We recently launched the Riverina Local Land Services scholarships to find the latest round of Young Farming Champions. As part of the application process we invite the finalists to share their story. Today we a delighted to introduce you to Sam O’Rafferty who along with Katharine Charles and Kate Webster have been awarded Riverina Local Land Services Scholarship to participate in the two year Cultivate Growing Young Leaders program
Sam has also been awarded the prestigious Murray-Darling Basin Authority River of Life scholarship
This is Sam’s story ….
I grew up on a small mixed farm in the heart of the Riverina on the southern side of Temora. My two brothers and I would spend our weekends working on the farm with Dad, sowing grazing oats, picking up sticks and rocks, building fences and planting trees. From a very young age I was immersed in agriculture and exposed to the highs and lows that the lifestyle has to offer.
I grew up with the Millennium Drought and at its height we carted water for 18 months from town to the farm to replenish the tanks that supplied the house. The value of water was imprinted on me and has stuck with me through the course of my life.
After finishing school in Temora, I started my tertiary education at Charles Sturt University in Wagga. This was a fantastic opportunity to develop an understanding of the science behind agriculture and meet like-minded people entering the industry.
Water continued to play a large role in my life when I worked as an irrigation overseer during my university holidays. During the summer we experienced extreme heat and above average temperatures for the whole season. This dramatically increased the water demand on the crop and tightened the frequency of irrigations. This was an extremely valuable experience as I saw first-hand how challenging it can be to manage seasonality in an irrigated cropping system and how quickly a season can turn against you.
Irrigating during my summer university holidays. Despite what the beautiful sunset mighty depict, we faced many challenges supplying water to the crop in the hottest summer ever recorded in the district.
For the past two years I have been working as an irrigation agronomist in the Murrumbidgee valley where the boom-and-bust nature of agricultural is further amplified. When water is allocated we have the capacity to produce extremely profitable crops; during dry times we have a forced fallow period. Now, the drought had broken and water allocation reached 100% mid-way through the last season. This allowed growers to increase their production and produce some of the highest yielding winter crops on record in the area.
Irrigated Durum crop at Coleambally, in the 2021 harvest many growers achieved yields in excess of 10T/ha but faces extreme challenges in managing harvest logistics due to labour shortages.
During my short career I have seen how important water security and water use efficiency are to irrigation farmers and I see the biggest challenge for my generation is to manage an increasingly variable climate while increasing efficiencies and production to feed a growing global population. My aim is to continually improve water use efficiency and productivity on farm and help producers adapt to the variability in the climate. This will come through a variety of improvements to on farm water delivery systems, plant genetics and improved soil management practices.
Alongside the challenges of climate change, we are currently experiencing some of the worst labour shortages the industry has ever seen, with demand for workers exceeding boots on the ground.
It has been particularly challenging over the past two seasons where we have had two of the best winter cropping seasons, but we haven’t been able to capitalise on the season due to labour short falls.
Cotton Crop ready to be picked.
I am passionate about solving this issue.
Being a Young Farming Champion will build my ability to grow my networks and talk to people everywhere I go to promote the agricultural industry to attract skilled and unskilled labour to fill these gaps in the industry. Agriculture is an extremely rewarding industry to be a part of and I look forward to communicating this message far and wide to attract the best and brightest people; people who will help solve the big challenges in front of us.
#YouthinAg #YouthVoices #CreatingaBetterWorldTogether