Meet Hamish McGrath who hails from the natural fibre capital of Australia

Continuing our series on young people drawn to a career in agriculture because it gives them a strong sense of purpose and they love what they do

Today’s guest blog comes from Hamish McGrath who reminded me how little I know of western NSW. So if you are like me I have added a few maps to Hamish’s blog to put the distances into perspective

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They grow them big out west

My name is Hamish McGrath, and I am from the Marra district, 145km north west of Warren NSW – the ‘Cotton and Wool Capital of Australia’.

The Marra District

For as long as I can remember, my family has been involved with wool, and everything about it. Living so far from the nearest town and decent school, my distance ed school days often consisted of procrastinating for as long as possible, until Dad came home and I could beg him to let me help, rather than pretending to do school work and watching a small hive of activity around the ‘Womboin’ workshop coming and going from the station paddocks. Needless to say, this didn’t impress mum, who was often left furious that I’d slipped out at lunch time to learn from Dad and beg him to not leave me behind the next time he went mustering.

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Between siblings and sheep, there is never a boring moment at home.

I suppose it was for this reason Mum decided it might be a good idea for us to go stay with our Nan to go to school in Cobar, 200km away from home. This meant no more paddock escapades for me with one of my seven siblings until weekends, something I found desperately boring. At least we could be semi-satisfied in town with tonka trucks and hand built lego road trains charging down the hall to Nan’s half impressed, half unimpressed looks. At least we had the holidays.
But these weekends lost some serious fun when my partner in crime and older brother was shipped off to boarding school in Sydney. I was left desperately waiting for holidays where Hughie would return telling stories from big boarding houses of dorm raids and rugby on the weekends. And so, I too wanted to go off to Sydney and copy my older brother and to play rugby where Mum and Dad weren’t left to drive 4 hours on the weekend for a few 15 minute juniors games. The worst part of it was, my mates seriously did not believe any of my stories from the holidays, that it could be so flat, or that 36,000 acres could be considered one place.

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When they would finally come home for a visit, city boys would more often than not exclaim ‘are we there yet?!’ not even half way home from town. Even other country boys from further south would ask ‘where are all your fences?’ or ‘are there any tress out here?’

As I got older, I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do after school, and so dropped Ag as a subject, picking chemistry and physics instead – thinking I wanted to become a chemical engineer. Our holidays still consisted of seeing how fast we could get the old yellow Kingswood ute on the main service road to all the paddocks, and begging dad to teach us about wool micron and how he classed his best sheep. I think Dad maybe thought I had little interest in sheep after a taste of life in the City for 6 years, and a gap year out of the country for another year afterwards.

On my last holidays at home before the HSC, I procrastinated so badly I think my parents were sure I would fail. It was after those holidays I decided to change my top Uni preference to Ag Science at Sydney Uni. But even then, I was left missing home with short visits few and far between, due to rugby commitments for Eastwood over the whole winter holidays. Dad would often ask ‘will you be home to help with shearing or lamb marking?’, and I had to answer no in disappointment, while everyone else thought I was mad wanting to go home for long days out at the yards marking 1400 lambs at a time.

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Between Uni and the Wool industry, there certainly are some larrikins.

It wasn’t until my 3rd year, when I reduced my pub hours and had to start thinking about my honours research topic, that I realised how much I really missed home, and everything that came with running a Merino operation. So now, I am in my 4th year at Sydney Uni, trying to complete my honours project with a major in pasture agronomy. Looking specifically at native pastures and the industry, I have begun to see how few young people are interested in returning to the wool industry, chasing the dollars of cotton farming, mining, or leaving ag all together for life in the city. It really worries me that some of the most comprehensive knowledge and best farming practices in the world will be lost with Australia’s aging farmers. What will be left then?…

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Checking out a field of cotton knowing wool was going to continue to flow through my veins

Numerous Uni excursions to southern and northern NSW, as well as work experience at Armidale and Cootamundra, have shown me so many different industries in Ag and how they operate. Despite all this, I have been left with one thing. I love wool and everything that comes with it, and with all the long days and hard work, you certainly have to be in Wool for the love of it.

And thanks to people like Hamish who are sharing their love of wool far and wide school children on the eastern seaboard are starting to share the #welovewool story too 


Meet Nellie Evans taking a winding journey from landscape gardener to crop doctor

As part of our series to share the stories of exciting young actionists in the agriculture and sustainability sector  we would like to introduce you to Nellie Evans

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Hi my name is Nellie and this is my journey ………

My journey into Agriculture and a return to farming after my grandparents had steered us away was a winding one full of obstacles and triumphs.

Excitingly I am now a 4th year Ag Science student at the University of Sydney, majoring in agronomy and livestock. I’ve never been your usual girl, I’ve always preferred competing against my brother in water skiing, mud bogging championships, wrestling steers from chasing motorbike, charging around on my horses and being apart of the outside action learning from my dad to do everything a builder can. Sitting inside painting my nails never came to my attention and perhaps I’m only learning these finer qualities now!  My Uncle Dave always promised to send me to finishing school, but my mum and dad sent me to Frensham instead.

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Despite not coming from a working property, I’ve always been surrounded by animals and acres of our own, fostering my love for animals and the landscape. I fell in love with horses at the age of 10, when my friend let me borrow her horse, patting it through the fence I soon became confident throwing my whole teenage years into training some 10 horses from Australia Stock Horses to Thoroughbreds. Competing at all the Australian Royal Agricultural shows, State and Grand National Competitions.

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Handy is a word that my family lives by; if you can’t do something, LEARN. There is no excuse for laziness in my family and I guess this has shaped my attitude towards work. When I was little on our family camping holidays around the country towns of Australia and ‘out west’ in the deserts, on the bank of the Cooper Creek at Innamincka I told my mum and dad that when I grow up I want to be a truck driver. They were of-course a little worried about this!  Well I achieved this goal fast – with a heavy ridged truck licence so I could cart my horses and cattle around.  However, I realised was destined for bigger things, so off I went to Canberra to Study Landscape Architecture.

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Landscaping is a passion of mine having done a Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Canberra and an exchange at the University of Georgia USA. However, I always preferred the actual creating rather than just drawing on paper. I rapidly became HG (Head Gardener) at our family property in Robertson, Southern Highlands. I was then ready for my next challenge, the one I should have always started out with – Agricultural Science. Throughout the past 3 years I have been fortunate enough to have wonderful mentors and work experience, which has galvanised my future career path.

I have seen some of Australia’s best cotton farms with progressive thinking, technology and ambition to strive for sustainable economically driven enterprises in Warren, Merah North, Gunnedah and Bourke.

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The cotton industry is really at the forefront of research and development as they see the future to climate, social and market based challenges, simplified with applied technology. I’ve also been fortunate to see a policy side of agriculture with NSW Farmers, livestock auctioning with Elders and U.S cropping and agronomy with GrainGrowers Australia.

The Grains industry is similarly one of progression, recently affording my friend Brett and myself pictured below an overseas study tour after winning The Undergraduate Crops Competition 2016.

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This year I’m studying chickpeas – never thought id say that! My honours project ‘Dissecting Chickpea Diversity for Improved Nitrogen Fixation’, is supported by the GRDC (Grains Research and Development Corporation).

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I believe the future of Australian Agriculture is in research and development, in the areas of legumes, soil and of course for plant development in cotton and grain crops such as wheat, barley, rice and sorghum to better handle the challenging growing conditions of the future.

I don’t know what’s next, but with each experience I am privileged to be apart of, it defines my future towards research agronomy, but what is for sure is ‘she’s heading West’.


Thanks for sharing my journey. #YOUTHINGAG #AGINSPIRATIONS

Meet Erika Heffer who has taken a 900km career journey to do what she loves in the Riverina Rice Fields

We have invited some exciting young actionists in the agriculture and sustainability sector  to share their journey and what drives them. One thing you will notice along the way is the power of industry graduate programs to attract urban Australia’s best and brightest young people

First cab of the rank is Erika Heffer from the Rice Industry

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Hi my name is Erika Heffer and I work in the Rice Industry. I went to primary school in Morisset (45kms south of Newcastle), high school in Gundagai (525kms south west of Newcastle), university in Wagga Wagga (610kms south west of Newcastle) and am now working in Deniliquin (860kms south west of Newcastle).

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Erika Heffer a 900km career journey to the Riverina Rice Fields 

Let’s just say if I stay on this trajectory, I’m going to end up on a boat in the Great Australian Bight.

So why have I kept on moving west? And why am I not fazed that I’m not back living 30km from the beach? I’m not from a farming background but I began dreaming about living in the country and working with farmers during my early teens. By the end of high school I had one goal; I wanted to work in Agricultural extension. I loved both my Agriculture and English subjects and I really wanted to use my interests and gifts in my future job.

During my Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree I took every opportunity of agriculture related work that I could; work experience on a Boer goat stud in Gunnedah, in a Pleasant Hills shearing shed, and five different ag-related casual jobs later I had some experience under my belt and was raring to go.


After graduating from Charles Sturt University in Wagga, I took a leap and applied for the Rice Industry graduate program. When I was successful I moved out west to Deniliquin to undertake placements with six different organisations in the rice industry, focusing particularly on research and extension.

These placements allowed me to get out into some rice crops, learn about rice agronomy, create contacts with key people in the industry and connect with the farming community in the Murray valley. I also got married in November 2015, and my husband Ryan moved to Deniliquin when he finished his Science and Teaching degrees.

To gain confidence to be as effective as I possibly can in my career journey I have put my hand up put my hand up for the training and professional development roles.  In 2015 I completed my Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Previously I had very little prior experience in facilitating groups of adults and I wanted to understand the best way to engage people from all walks of life. What I learnt from the course has helped me to better run informative events for farmers and facilitate their learning. In 2016 I attended the Planning with Communities: Facilitation and Conflict Resolution Training, which really opened my eyes to how important it is to allow community members to drive their own projects and therefore have ownership of the projects. Since the training I have been spending more time actively listening to the farmers and community members I work with, and they have come up with some really great ideas that suit them down to a tee. I wouldn’t have realised my dream of working in Agricultural extension if I hadn’t searched for learning opportunities and spent time developing my skills. I now feel confident walking into a paddock of farmers and seeing a great event unfold.  

Now I am a Landcare Coordinator and Community Support Officer hosted by the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia. To date, I’ve been working in the Rice Industry for 2 years and 3 months and I have loved every season.



Grinning from ear to ear on my last day as a Rice Industry Graduate and beginning my new role with the Rice Grower’s Association of Australia with my new boss Neil Bull (RGA environmental manager Neil Bull

While the farmers are busy growing their annual Rice crops in the summer months we are running agronomy events, applying for projects and planning business management events for the winter.


Rice Extension Innovators Workshop Finley 2017

In my role I have been able to support farming and community groups to run projects for women in agriculture, livestock producers and irrigation farmers.  It is a huge privilege to support growers in developing their knowledge and skills to adopt the most environmentally friendly and productive practices they can.


Rice Industry Field Fay, Old Coree 2017

Learning about improving farming practices and discovering ways to teach and encourage others about agriculture has been my passion ever since high school and now I’m able to call it a career! We may not have the beach in the Murray Valley but we sure do have big skies, beautiful sunsets and some of the very best farmers.

Choose a job that you love

Picture You in Agriculture Scholarship applications are closing soon

Last week we announced the launch of the first Picture You in Agriculture Scholarship

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Young Farming Champion Dione Howard raising awareness and appreciation of the Australian agriculture sector

The scholarship has a very short turnaround date in that applicants only have two weeks apply and we have been inundated with applications. The expression of interest process starts with this Google Docs application form  where we ask the applicants a series of questions including

  • Please write one paragraph about why you believe it is important for the agriculture sector to build relationships with the community
  • Write a brief paragraph about what you think are the biggest challenges facing Australian agriculture
  • Please list any leadership roles you have held, or scholarships you have received or personal/professional development courses you have undertaken.

I am just overwhelmed by the quality of applications and in particular the commitment of these young people for change in agriculture and their “why” they love being part of the sector and their desire to encourage other young people to join them in a career journey in the sector they are so proud of

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Young Farming Champion Dione Howard raising awareness and appreciation of the  career opportunities in the Australian agriculture sector

I am also super impressed with the amount of young people in agriculture who put their hands up to take on leadership roles and participate in extensive personal and professorial development at such a young age. WOW #youthinag

Scholarship closing date is 5pm 1st May 2017

Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of a program that will build your skills sets to be confident, independent thinkers with the knowledge and skills sets to be able to share your story with all audiences

The EOI form can be found here 

Footnote some interesting statistics on Young Farmers in Leading Agriculture Magazine here

The Archibull Prize showcased at teacher sustainability conference

Talking about her experiences with Art4Agriculture’s Archibull Prize, Matraville Sports High School teacher Sarah Robinson was the keynote speaker at the  2017 Steps to Sustainability Conference held in Melbourne recently.

The conference, established by Julie Wynne, Sustainability Coordinator at St. Louis de Montfort’s school and Karen Jones, Education Manager at Port Phillip Ecocentre, encourages leaders within schools to embed sustainability and climate change in everything they do. The conference is conducted by teachers for teachers.

“Attendees described Sarah as sensational. She did a wonderful job and really connected with the audience, especially the creative and artistic teachers” said Organiser Karen Jones.

Sarah’s address, “Teaching Sustainability Through Innovative Design”, described her work with The Archibull Prize, an innovative program connecting students with farmers. As part of the program each school is assigned an agricultural industry, students research the challenges and successes of that industry, are mentored by Young Farming Champions and present their findings in art form on a life-sized fibreglass cow.

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Sarah Robinson with the Matraville Sports High School team and their 2016 Grand Champion Archibull at the awards ceremony 

“Sarah has been involved with the Archibull Prize for five years, successfully taking Matraville Sports High to Grand Champion Archibull on two occasions,” Art4Agriculture director Lynne Strong said. “She works closely with the Little Bay Community of Schools, five primary schools who feed into Matraville, to provide transitional relationships to high school and to promote Matraville High as more than just a sports school.”

“In addition Sarah was instrumental in developing the UNSW Matraville Education Program – an affiliation that gives high school students exposure to additional arts and science classes, and train teachers from the university exposure to students. For this Matraville was awarded our inaugural Alan Eagle Award in 2016 – presented to a school fostering partnerships between education, business and the community.”

In 2017 Sarah will be playing a mentor role to other schools involved in The Archibull Prize


Cowaski was a big hit at the recent Sydney Royal Easter Show. I hear on the grapevine that the main people who stopped for a lengthy time and stood in awe were middle aged men reliving their glory days with wind in their hair riding their Harley’s into the sunset.

 For more information on The Archibull Prize please contact Lynne Strong on 0407 740 446 or l; .

Expressions of Interest are now open for the Picture You in Agriculture – Young Farming Champions scholarship


Art4Agriculture is thrilled to announce the availability of a one year scholarship to its flagship program Young Farming Champions, gifted by an anonymous donor.

This generous contribution will allow one young person aged between 19 and 30 to join this illustrious program, which trains the new generation of agricultural advocates by giving them skills in communication, media and professional and personal development.

“The Young Farming Champions Program is a fantastic opportunity to foster and develop the best young minds in agriculture today,” founder Lynne Strong says. “It is all about engaging these wonderful agricultural voices with the wider community, assisting them to share their stories, and promoting them as role models for others considering a career within the industry.”

“Our anonymous donor has gone above and beyond in efforts to support rural Australia and I encourage young people working in any agricultural industry to apply. To be eligible they must be either undertaking a tertiary education course or working in an industry that supports the United Nations Sustainable Goal of Responsible Production and Consumption.”

The agriculture sector everywhere has a huge responsibility. It feeds, clothes and has the potential to power the world. Every day people in the sector make environmental, economic and social decisions about the way they do business. In Australia our farmers look after sixty percent of the Australian landscape (that is more than the government) and the majority of our natural biodiversity.   This makes our farmers both our largest biodiversity managers and our source of food

Australia needs to increase food quality rather than food quantity,” Lynne continues. “If we merely aim for volume at all costs, then the natural environment will be the ‘cost’. However, if we send the signal that it is quality from an increasingly healthy natural resource base, then both the natural resource base and farmers will be the beneficiaries. To achieve this Australian agriculture needs young voices with a burning desire to lead transformational change and the skills to do it”

The Young Farming Champion who shares these values and desires who is selected as the sponsorship winner will attend workshops in Sydney and be part of the team taking agriculture into schools with The Archibull Prize.

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Past graduates of the program include 2017 Australian Geographic Young Conservationist of the Year Josh Gilbert and 2015 Young Australian Farmer of the Year Anika Molesworth.

Are you aged between 19 and 30 (in 2017) and have a burning desire to help lead transformational change in Australian agriculture? If the answer is yes then we invite you  to apply by filling in the expression of interest form. The Expression of Interest form can be found here

Closing Date for Applications is 1st May 2017

For more information on the Young Farming Champions visit the website at

We look forward to hearing from you.

If you have any questions please email Lynne Strong at  or phone on 0407 740 446

Meet Jess Lehmann – not only is cotton part of her DNA it flows through her veins


Today’s guest blog post comes from Jess Lehmann who is the daughter of cotton industry legend Chris Lehmann. As you can see not only is Jess very proud of what her father achieved she is a great advocate for the Australian cotton industry

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Jess lehmann(Image copyright Shanna K Whan –  Photography)

Hey there, my name is Jess Lehmann.

I was very blessed to be raised as the daughter of one of the cotton industries’ most passionate, innovative, skilled and loving men; Mr Chris Lehmann, who left a legacy of being the first independent cotton consultant in Australia.

Dad noted that “progress in agriculture must recognise that we are in the lap of technology. This is the main factor driving Australian agriculture forward”.  Together with technology must come smart and innovative people. “Growing talent is like growing cotton” he said. “In no time you will harvest success”.  I agree wholeheartedly with his sentiments. Because of Dad and his vision, the Australian cotton industry in fact now has a legacy trust bursary that was established in 2006, called the Chris Lehmann Young Achiever of the Year Award. Handed out every year, the award helps propel young people who are passionate about the industry, enabling them to undertake a research project that investigates an issue relating to agriculture and agronomy. It also provides an opportunity to develop new skills which contribute to their professional career development.  What a great way to acknowledge youth in agriculture who have made notable efforts to better this amazing industry and to remember the founding father of cotton agronomy in Australia.

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The Lehmann family  July 28th 2006 ( Jess, Paul, Chris, Deb and Paul’s wife Laura) People across the spectrum of the Australian cotton industry gathered at the Narrabri Crossing Theatre for an honourable testimonial evening that Cotton Consultants Australia launched. This was an organisation Dad was a founder of in 1982. He was recognised for his contribution to the industry being the first Independent Cotton Consultant and awarded life membership.

I have found myself following in Dad’s innovative and rewarding footsteps, and I would love to share my story with you.

People question how I can be a country girl living in Canberra with my finger still so heavily on the agricultural pulse. Well, to them I say that change in the agricultural sector happens from within, as well as from farther afield. My background has been in cotton and industry research, so let me explain how hard-won rewards have come with work as an innovation researcher in a series of agriculture fields.

I was privileged to grow up in a diverse farming environment including sheep, cattle, horses, cotton, legumes, cereals, jojoba trees, and even Narrabri show-worthy silver laced whydotte chickens.


Success – I got the hawk that was eating my prized chickens on the farm!

This was what shaped me as a person today. My Dad purchased a dry land farm 10kms North of Narrabri in New South Wales called “Buddah” in 1978. He signed the papers for it a day before he married my mother (Debbie Lehmann). Fantastic wedding present eh!.

Sadly on the 18th August 2006, my lovely father passed away and the property was sold.

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Dad at his legacy testimonial evening on the 28th July 2006.

We have since moved to my grandfather’s property called “Yarral” which is 20 km northwest of Narrabri on the Wee Waa road. There have been 5 generations involved with the property over the years.


My great grandfather purchased this farm from the Barkers and it was then handed down to my grandfather Vic Melbourne, by his father Claud Melbourne around 1950. “Yarral” and “Yarral East” is a large mixed farm of both irrigation and dryland of some 15,000 acres. It generally produces 10,000 to 15,000 bales of cotton each year. We also crop duram wheat, chick peas, mungbeans, faber beans and canola. Both properties also run 800 to 1,000 head of Angus Hereford South Devon cross cattle. An opportunity feedlot is used to enable stock to be prepared for marketing to Woolworths. My brother Paul manages the farm now, and this where I proudly call home.

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Home – ”Yarral”  (Image copyright  Shanna K Whan –  Photography)

In addition to growing up on the land and in the heart of the action, I always knew that innovation and agricultural research would mean stepping outside my comfort zone, and travelling.  And that’s what I have been doing for some time now. Change and unpredictability in this industry is what makes agriculture great, and has encouraged me to advocate for more of my peers to join our exciting adventure!  I love today’s rural spirit and the jobs, education, health, and social networks it provides. Farming communities are the backbone of every country town. I personally embrace everyone’s stories and am so proud of my own agricultural area and family history: so much so that my grandfather Vic Melbourne a family mentor of mine, legend and pioneer of the cotton industry had a book of his life recently published this year called “The Vic Melbourne Story”.

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If anyone loves new “technology” it’s my Grandpa or as he would say “Gadgets” Vic Melbourne “Yarral” Homestead  (Image copyright Shanna K Whan -Photography)

My agricultural education really started formally at boarding school, attending Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Armidale and Calrossy  Anglican Ladies College Tamworth. I soon embraced life away from the farm and continued my studies, worked, and became involved in the Cattle Teams at both schools.

In 2000 I went on a school exchange to Queenwood School for Girls, at Mosman, Sydney. It was here that I first began to understand the city-country divide; and to learn what was important for people from different backgrounds. The city lifestyle was sparkling and shiny for sure, yet the community showed only a passing interest in our rural environment. This experience was an absolute game-changer, which made me think about how I would, one day, be an advocate for regional Australia amongst our urban neighbours. My goal, I knew then, would be to help show urban Australia the importance of acknowledging and appreciating the people who produce the food they eat and the clothes they wear.

My first research job was with the NSW Department of Primary Industries Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project, run by Dr Robert Mensah at the Australian Cotton Research Institute near Narrabri. This was a fascinating agronomic experience for me; as it was a Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC) funded project based on a chance-discovery of the pest-resistant extracts of the Butterfly Pea plant.


Ground breaking research being conducted at Australian Cotton Research Centre at Narrabri 

Our role was to see how these characteristics could be exploited for the cotton industry. Being part of an applied entomology research team was exciting and no day was ever the same. I loved the three a.m. starts and sunsets on field sites across NSW and then Queensland. I embraced the knowledge, paddock-yarns, and industry friendships that were nurtured in this period. There’s nothing like endless days of temperatures over 40 degrees to really test a woman; carting around equipment in protective clothing in head high cotton, irrigation boots, sunscreen in your eyes, high humidity, mud, fighting flies and insects as you charge through the cotton. Thank goodness for headphones, 80’s rock music, and fly-spray! The thrill for me is in the details. It’s in the counting of the rows, bolls, flowers, plants, beneficial insects, and pests. The collecting of specimens and then documenting all of this, while in the field. I love both the scientific engagement and the hands-on aspects.

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Vic Melbourne of “Yarral”  My  Grandpa,  father figure and mentor was one of the first farmers who invested in my dad’s innovative independent cotton consultancy approach back in 1973 that grew successfully from there.  Grandpa has described Dad  (Chris Lehmann) as the pioneer of crop consultancy in Australia  and understands how important my approach and strong passion of agricultural research is to the industry. (Image copyright  Shanna K Whan –  Photography)

Hard work, passion and innovative research pays off in this industry. My contribution was one part of developing a long awaited world first biologically based pesticide to support global food security called Sero-X®. The pesticide was developed from the butterfly pea plant as a result of Dr Mensah’s research in collaboration with Innovate Agriculture Pty Ltd (a Wee Waa company run by Kerry and Nick Watts). It has now completed its trial period and will be launched on the 12th May 2017 as a commercial product by The Hon. John Barilaro MP, Deputy Premier of New South Wales. I’m looking forward to attending this event. With an organic tool like this, growers are able to naturally manage pest-pressure, which has remarkable potential across the cotton industry. What an amazing change this marks, in comparison to my Dad’s day, when cotton consultants were influenced and employed solely by large chemical companies and pests were controlled mainly by using synthetic insecticides.


What I would say is that growing up in any industry, and setting yourself up to keep progressing requires guidance to be successful.  That’s why I feel so privileged to benefit from the mentorship and life-experience of Dr Robert Mensah, a senior Scientist and now the Director of NSW Department of Primary Industries, Australian Cotton Research Institute in Narrabri.

Robert isn’t just an ‘’agricultural industry connection’’ to me – he was my dad’s best friend.  Dad and Robert developed a series of updated farming practices, which my grandfather adopted immediately, reflecting grandad’s faith in my father’s independent cotton consulting approach. Robert continues to positively influence and impact my agricultural and industry research, career, and life after all these years. We speak every week. What I have learned from his guidance and my experience working alongside him is that I believe youth in agriculture need to identify a mentor. I would also say that networking is your best agricultural friend!  In my case, I sought advice from Robert about my next agricultural research industry journey.

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“Yarral” –Dr Robert Mensah, describes me as a innovative bright minded and active change maker that this industry and research sector needs to nurture.  (Image copyright of  Shanna K Whan- Photography)

I decided to head to the University of New England (UNE) working for the Professor of Animal Nutrition/Animal Science at the School of Environmental and Rural Science in Armidale.  Here I focussed on my passion for climate change, the issues it places on Australia’s food supply chain, and the disruption it is causing to the environment from extreme weather events, and farmers already struggling to cope with intense droughts and flooding.

The UNE research topic focussed on a by–product called “Grape Marc”, the waste left from crushing, draining and pressing of grapes in wine production.

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Grape Marc

The research outcomes showed a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in ruminant animals. In lay terms, it’s another amazing illustration of smarter-farming, because this innovative by-product is also more cost-effective for producers than traditional grains.


Projects similar to what I have worked on can help deliver environmentally sustainable and ethical agriculture. It also shows how industry, science and government can work together to deliver innovative outcomes for the sector and rural communities.  Having left field work last year, I have been privileged to work with the Australian Research Council (ARC) in Canberra which funds all types of research including agriculture.  The diversity of research that contributes to improving cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes is extraordinary!  Division of the average $A800m per year in funds is a competitive grants business, so the quality of the research is high.  My reward has been my contribution to a team that monitors and assesses reports as the projects progress through their grant life cycles. I view this as critical for the future of our industry. “Agriculture wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for industry research, it plays an important role in sector to continue progressing forward with sustainability and profitability targets”

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 “Yarral” I surround myself with a combination of other bright minded innovative youth and inspiring older generations who all share my visions to keep that flame alive in an amazing go ahead  agricultural industry that produces the food we eat and clothes you wear. Dr Robert Mensah & Grandpa – Mr Vic Melbourne. My two life/family mentors full of wisdom and knowledge, pioneers and legends of the Australian cotton industry.   (Image copyright Shanna K Whan – Photography)

When I reflect on the work I am doing and the work I’ve done, I am always amazed by the various people and bodies who contribute to our agricultural sector. Whether it’s farmers, contractors, researchers, scientists, policy developers, or agronomists; everyone is a part of the overall equation. All of this group will benefit from future agricultural research, leading to a more sustainable industry. The people who contribute to agriculture are far more complex and diverse than what some would perceive as ‘just farmers’. It’s people in the city, the country, and even overseas. For my own part, while not being a current hands on producer, I have gained experience all the way from my early upbringing and family, through research, and having worked as part of a funding body that dispenses project funds to support agricultural research to boost production.

So, if sharing my story on why I am so passionate about this incredible, innovative, and go-ahead industry encourages somebody else to pick up the ‘baton’ and get involved in agriculture research, then that would be an amazing personal reward.  What is next for me is a question I am yet to answer, however I am focussing on remaining in the agriculture and research sector. Who knows what the next challenge is to tackle? You are welcome to contact me. I am certainly open to suggestions!

My advice to somebody starting their Agriculture career would be this: don’t hesitate to take the road less travelled if it is where your interest truly lies. Take the long way around. Let your life unravel as you cover that ground. Ride high in the saddle. Face the world and find your own way home.

Find your own way home….that’s what my Dad taught me.

“Take the road less travelled, and find your own way home”

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Yarral” Dr Robert Mensah, Jess Lehmann and Grandpa – Vic Melbourne   (Image copyright Shanna K Whan – Photography)