up to the plate, whatever it may be, to ensure a strong future for Australian agriculture.

Follow Felicity on twitter @flisstaylor95

Meet Andrea Crothers she is incredibly driven, cheeky and loves a good cotton yarn

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.

Andrea Crothers  (3)

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.

Andrea Crothers  (2)

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.

Andrea Crothers  (1)

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 my life  (2)

Cotton is Queensland’s fourth highest-value cropping commodity, but the most rewarding by far at “Booligar”.

Cotton is my life  (3)

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.

Cotton is my life  (1)

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.

Andrea Crothers  (7)

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.

Andrea Crothers  (6)

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.

Andrea Crothers  (4)

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?

Andrea Crothers  (5)

Follow Andrea on twitter @abcrothers

Meet Casey Onus who says choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life

It is that exciting time of year for the team at Art4Agriculture where over the next eight weeks we will introduced you to a diverse and exciting cohort of young people who love agriculture and want to shout it from the rooftops by sharing their story

These young people are lucky enough to either be studying for a career in the sector or have started an exciting journey in their chosen field

Today it gives us great pleasure to introduce you to Casey Onus ………….

Hi my name is Casey Onus and I am 22 year old Agronomist from Tamworth in NSW. Despite being a “Townie” my whole life I was born for a career in agriculture.


I attended my first agronomy meeting chaired by the infamous Dallas Parsons at Seed & Grain Sales at Croppa Creek on the morning of the 8th of January 1993 at 0 days old and was born later that afternoon at Goondiwindi base hospital.

Despite living in town my whole life I spent a fair chunk of my childhood with my father bouncing around paddocks being paid with lollies to identify weeds and weaving my way through what seemed like forests of cereals and sorghum, trying not to lose myself down Moree’s heavily cracked black soil plains in the process.

Throughout school I never really focused on what I wanted to do as a career. I assumed at age 12 that I was going to be member of the Saddle Club and that would be my job, but I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen.


Gave up my childhood dream of being a member of “The Saddle Club” to chase a career in Ag

In years 9 & 10 at St Philomena’s we had the option to pick our elective subjects and being the outdoors kid that I was I picked Ag because I didn’t want to be stuck in a class room for any longer then I had to be. I was fortunate enough to have a very passionate Ag teacher who really made me see how important agriculture was not just to me but everyone, if you had to eat or wear clothes then you needed something from agriculture.

I was lucky enough to not only enjoy Ag as a subject but also turn that enjoyment onto results which saw me win the Dallas Parsons Memorial Agricultural Award in year 10 as well as taking out the CMA property planning competition on “Nullamanna station” in 2008.

During year 10 I also attended a Rotary Youth in Ag Cotton camp which really opened my eyes to how big the cotton industry is and the endless opportunities that were available to someone like me. I got so much out of the camp that I volunteered to help in the running of the camp in subsequent years and ended up presenting the marketing and moisture management sections of the camp. It was great to see so many young people, especially from costal backgrounds coming along to see what the local cotton industry was about and if they took away half of what I did from the camp then it was well worth the time and effort.


Students from the Rotary Youth in Cotton Camp (RYAG)

During years 11 & 12 at Moree Secondary College I unfortunately didn’t have the option to study agriculture as a subject as there were simply not enough students at my school for it to run. This didn’t concern me overly until it came down to crunch time. All of a sudden I was headed for the HSC with no idea of what I was going to do at the end of it.

As luck would have it I was offered a job as a bug checker by the branch manager at Landmark in Moree over the holidays. I spent endless hours out in the cotton fields getting muddy, bitten, sunburnt and couldn’t have loved it more.


My first cotton crop

Although my father is an agronomist I wasn’t convinced that all agro’s loved their job as much as he did but this cotton season showed me exactly how rewarding it was. I got to see the tiny plants that I’d checked for months on end finally produce these white fluff balls of gold and that was a feeling of satisfaction that I couldn’t find elsewhere.


White fluff balls of gold!

I applied to study a Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE in Armidale and decided I was going to chase my dream of becoming an agronomist. Uni is hard and I certainly lost count of the amount of times I wanted to throw in the towel, but heading home for cotton season kept me going and rekindled my motivation to get me through another year. I completed the UNE/CRDC Cotton Production Course as part of my degree and even managed to get an article “finding cottons next generation” published in the 2013 Cotton Grower magazine yearbook.

Despite only having one unit left to complete as part of my degree I applied for the Landmark Graduate Agronomy Program and was accepted for a position in Tamworth, under the watchful eye of their agronomist Cameron Barton.


Despite already working for Landmark for 3 years, my graduate year taught me a hell of a lot at an incredible pace. I managed to squeeze in a trip to the 2014 Cotton Conference thanks to a scholarship funded by Cotton Australia.


There is no denying Agriculture is full of characters and I was lucky enough to meet Sam Kekovich at the 2014 Australian Cotton Conference

I also flew to Albury with Heritage Seeds to learn about pasture systems and varieties and learnt a lot from countless field days and industry updates. As well as joining the local Duri Ag Bureau and taking on my own clients with a range of new crops, not just the cotton and broadacre crops I was used too. All of a sudden I was trying to grow ryegrass not kill it!

I was lucky enough to stay on at Landmark Tamworth and am now a fully-fledged agronomist working with a great group of farmers from all backgrounds as well as providing precision agriculture services such as NDVI imagery, variable rate maps, capacitance probes and everything in between.


Growers attending our pasture demonstration trial walk at Woolomin.

Confucius says “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” and I firmly believe he was talking about jobs in Australian Agriculture. Because I certainly haven’t “worked” a day in my life yet.

Exploring Precision Agriculture 

The team behind Art4Agriculture are mainly from a livestock background and don’t know much about Precision Agriculture so we jumped at the chance for an expert to give us a Precision Ag 101 Lesson

This is what Casey shared with us

Precision what?
Precision Ag (PA) is no longer the complex and expensive exercise that it used to be. There are many products and even in-built features in today’s farm machinery that are sitting there on-farm just waiting to be used.

Did you know most tractors and headers these days already store data automatically? Most people don’t. A lot of farmers are aware their machines are collecting all this data but they don’t know how to access and use it. That’s where I come in, one of the more technical sides of my job involves spending a bit of time in the office to utilise technology to help growers and myself make better on farm decisions.



As farmers are driving their GPS guided farm machinery through the paddocks a lot of them are already (or can easily be set up for) collecting various information. Such as grain yields and changes in elevation across the paddock. As the machine is going along its packaging this data and tagging a gps point with it. This means we can tell exactly how much grain has been grown in certain parts of the paddock and even look at how high or low that exact same spot is compared to the rest of the field.


There is only one thing farmers love more than rain, and that’s making money so they can keep on doing what they love. By collecting all this information we can help farmers manage parts of their farm and even parts of their paddocks separately. This means money in the form of seed and fertiliser can be spent on the parts of the paddock that are more likely to grow more grain and make more money.

 So what’s involved?

The very first step is mapping the growers farm so we know exactly how big each paddock is, and this provides us with a base map on which to overlay all that data and information. There are several ways of using PA and this will vary greatly depending on what the farmer wants to achieve. The two main ways I currently use Precision Ag as an agronomist is by processing on farm-yield data and satellite imagery. To make this as easy as possible for the farmers I need two things from them. 1 – their time, half an hour, to map their place so I know what im working with. 2 – The data from their machines, usually a usb or equivalent simply removed from their machine post harvest and dropped into the office.

For the yield data

Growers bring in the data information card from their header/picker/tractor etc. This provides me with the data I need to unravel and turn into something useful. I start by removing any faults in the data, areas where headers have; changed speed dramatically, turned around, etc. as these influence the end result and can throw out the data. I then adjust the data to represent what has actually happened, this involves adjusting the total tonnes of grain recognised by the header to then represent the total that was physically removed from the field. Once that has been done we can then delve further into the data by creating elevation maps, multi year yield and temporal stability maps which can all be turned into management zones and variable rate application maps.

 For the imagery

Growers and agronomists select the pre-mapped paddocks that they require imagery for. Then I get to work placing an order utilising  LandSat8 as well as a variety of other satellites or even planes to gather images depending on the type of imagery we need. I then receive an image (first one below) which is georeferenced for me to ground truth in the paddock. Once I have determined what is causing the variation in the paddock I can then divide the image into management zones. These management zones can also be converted into variable rate application maps. NDVI data is most useful in-season when a quick reaction is needed such as a variable rate application of growth regulators or nutritional products in cotton.


Maps like these help growers to quantify gains and losses across variable paddocks as well as focus their inputs to areas that are more likely to provide a higher economic return. It can help us better manage; nutrition, irrigation, weed populations and even plant growth. The more data a grower has, the more reliable the management zones become which equates to increased productivity and profitability in the long-term.

Thank you Casey we think its just as well there are people like you around who can help farmers make the most of the modern farming technology and the data it provides