Meet Jo Newton who began her career in Wool in a Suburban Sheep Stud

Today we are delighted to be sharing with you the Jo Newton story. Some-one said to me a few years ago if we are going to attract the best and the brightest to farming our industry needs to be seen as ‘lucrative, sexy and… most importantly … dripping with integrity’. I believe if the industry can continue to attract people of the calibre of Jo and the Young Farming Champions alumni we may just get there.


The Jo Newton story ……………………….

Growing up in suburban Melbourne, my background is certainly not in agriculture though I did fall in love with sheep in the suburbs of Melbourne. That’s right a suburban sheep stud. My high school, Tintern Girls Grammar, despite being in the suburbs of Melbourne had an on campus farm making it a pretty unique place to go to school.

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Me holding the Champion Romney Ram at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo

When I started high school in 2001, I became involved in the Young Farmers program, developed a passion for sheep and thus my agricultural journey began. I have very fond memories of the school farm, of lunchtimes spent collecting eggs, trimming sheep and feeding poddy calves and weekends spent at the local ag shows and of course lambing season.

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Lambing Season, my favourite time of year

The best career advice I got at school was to find what I loved doing and then work out how to turn it into a job. I knew I loved sheep and enjoyed maths and science at school so studying agriculture at uni seemed like a great idea, though I had no idea what kind of jobs there would be for me after uni.

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Hanging out with one of the ‘Alfoxton’ Stud Poll Merino Rams, Armidale NSW

With this in mind in 2008 I moved to Armidale, NSW to undertake a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England (UNE). To me it made sense to study an ag degree at a regional university and I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of an Australian Wool Education Trust Scholarship which made my dream possible. I can honestly say moving to Armidale was one of the best decisions I ever made. As well as meeting a whole heap of people with similar interests to me I was surrounded by farms, in particular sheep farms.

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Me with one of the local farmers in Batu Village, East Java, Indonesia as part of the Syngenta Connections Program.

I quickly immersed myself in my new rural lifestyle, enjoying the friends I made at college and amongst the local graziers who were quick to offer advice and work experience opportunities to a young girl with a thirst for learning as much about sheep as possible. In my four years at uni I learnt to rouseabout, class wool, lamb mark, butcher a sheep and ride a quad bike. I also travelled to New Zealand to study wool processing systems and volunteered in Indonesia with the Syngenta Connections Program teaching local village farmers about farm sustainability.

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My Mum, Dad and brothers all came to Armidale to watch me graduate in 2012 with my Bachelor Rural Science(Hons I).

My passion for sheep has remained unwavering throughout my studies and I was fortunate enough to graduate with a University Medal and First Class honours in 2012. I am now undertaking a three year research project (PhD or Doctorate of Philosophy). When people ask what I am studying I tell them “teenage pregnancy in sheep” which is a great conversation starter.

Me with a willing participant in my PhD research

What it means is that I’m exploring the environmental and genetic factors influencing early reproductive performance in sheep. I’m currently working with sheep breeders across NSW, VIC and SA who are trying to join their ewes at 7 months of age. At the moment my car feels like my office as I travel around collecting data and samples.

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Learning how to take blood samples from Border Leicester ewes for my PhD research

Growing up in Melbourne, I used to harbour a lot of the common misconceptions about agriculture. Studying at UNE certainly cleared things up for me. Now, every time I go back to Melbourne for a visit I find myself explaining that studying agriculture doesn’t “just mean” I want to be a farmer. As important a job as farming is, there are many different jobs in our sector, something many people don’t yet fully understand. I am proud of the agricultural sector and my small role in it and am happy to share my story with as many of my city friends as I can.

One thing I learnt that surprised me was that even ag students didn’t know the extent of job opportunities in the industry. In 2011 I was one of the founders of the Farming Futures Industry Dinner and later the Agricultural Careers Fair, a concept created to help students connect with different agricultural companies and learn about career opportunities in the sector. I never imagined that the idea of a couple of students could grow so rapidly so quickly. This is my third year as Chair of the organizing committee and I’m really excited about this year’s dinner and careers fair which are shaping up nicely for the 2nd August 2013.

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Myself , Sharon O’Keeffe (GRDC), Scott Hansen (MLA) and Felicity McLeod (Farming Futures Vice-Chair) at the 2012 GRDC Farming Futures Dinner.

One of my favourite ag experiences (aside from shearing time) was being selected as one of the 2013 RAS Rural Achievers for NSW. I had an unforgettable time at the Easter Show this year. It was an action packed 10 days; stewarding, helping in the food farm, watching the shearing demonstrations, meeting the Governor-General, taking part in the RAS Young Farmer Challenge and much more. The highlight of the week though was meeting and spending time with an awesome bunch of young people passionate about the future of agriculture.

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The 2013 RAS Rural Rural Achievers taking a break at ANZ Stadium (photo courtesy of Felicity McLeod)

When agriculture makes the mainstream news, too often the stories the general public are exposed to are negative; floods, fires, farm injuries,

Rarely does the news celebrate our success. As a sector we need to continue to build relationships with our communities to better enable us to tell our stories and share agriculture’s successes and celebrate the good things. My agricultural journey began thanks to a suburban sheep stud. I’m proof that you don’t need to be born into agriculture to live and breathe all things ag and take great pride in telling my agricultural story to anyone who will listen.

I encourage everyone with a story about agriculture to start telling it, to help us celebrate and spread the word about agriculture.

You can see and hear Jo talk about her career here


  1. You can’t escape Tintern girls hey Jo!
    Which is probably why your story is so similar to mine, just slot in cow for sheep! Always love seeing you doing so well 🙂


  2. I was a Tintern boarder in the 1970s – it was the surrounding bush that appealed to me; plus my mother went there when it was still in Hawthorn, during WWII. A pity Tintern no longer has a boarding school.


  3. Hi Jo, This is Joy Ashfield, President of the Friends of Young Farmers at Tintern. We would love to publish your article in our newsletter at school as it is such an inspirational story. Could you please contact me to discuss this?


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