Calum Watt is dedicating his days to producing the best barley for your beer

Today’s guest blog comes from Calum Watt who’s dedicating his days to producing the best barley crops for your beer. A love of plants – and particularly broadacre cropping systems – has lead him to study a Masters of Agricultural Science specialising in genetics and plant breeding. He enjoys a challenge, telling a yarn, and sharing a cold one.

Here’s Calum’s story…

G’day! I’m Calum Watt, and I’m currently an agriculture student at the University of Western Australia hailing from a town called Harvey in the southwest of Australia’s biggest state. I’m the eldest of two boys, although still the shortest which is somewhat a laughing matter for the rest of the family. I’ve lived in Harvey most of my life having moved around country communities as the old man got flung from one ag college to the next.

trasnport to grab the mail is different in Harvey

Transport to grab the mail is a bit different in Harvey

Whilst farming and agriculture in general have always been an interest for me, I can’t claim that I’m a fourth generation this, or a second generation that, and it’s unlikely that our small hobby farm will be passed down to me (much as I’d like it to be). Nevertheless, I cannot complain with the ‘Old Macdonald’ style farm I grew up on; it gave me the opportunity to see what I liked and didn’t like in agriculture…sheep being top of that list.

Being a dairy and orchard farming community, Harvey was completely different to the broadacre farms around Narrogin where I hailed from before “cow-town.” Although I’ve called Harvey home it still gave me a kick to tell people during my schooling that I was from somewhere else, somewhere where agriculture was the driving force of the community. Having schooled in Bunbury, most of my peers were either from farms similar to me or “townies,” as we called them. Although our farms were relatively small people were often really intrigued about what went on, what we grew, bred or otherwise did and I often got called a country hick even though I seemed far from it.

High school for me was nothing glamorous. I had wanted to attend the local agricultural college but having my dad as deputy principal meant it would’ve complicated things. School was a means to get to Uni. Math, English, chemistry, physics and geography were the subjects I had at my disposal with the end goal being a botany degree at UWA.

one of only two to graduate Botany

One of only two to graduate Botany

Why botany? Well I’d always preferred plants, especially crops, to animals and botany was a way of following my agricultural interest without having to do an Ag Science degree and all the animal units that it entailed. To ease my transition from Harvey to Perth I went to a residential college where I met my current friends, who unlike me, are all from broadacre farms dotted around the wheatbelt, something I’m slightly envious about. Being able to travel to their farms deepened my interest in broadacre cropping and on completion of my undergraduate degree, I enrolled straight into a Masters of Agricultural Science specialising in genetics and plant breeding.

Genetics units during my undergrad instilled an interest in me to make meaningful change. Understanding that the nature of farming is changing for good or worse made me want to integrate genetics and crops into the notion that I could become a crop breeder. My ambition is to be the bloke who makes the crosses that result in a crop variety that is bigger and better in every sense possible. Whilst this may be challenging, it drives me to excel in my studies and makes me aware of new opportunities to better my understanding of broadacre cropping.

the scale and uniformity of a crop is amazing

The scale and uniformity of a crop is amazing

Networking with industry is enabling me to develop a position as a future leader in this field and has provided me with the opportunity to complete my masters research project jointly with the private cereal breeding company Intergrain. If you’re not aware already, aluminium toxicity significantly impacts the ability of a crop to obtain nutrients and water, ultimately resulting in lower yields; something no farmer is out to chase. My thesis is looking into this issue from a genetic perspective and trying to ascertain if there are significant benefits to genetic tolerance, and whether genetic tolerance may or may not lead to a yield penalty.

No doubt you’re already watering at the mouth at the thought of a cold barley made frothy and it’s in my interest to make sure that aluminium isn’t a factor in depriving you of the opportunity.

innovation generation - canberra 2015

Innovation Generation – Canberra 2015

So now you may be aware that my path to agriculture has been slightly different to some and how my interest has changed and grown substantially over time.

One thing I know for certain is that the agricultural sector is so diversified that something exciting is always happening and this is why I want to be a part of it.

Cheers, Calum Watt

Taking the stress out of plant life

I heard a funny story from a biology teacher the other day. In a discussion about stress in plants a student says to the teacher “plants are rooted Miss”. The teacher looks a bit mortified and the student replies “they are rooted because they cant get up and move when they are under stress’

its stressful being a plant

Grain crops under stress – get this stuff off me

So loving this story shared with me yesterday Plants freak out  like animals when stressed. Extract

Both plants and animals produce a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. This acid is primarily produced when the organism is under stress: when it’s hungry, or scared, or exposed to pathogens or (in the case of plants) acidity or salinity.

What has only been suggested up until now is that the presence of this acid acts as a signal to tell the plant to behave in a certain way. That’s changed now. According to the authors of the ARC study, “We’ve discovered that plants bind GABA in a similar way to animals, resulting in electrical signals that ultimately regulate plant growth when a plant is exposed to a stressful environment.”

Breeding plants for stress reduction

With the help of farmer levies from the GRDC the CSIRO are breeding plants that are more stress and disease tolerant to help our grain farmers supply safe, affordable and nutritious food to Australian families

Seed to Store – creating a buzz around grains

Young Farming Champion Dan Fox certainly got a great opportunity this week to combine his two first loves – teaching and food production (apologies to his girlfriend)

Dan is a very bright young man who completed HSC physics and maths in Year 10. As I always struggled with physics and maths I am just awestruck that some people can do this

When Dan completed his HSC he went off to Uni to become a teacher. After completing his degree he found his farming roots calling him back to the farm where is waking up every day committed to growing the best grain for your weetbix, the barley for your beer and the canola oil for your salad and helping turn spring into that amazing colour carpet splendour that is canola in flower.

Daniel ox  (3)

Dan Fox in the canola

At the invitation of the Grains Research and Development Corporation which funds Dan to be a Young Farming Champion Dan had a whirlwind trip to South Australia to help promote the Seed to Store Video Competition

As part of the team who did the ‘Seed to Store – Story of Australian Grain’ schools presentation sessions today Dan visited Urrbrae Agricultural High School and Oakbank Area School and presented to over 400 secondary school students.

The hour long sessions looked at the Australian grains industry, growing great grains, plant breeding for quality food products and careers in grains / agriculture.

Dan shared his journey with the students, speaking about his career, sustainable farming and opportunities in the grains industry and knowing Dan I am positive the crowds loved him!

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There was lots of activities, quizzes, plant crosses, prizes

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Apparently this young man was asked to  “emasculate” a plant! Priceless!

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Dough stretching competition – learning about gluten and dough quality

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everyone had lots of fun including Dan front and centre here

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You can find out everything you need to know about the competition here

Seed to Store CompetitionCheck Cosi in the video clip here

Grain farmer, ag-science student and storyteller Hugh Burrell loves to share a yarn from the farm

The bush is in Hugh Burrell’s blood and farming has been his calling since the day dot. He’s a 4th generation farmer, a 4th year Agricultural Science student and a proud product of Narrabri, NSW. At boarding school in Sydney, Hugh was known for enthralling his boarding house mates with his wild and entertaining “Yarns from the Farm”… perhaps little has changed, because today’s guest blog is a great read!

Let’s hand it over to you, Hugh…

Hugh_Burrell_Profile_pic

2390: numbers I will never forget. Now that you know all my passwords I’d better let you know who I am. I’m Hugh Burrell, a 4th generation born farmer from Narrabri, NSW. My father is a farmer, my grandfather was a farmer and my great grandfather was a farmer. I am the youngest born of my family, with an older brother and sister. We were all raised on our family property “Woodlands” north east of Narrabri, nestled in the foothills of the Nandewar ranges. Being a family farm spanning many generations we have been involved in a variety of operations from pigs, chooks, sheep, cattle, grains, cotton, to canola and dogs. However my fondest memories come from our days as mixed cropping and cattle producers. These formative years of my life spent trailing, with poddy calf in tow, my grandfather, father and brother around the rich basalt soils checking for weeds in the wheat and pulling out black oats to feed to my poddy lambs at home, are some memories that I still reminisce about today.

With my father and grandfather at the helm of the business when I was growing up, we began a more intensive winter cropping regime. We went from running merino sheep for wool and fattening lambs on oats to a full blown wheat and barley operation. The days spent with “Grampa” on the old Chamberlain tractor pushing up rocks to clear the way for Dad to come through and plant wheat are fresh in my memory. Growing up meant extra work for me, as I grew into my gangly frame I was more useful with jobs like fencing and weed chipping, which my father knew and used to his advantage. However, something he came to learn was that I loved this work, hands on learning, out in the open, and providing something for the world to eat.

Hugh Burrell_Interested locals

Interested Locals

Heading off to Narrabri Public School saw this idea of working outside flourish, where my teacher was often heard calling, “Hugh, what are you doing out here?” to which I would show her the perfectly cultivated rows of the sandpit and reply, “Just farming.” This became a more frequent response as the years went on and this “just farming” idea became a driving force.

We began leasing a property on the other side of town to our farm, so during the week Grampa would pick me up from school and we’d head out to check the sorghum, wheat, and mungbeans we grew out there. During the summer we would take turns scaring the birds off the ripe sorghum heads while recounting our day to each other, being a quite kid I just listened to the stories. This seemingly endless time spent driving around the crops, refilling the tractor, checking for weeds and talking to each other was the foundation of my passion for farming. The nature of a family farm is essential to agriculture throughout the world; the care that is taken with each step and the knowledge that can be transferred between generations is a vital part of our industry.

Hugh Burrell_A few WheatBix

A few wheat bix

Growing into my brother’s clothes it was time to ship off to boarding school. I was 11, and my first day of school at The Scots College was only my second ever visit to Sydney. This was another foundational experience for me, the place where I met some of my closest mates to this day and that fostered my rural blood. Being one of 200 or so country boys in a school of 1000, it’s fair to say we stuck out. Our city friends often quizzed us about our holiday activities, to which I loved telling stories of the farm, harvesting, mustering, spraying and everything else that we got up to. Talking to others about farming – some who were almost oblivious to the facts – was great fun for me, I loved getting up in front of the boarding house on our first night back after the holidays to recite “Yarns from the Farm.”

Moving along at school, I studied Biology and Business Studies in the hope of pursuing a career on our family farm, continuing my forefather’s tradition. However, with some succession decisions still in the pipeline and my dream of heading home to “Woodlands” stalled for the time being, I knew uni would be a great opportunity. I ended up at Sydney University enrolled in Agricultural Science, which has been a great experience for me, instilling a respect for research and its part in agriculture, particularly in Australia.

Throughout my degree I have been lucky enough to be involved in various field trips around NSW, learning from others in the industry about how they apply science to their farms and businesses. This has really nailed down the point of agricultural research, which I am dedicated to use in my career in agriculture. In my third year of study I was involved in the Developing Agriculture in Developing Countries unit which involved a three week trip through Laos, South East Asia. We were able to meet with multinational companies, non-government organizations and government bodies to talk about the impact that agricultural development has on a developing a country. This was an amazing experience, from planting rice with the locals to hiking through the rugged limestone cliffs; it was a true example that agriculture can take you anywhere.

Hugh Burrell_Rice planting in Laos

Rice planting in Laos

I am now in my 4th year of study with a focus on agronomy and precision agriculture. I’m looking to undertake my honours research project in 2016 in the grain production area, centred on crop and variety selection and management in the Narrabri area.

I’ve been working every summer holidays with Australian Grain Technologies (AGT) in Narrabri, helping harvest the trial crops, seed cleaning, and hand harvesting for 3 weeks in December 2014 at 40oc – that was a true experience. This work has truly highlighted the importance of plant breeding for select region specific traits that give farmers that little bit extra ability to grow more crop per hectare and per mega-litre, especially in these challenging climatic times.

I have a passion for agriculture that has been fostered from birth. Being brought up in a region built on farming, it’s safe to say it’s in my blood. I am really looking forward to the challenges ahead of my honours project and what the real world holds. One thing I know for sure is that I’ll be back out in the bush soon, chasing the sun all day and growing food for the world – hopefully somewhere out around postcode 2390.

Cheers, Hugh Burrell

Young Farming Champions go behind the scenes at the Sydney Royal Easter Show

Three of our Young Farming Champions are bursting at the seams with anticipation and the Sydney Royal Easter Show can’t come round fast enough for them this year after being announced as recipients of Rural Achiever Scholarships.

YFC Tim Eyes Dee George and Kylie Schuller

YFC Tim Eyes, Dee George and Kylie Schuller on Day 1 of their Sydney Royal Easter Show 2015  journey  

 The Rural Achievers will participate in a 12-month program that provides a range of networking and professional development opportunities, including an 11 day behind-the-scenes experience at the 2015 Sydney Royal Show, official functions with RAS councillors and Agricultural Societies Council representatives, cocktail reception at Government House, tour of NSW Parliament House and of program sponsor The Land’s head office at North Richmond.

The achievers will also have the opportunity to represent the RAS at Royal shows and events across the country.

One Rural Achiever will also be selected to represent NSW at the 2016 National Rural Ambassador Awards in 2016. You can read all about it in The Land here

 GRDC Grains Young Farming Champion Dee George said

The thing I am most excited about being a Rural Achiever is the networks and people I will get to meet and talking to like-minded people. I’m also looking forward to the Sydney Royal Show experience, which will be unlike any other year I have been to the Show as we will get to do a lot of behind the scenes work.

MLA Cattle and Sheep Young Farming Champion Tim Eyes said

I’m so excited to be able to share my passion for agriculture with like-minded people in the 2015 RAS Rural Achiever program because it’s a great opportunity for us to shine a light on one of Australia’s most prized industries.

I’ve shown cattle at the Sydney Show for eight years, so I am most excited about seeing behind the scenes and talking to the organisers about the logistics of it all and how they pull it off every year. When you show cattle there that’s just two weeks of your life, but for them, they live and breathe the show all year.

And NSW Farmers Young Farming Champion Kylie Schuller is equally excited saying

 I believe the Rural Achiever program is a great opportunity to equip myself with the skills, knowledge and networking opportunities to enhance my ability to engage with the community, in order to promote our rural industries, our produce and people.

I am particularly excited to get an insight into the organisation and co-ordination of the Food Farm as well as the various Gourmet Food experiences that showcase exceptional regional produce.

Special thanks to our YFC ( Dwayne, Jo, Josh and Georgia) who have been through the Rural Achievers experience in the past and  mentored Kylie, Tim and Dee for the interview process.

Lets hope one of them does as well as MLA Young Farming Champion Prue Capp and wins the national title. I am sure they will be well and truly in the running

Archibull Prize judging travels east to west

Week 2 Day 5 of judging saw 2014 Archibull Prize judge Wendy Taylor travel from the eastern suburbs of Sydney to Mt Anan in the West

First up was Little Bay Community of Schools entry Bloo Moo ‘Grass to Glass’ – ‘Have three serves of dairy and fly through your day’.

Bloo Moo is the result of a peer teaching and learning partnership across the five
Little Bay Community of Schools. Year 8 students from Matraville Sports High acted
as mentors, peer teaching the Primary students dairy content and art making techniques.

This is what Wendy had to say about Bloo Moo

Little Bay Community of Schools

“Blue Moo” is definitely a cow that could jump over the the moon.

Her wings are fabulous! Made from recycled plastic milk bottles, they soar from her sides and are a real statement feature. Her sponged blue skin highlights her painted patches, which tell the story of milk from ‘grass to glass’ as well as portraying her as a crazy, ‘extraordinary dairy’ cow.

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Next up was mentor school Matraville Sports High School Wendy said “Mattooo” is a study of contrasts.

She tells a subtle story of dairy from ‘farm to fridge’ through layers of contrast and pared back simplicity. Her hard black side is overlaid with delicate topographic mapping of NSW dairy farming areas, while her white side is a mass-produced fridge. Inside, is an exquisite stylised digestive diagram based on indigenous motifs and a high tech projection which tells the inside story of the dairy industry. She showcases complexity and simplicity.

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Next Wendy headed south west to Narellan to visit Elizabeth MacArthur High School

This is what Wendy had to say about their Archie they have named Susan

This “Susan” is not a lazy Susan or a Black-eyed Susan.

She is busy and vibrant. Her bold colours catch the viewer immediately and her tactile and interactive features invite you to touch. The growing grasses along her back and at her feet are a highlight and help to tell Susan’s story of the grain industry. Her beautifully painted head is a stand out.

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Archibull Prize judging goes south of the border to ‘Mexico’

Week 2 Day 3 of  Archibull Prize 2014 judging saw Wendy fly from Newcastle to Melbourne where she visited Kilbreda College and the Emerson Special School

This is what Wendy had to say about the schools she visited in Melbourne

First up was Kilbreda College

“Hidey” has nothing to hide! She has a very simple and subtle story – showing a pictorial of different grains an1d their textures. It is her vibrant bands of eye-popping colour overlaid with the intricate patterns of the grains which give her visual appeal. The balance of colour, pattern and texture is very well done. Her living grain base is a nice contrast and adds to the sense of balance.

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Follow Kilbreda College Archibull journey via their blog here  and their video

From Kilbreda College Wendy travelled to Emerson School.

Each year with the support of a different organisation Art4Agriculture is able to support a school who isn’t able to undertake the full program but are passionate about sharing the great stories of farmers and farming with their students. This year Emerson Special School was chosen to be that school and wow what a special group of people they are ( students and teachers)

Emerson School is a specialist school located in Dandenong, Victoria, catering to students with mild intellectual processing difficulties. From an initial enrolment of less than 100 students in 1973, Emerson has grown to be one of the leading providers of specialist education in Victoria, with 100 staff now supporting 400 students to achieve their potential.

A proud and vibrant member of the local community, Emerson prides itself on being a school of first choice – not a school of last resort.

The Emerson community exists to provide a first rate education to all who walk through its doors. Emerson School is comprised of our Junior School (students aged 5-11 years), Middle School (12-15 years) and Senior School (16-18 years). Class sizes range from 8 students per class in the Junior School to 16-19 in the Middle and Senior Schools. These small classes ensure that programs are able to be tailored to individual students’ requirements. Source

This is what Wendy had to say about Emerson Public School

“Daisy” is very well named. She is cosy and comfortable and warm. Her knitted coat has loads of texture and appeal, with the felted daisies being the standout feature. Her stylish hat and gorgeous eyelashes complete the picture. Her story of wool is simple and thorough and perfectly encapsulates the breadth of the learning done by the students.

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Watch the wonderful video they have made of their  journey with Daisy to learn about wool