Agronomist Casey Onus loves her job so much she’s never “worked” a day in her life

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Casey Onus brings us today’s special guest blog. A 22 year old agronomist from Tamworth, NSW, who despite being a “Townie” her whole life was born for a career in agriculture – literally! This is Casey’s story…

If you want to be outstanding in your field, you’ve got to be out standing in your fields. There aren’t any shortcuts and I know I’ve certainly got a long way to go.

I’m Casey Onus…

I attended my first agronomy meeting chaired by 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 identifying weeds for lollies 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.

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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 classroom for any longer than 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 into results which saw me win the Dallas Parsons memorial agricultural award in year 10 as well as take out the CMA property planning competition on “Nullamanna station” in 2008.

During year 10 I also attended a Rotary Youth in Ag Youth in Cotton camp which really opened my eyes to the endless opportunities that agriculture had to offer. 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 and agricultural 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.

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My first crop of Mungbeans at Caroona on the Liverpool plains, made easy having recently attended the AMA Mungbean training & accreditation course

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. At this time 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 various crops getting muddy, bitten, sunburnt and couldn’t have loved it more.

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Hard not to love views like this – Barley at Loomberah NSW

Although my father is an agronomist I wasn’t convinced that all agro’s loved their job as much as he did, but being out in the paddock every day and seeing how unique each farm was showed me exactly how rewarding it was. I got to see the tiny plants that I’d checked for months on end finally produce lint, grain and oilseeds.

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Getting hands on in soil science at UNE, definitely one the most useful and exciting subjects according to Chris Guppy….. but he’s probably a bit biased!

I applied for the Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE in Armidale and decided I was going to chase my dream of becoming an agronomist. Uni was hard and I certainly lost count of the amount of times I wanted to throw in the towel, but heading home for holidays and getting amongst the crops kept me going and rekindled my motivation to get me through another year. I completed several Agronomy, Soils, Cotton and Grains units as part of my degree and even managed to get an article “Finding Cotton’s Next Generation” published in the 2013 Cottongrower magazine yearbook.

Despite 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.

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Views from my “office window”

In my graduate year I was lucky enough to fly to Albury with Heritage Seeds to learn about pasture systems and varieties and learnt a lot from countless field days, GRDC events 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 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 tailored agronomic advice, precision agriculture services such as NDVI imagery, variable rate maps, capacitance probes and everything in between.

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Growers attending our pasture demonstration trial walk at Woolomin.

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

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’

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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.

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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…

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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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