Meet the new generation of Plant Doctors – Part One



Plant doctors, agros, clod kickers – all nicknames given to those agri-professionals who spend a lot of time in their utes, poke a varied array of instruments into the soil and tell the farmer what to do with his crop. This may be the common perception of agronomists but Young Farming Champions are showing there is more to agronomy – and agriculture – than first meets the eye.

Coming together under Art4Agriculture’s innovative Young Farming Champions program, agronomists James Kanaley, Emma Ayliffe and Liz Lobsley are exploring the similarities and differences in their chosen careers. All have contrasting backgrounds – James is a fifth generation farmer, Emma grew up on remote pastoral stations and Liz is a self-confessed townie – and all work in diverse regions of Australia, but they have all studied at university, are bonded by the common crop of cotton and a desire to encourage the next generation of agronomists.

It is autumn and white fields of fluffy cotton await picking around Moree in northern New South Wales. James is waiting too. “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 (and fibre) bowl,” he says. “I 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 crops in.”


James is far from the family farm at Illabo in southern NSW and his journey to consulting agronomist, overseeing a range of crops including canola, barley and mung beans, has exposed him to agricultural operations across the globe. He has seen farming in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and followed the harvest through sun and snow from Texas to the Canadian border in the USA. “It was great to learn about other styles of farming but I think my trips highlighted just how adoptive, adaptive, innovative and resilient Australian farmers are,” he says. “I love working as an agronomist and working hard to produce as much as possible from every millimetre of rain that falls or every megalitre of water that is siphoned down a field during irrigation.”

The use of water for cotton irrigation is magnified in Emma’s job with Tandou Limited who launched a visionary and ambitious plan to irrigate the outback in the 1980s, and where now, in good seasons, cotton is grown on lakebeds near Menindee in western NSW. “Tandou is an amazing place to see for the first time,” Emma says. “I remember driving out 140km from Broken Hill for my interview and rounding a bend over a red sand hill to be greeted with fields of green.”


Working here as an on-farm agronomist represents the perfect combination of career and outback for Emma whose love of open spaces was spawned growing up on station country in north-west South Australia. “My job includes everything from rotation and fertiliser programs, irrigation scheduling, insect and weed management, through to driving tractors, loading seed trucks, fixing breakdowns and taking people on farm tours,” she says. However as with all farming operations climate and rainfall make the ultimate decisions and in a dry year, such as 2016, lakebed farming has been suspended and Emma has been transferred to company farms at Hay to continue cotton production.

Cotton also plays a major factor in the life of Liz who took a circuitous route to agronomy on the Darling Downs around Dalby in Queensland. “I originally thought of agriculture as dirty and, to be honest, boring,” she admits and her first university degree, and subsequent career, was in accounting. However, an interest in agriculture ignited in high school led her back to university and agronomy. “Now when I think about agriculture I think about people, innovation, passion and commitment, and within agriculture you are so much more than what your title defines. As an agronomist, on a daily basis, I assist growers makes decisions about how to nurture their crops and produce the best yields while keeping production costs low, keeping the level of chemicals used to a minimum and being friendly to the environment.”


Liz also finds her background in accounting helps her to perform business analysis and management, something she enjoys as much as partaking in an end-of-day beverage on a farmer’s verandah, building relationships in which she feels she has gained surrogate families. “Agriculture is an essential part of the economy but I also think it is an important part of our society’s way of life. We are blessed to have an agricultural industry with all if offers and it is time for a revival of sorts. It is time for everyone to peel back the layers and take a serious look at agriculture. It is not just a career choice, it is a lifestyle choice and it offers a wonderful way of life.”

James, Emma and Liz credit the Young Farming Champions program for giving them the skills to engage with the community and take on roles of responsibility within their industry. For instance James is now on the NSW Young Farmers Council. “I have got to the stage in my career where I have experience up my sleeve and some valuable knowledge. I want to help young people in agriculture to get their voices, views and opinions out there,” he says. Likewise Emma has worked with school children as part of the Menindee and Lower Darling Cotton Growers Association, and Liz is the Next Gen coordinator for the Australian Cotton Conference.

Blending their differences and similarities has also seen the three young agronomists create a Facebook page called ‘Agros – Tales from the field’ where interested people can follow not only the life cycle of cotton but of other crops such as quinoa, sunflowers and legumes. James, Emma and Liz add comments and photos as they explain agronomy in their corner of the country – offering insights into planting, pest and weed control, weather conditions, harvest and yields, to name but a few.

However perhaps the most important part of the Facebook page, as it is in their careers, is the showcasing of the everyday life of an agronomist, encouraging questions and commentary. James, Emma and Liz are showing there really is more to agronomy – and agriculture – than first meets the eye.

Reprinted from Leading Agriculture Issue 18



The Archibull Prize – happiness is ???

Yesterday’s The Archibull Prize 2016 Awards and Exhibition Day  was the culmination of nine months of blood, sweat and tears by 35 schools  up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Check out the Champions and Grand Champions here

Those nine months deliver many highlights for me. Yesterday I was just blown away by the students. Each and everyone of them  did their school, their champion teachers and the education system and Australia proud.

Love this classic comment when one of the Young Farming Champions asked one of their schools what was there favourite moment of the Awards Ceremony and the answer

“getting measured for my school blazer “


Superstars from Northlakes High School 

How good is it to get an email like this

Hi Lynne

On behalf of our students at …..  I would like to extend our thanks and appreciation for The Archibull Prize award ceremony today.

Being our first entry, reaching the finals was beyond our expectation. Attending today was such an insight into many things. The organisation of the awards was outstanding with each of the presenters being engaging and informative in both their formal roles and in their informal chats with our students.

The quality of work presented by the other schools was exceptional and a real eye opener into the many shared hours of research, collaboration and dedication involved in this program. The reactions of the students from our and other schools and their obvious pride in their work was an absolute delight to witness.

Thank-you so much for having us today…..


All the students were so proud of their cows and so proud of themselves and so proud to represent their schools.

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   some early photo highlights 

and nobody was more proud of them all than me.

Big Congratulations to the Matraville Sports High School who also looked very classy in their blazers.


Matraville Sports High School with Director General of NSW DPI Scott Hansen 

Pick the winner of the 2016 Archibull Prize




It is with great excitement that we announce the finalists in The Archibull Prize 2016 .

The judges decision is in and now it’s your turn to decide the People’s Choice.


Click on the photo to see a larger version and vote for your favourite Archie.

We know these photos don’t do the entries justice so if you would like to see all the 2016 entries and more elements and both sides of all the finalists and meet the students who created them you will find them in our judging tour Flickr Album here 


Joshua Gilbert – agriculture’s very own Lorax

Young Farming Champion Josh Gilbert has received many accolades since he became a activist for agricultural, environmental and Indigenous justice

In the past week he has won both the Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year and  the NSW Government’s Green Globe Young Sustainability Champion Award. 

The Green Globe award recognises and rewards a young individual for practical environmental solutions, and for promoting and engaging a community to improve its environmental issues. This award recognises a future environmental leader and is open to anyone 25 or younger living in NSW. 

Joshua Gilbert is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when vision, knowledge, research and passion combine.


The Young Farming Champions program focus is developing confident, independent, reflective thinkers who can share their story and their personal experiences, while voicing their own opinions about agricultural issues in their industry and more broadly.

Yesterday I was reminded how lucky I am to be surrounded by so many courageous young people

Firstly there was this testimonial for Young Farming Champion Dee George. I know how much this will mean to Dee (you are a true champion Dee)

And there was this entry in The Archibull Prize based on the ethos of the Dr Suess book The Lorax. After 4 weeks on the road with the art judge videoing the students it had got to the stage where I was queen of the bloopers and struggling to turn the record button on and off at the right time.

What does all this have to do with Josh. Well Josh is like The Lorax

I love his sense of right and wrong.

I love that he recognizes the need to speak for those who have no voice.

I love that he sees the beauty of an unspoiled forest.

I love that he’s willing to stand up for what he believes in, even when it is the unpopular opinion.

But most of all, I love that he maintains a hope for the future, even when it seems so dismal.

And I love that he not only believes that one person can change the world, but like all the Young Farming Champions he puts his heart and soul into being part of a movement that empowers them to do so.

I videoed his presentation and his speech. It was a very courageous moment



Awesome opportunity to spend your gap year on an Australian Cotton Farm


Do you know someone who is finishing their year 12 exams this year and looking to take a gap year in 2017? They may be interested in Cotton Gap – a program that supports and connects school leavers, linking them to opportunities in the cotton industry straight after school. Cotton Gap is facilitated by Cotton Australia.

Please forward this information to interested school-leavers, families and employers

Key facts

  • 17 positions available for school leavers seeking a gap year
  • Work opportunities available in NSW (Hillston, Warren, Wee Waa and Moree) and Queensland (Goondiwindi, Mungindi and Talwood)
  • Positions available on both family and corporate farms in some of the industry’s most reputable and impressive farming enterprises
  • Multiple opportunities available on single farms affording the option for friends to work together
  • Accommodation, in many cases, will be provided
  • Support and networking opportunities being developed for participants

More information

For more information about the Cotton Gap program, visit Cotton Australia’s website

Students seeking additional information are encouraged to contact Cotton Australia Graduate Policy Officer Claudia Vicary to request details of the positions available:


Photo by Justin Yarrow (left) with Sarah Mulligan (right)