Empowering young people to be global citizens – Celebrating the continued success of Paddock Pen Pals

In 2018 Young Farming Champion (YFC) Emma Ayliffe stood before a classroom of excited Sydney students participating in The Archibull Prize to talk about moisture probes and data collection in the cotton industry. But Emma was not anywhere near Sydney. Instead she was standing in a paddock of cotton stubble and it was the power of technology that allowed her to beam live into the classroom.

In Wilcannia YFC Bessie Thomas’ three year old daughter was receiving letters from students at Hamilton North Public School and the Action4Agriculture team was keen to build on the opportunity to offer schools the chance to connect with young people working in agriculture in innovative ways

With Emma’s session being an immediate success we realised the model could be replicated and scaled as Paddock Pen Pals. Paddock Pen Pals launched in 2019 at Carlingford West Public School in Sydney and, under the tutelage of teacher Zoe Stephens, 300 Year 6 students gained a first-hand look at the wool industry.

Four years down the track and Zoe and Carlingford West continue to rely on Paddock Pen Pals to give students a real-world agricultural insight and to prepare them to be global citizens. With international migration happening on a larger scale than ever and with Carlingford West having a high percentage of English as a second language students, cultural demographics are changing in the classroom. This demands new educational responses in a world where diversity is the norm.


Building relationships with young farmers offers students an opportunity for exchange of ideas and collaboration. The Paddock Pen Pals program is coordinated by Young Farming Champions’ Leadership Team member Emily May. in the recent round of Paddock Pen Pals at Carlingford West six Young Farming Champions engaged students with wool and horticulture.

Promoting wool were veterinarian Dione Fitzgerald, animal welfare researcher Danila Marini, sheep grazier Katherine Bain and sustainable agriculture project officer Katie Barnett.

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“Participating in the Paddock Pen Pals program is always a valuable and enjoyable experience. It’s an opportunity to introduce students to the industry I love and just how much good is going on around them. The students are always so engaging and ask some of the greatest questions that I have ever received,” Danila says.

Danila’s presentation to the students can be viewed here.

Katherine was able to give students a look at a working sheep property and was also warmed by their interest.

“The kids asked some really good questions, especially about sheep welfare and working with the dogs,” she says.

Representing horticulture were DPI industry development officer Jessica Fearnley and researcher Steph Tabone.

Jess was able to relate agriculture to the students’ own lives.

“We discussed how trees can be looked after for best performance in a backyard and what the supply chain of horticultural industries looks like. It was a great opportunity to shed some light on the different processes in agriculture and how many steps there are to get from paddock to plate,” she says.

Paddock Pen Pals has morphed over the years as the Young Farming Champions refine their delivery and presentations using skills acquired in their own YFC training.

“I think we’ve got the format down pat with being able to see the classroom so that we can ask questions and see the hands go up, and with students coming up to the microphone and camera to ask questions. We were ahead of our time doing this in 2019 and it is great to continue to be part of this program,” Dione adds.

For Zoe Stephens, who has advocated for the program not only at Carlingford West but through her work with City Country Alliance of Schools, Paddock Pen Pals continues to be a rewarding experience.

“I want thank all the Young Farming Champions for helping to create another successful experience for our year 6 students. The students were all highly engaged, ready to ask questions and take copious notes. We all learnt so much. The YFC really are champions to give their time to inspire and inform these young minds. Their passion and commitment to sustainable and new innovative farming techniques is so exciting to see.”

Zoe has seen Paddock Pen Pals transform from simple beginnings to today’s highly detailed and interactive presentations, which can run multiple sessions simultaneously.

And the transformation has been recognised further this week with the release of the book “Primary Science Education – A Teacher’s Toolkit” by Anne Forbes.

“The innovative Paddock Pen Pals program was used to focus students’ attention on the sustainable production of food and fibre … [giving students] experiences of real-life experts.” Anne writes.


Action4Agriculture is delighted with Paddock Pen Pals continued success and the international exposure it will receive as part of Anne’s book.

Agriculture workforce attraction is a marathon not a sprint

As Pratley et al highlight in their excellent paper in 2022 Winter Australian Farm Journal

Australian agriculture is at the crossroads. It is charging
ahead towards its goal of $100 billion gross value
of production (GVP) by 2030 but is compromised in
that endeavour by its limited ability to find a suitable

Our Young Farming Champions know its important to engage the next generation in conversations about careers in agriculture as soon as possible

Today Wool Young Farming Champion Katherine Bain had those conversations with 110 Kindergarten students at  Sydney Primary School as part of our Paddock Pen Pals program

Armed with a list of questions provided to teachers by the students, Katherine settled in to share her story of her farm in Victoria

Students wanted to know

  • How big was Katherine’s farm which she explained in comparison to football fields and netball courts
  • How many paddocks and what do all the colours mean. Katherine explained the difference between improved, perennial and native pastures

  • what sort of sheep do you have on your farm? Katherine explained that her farm was very rocky as it was on the site of a former volcano so they had two types of sheep on their farm
    1. Coopworth Sheep from NZ which are bred for their meat and highly suited to rocky terrain
    2. Merino Sheep highly valued for their wool quality

  • the students asked her what she did every day and she talked about how no two days were the same and the variety of jobs on farm. She talked about how she loved working with and learning from her dad. And how she loved being able to take her dogs to work

Meet Lenny, Zip and Carly 

There were lots and lots of questions about Zip

  • The students wanted to know about the difference between human hair and wool

Katherine is very proud that her family has dedicated an area of their farm to protecting endangered native grasslands

“On my farm specifically we do a lot of work in conserving the native grasslands that remain on the property. These grasslands are part of the 1% of the volcanic grasslands that once stretched from Melbourne to near the SA border. We are very lucky to have these grasslands remaining – so we work with botanists and biologists to work out the best ways of preserving and improving these grasslands”

And the questions and answers continued

It was fascinating to be a fly on the wall watching 50 students queue up to ask Katherine questions

  • How do sheep sleep?
  • Is it muddy at your farm?
  • How long does wool grow?
  • Why does wool keep you both cool and warm?
  • Do sheep often get lost?
  • How many steps do sheep walk in one day?
  • How much water do sheep drink in one day?
  • How much grass do sheep eat in one day?
  • Are some sheep naughty?
  • Does wool grow as fast as hair?
  • How heavy do rams get?

Over the past two months our Young Farming Champions have spoken at science conferences across the world, they have presented to students across the Asia Pacific and over the next two weeks they will be talking to kindergarten students.

To have the confidence and capacity to reach such diverse audiences they have had a minimum of two years of intensive training. As Katherine found out its equally rewarding talking to six year olds as it it sharing scientific research.

As the below graphic and statistics show having role models like Katherine engaging with the next generation are pivotal to raising awareness that there is a career for them in agriculture.

As Pratley et al highlight employment offerings on-farm show no signs of declining or levelling off. (See above graphic) Rather, they have intensified. On-farm over the period of 2015 to 2021 inclusive, the demand for management personnel, based on internet advertisements, increased by over 160%
and for non-management staff by around 77%.

The increase for on-farm staff overall increased by 53% in 2021 over that for 2020. In agribusiness, i.e. off-farm professional employment, the demand increased by 44% over the six-year period and by 70% in 2021
over 2020.

These increases seem extraordinary.

The question we ask is are we leveraging all the opportunities we have at our disposal to engage with the next generation from K to 12 and beyond?

Are we ready to see it as a marathon not a sprint?

Are we ready for best practice?

You can read Katherine’s story in Graziher magazine here 


Mini-Me: How Paddock Pen Pals is creating junior Young Farming Champions

Three years ago teacher Zoe Stephens and Action4Agriculture program director Lynne Strong  introduced a new way of connecting school students with young professionals working in agriculture. Called Paddock Pen Pals the program utilised online audio and web conferencing to beam Young Farming Champions (YFC) directly into the classroom.

Paddock Pen Pals was launched at Sydney’s Carlingford West Public School, a large inner-west primary school with a high percentage of English-second-language students, where 300 Year 6 students gained insights into sheep and the wool supply chain from YFCs Danila Marini, Dione Howard, Sam Wan and Chloe Dutschke.

At the time Zoe Stephens was a teacher at Carlingford West:

“Many of my students have little time outside and have never visited a farm. In order to make their learning relevant, I wanted to connect them to real farmers to share what they have learnt and see what real farms are actually doing in Australia.”

Paddock Pen Pals has been an enormous success, particularly as COVID curtailed excursions and face-to-face interactions. It has involved a range of Young Farming Champions across diverse sectors of agriculture and inspired students from a diverse range of schools. Relationships forged in 2019 continue with Carlingford West Public School participating again this year.

Our relationship with Zoe Stephens has also continued. Zoe now delivers teaching and learning programs for the City Country Alliance of Schools and has recommended Paddock Pen Pals to 60 new schools. She has even written a Paddock Pen Pals Best Practice manual for teachers just as Young Farming Champion Emily May has written a manual for fellow YFC.

Recently Action4Agriculture  program director Lynne Strong introduced Zoe to A4A’s long-term friend and fellow farm blogger Alison Rutledge. Prior to her daughters starting school, Alison created KT’s Farm Life to connect young people in the city to the paddock through the eyes of her then 4 year old daughter

Since Alison’s daughters started school Alison has been coordinating kitchen gardening at St Raphael’s Catholic School at Cowra, in central-west New South Wales.

Keen to support Zoe’s work connecting country and city schools Alison devised Paddock Pen Pals with a twist. Influenced by our Young Farming Champions she asked her own daughters – Kaitlyn (KT) now 15 and Erin now 10 to create a video showing life on their farm with their 3000 sheep, 200 cows, 13 chooks and working dogs, showing typical activities such bottle-feeding poddy lambs, hay-feeding cattle and delivering new-born calves.

You can catch Kaitlyn and Erin’s wonderful version of Paddock Pen Pals here.

Beautiful new friendships are now being developed on the back of the video as students from different schools swap letters and share stories; a lasting legacy of the Paddock Pen Pals program and the Young Farming Champions who have inspired Mini-Mes.


Students from Carlingford West Public School find out what a farmer in the 21st century looks like

In 2019 when Zoe Stephens, science teacher at Carlingford West Public School, realised she had to teach her students about wool and sustainable fibres, she knew she needed to find an expert who could share real life experiences. So she trawled the internet looking for real-life farmers who may want to connect with her students. After plenty of maybes and half promises she came across Lynne Strong from Picture You in Agriculture and the Young Farming Champions, and Paddock Pen Pals was born.

Paddock Pen Pals beams Young Farming Champions from the paddock directly into classrooms using zoom, and this year six farmers joined the conversation at Carlingford West: Lucy Collingridge, Samantha Wan, Dione Howard, Katherine Bain, Danila Marini and Chloe Dutschke.

“Before we started I sat down with the Year 6 cohort [over 180 students] and asked them what they thought of when they pictured a farmer. You can imagine the comments – someone out in a field sucking on a bit of straw, big hat on and always a male. So then I said ‘next week you’ll actually get to chat with some farmers and they’re all young women’ and their mouths just hung open. It was amazing to have six young women to talk with us, particularly incredible because we are really breaking that stereotype of who is a farmer.”  Zoe says.

With 82% of careers in agriculture supporting farmers to produce food and fibre the stereotype is certainly changing.

All Young Farming Champions work in different parts of the wool industry: Chloe is a contract musterer, Lucy a biosecurity officer, Dione a veterinarian, Katherine a business analyst, Sam a wool broker and Danila a researcher, and all were paired with a separate Year 6 class for a half hour presentation.

“All our farmers had something different to offer and this broadened the students’ understanding of the industry beyond sheep growing wool. Our big question was how are our farming industries implementing sustainable practices and having a dedicated Young Farming Champion for each class meant the students got a very one-on-one conversation with these farmers and I think that gave them more connection with who they were talking with.” Zoe says

Big Question

“The kids were great,” Lucy says. “They had so many exciting questions and we had a great discussion about the sustainability of the wool industry with the kids who all knew about renewable resources and the unsustainable process to make man-made fibres.”

Sam showed the students a range of woollen products.

PPP Sam Refelction

Dione spoke about animal health

PPP Dione Student refelction

Danila described her research into virtual fences

Danila 2

Danila 1

There were lots of questions for Danila

Chloe amazed them with the size of her property (“She had 18,000 sheep,” was one student’s comment. “I thought there would be only around 20 and they would be kept in a big red barn with a little fence!”)

Katherine Bain 1

Katherine “introduced them to her sheepdog Zip and got to show them a video of sheep being moved in the yards which caused a lot of excitement!”

“One of my favourite quotes from the students, which I heard over and over again, was ‘she answered my questions. Afterwards I asked them to reflect and write down what they had learnt and I love the fact not one of them were the same. Everyone has taken away their own understanding from their own perspective.”  Zoe says. 

The students have now created a wool wall in their classroom

Wool Wall

The students will use their new-found perspectives as they create a project around waterway sustainability, and have strengthened their connection with their Young Farming Champions by promising to share with them the final products. Paddock Pen Pals has been an exceptionally effective way of connecting with real-life farmers and diving deep into the Australian wool industry. It will also hold the students in good stead as they tackle the 2020 Kreative Koala challenge.

For the Young Farming Champions, Paddock Pen Pals was another way to give back to the wool industry.

“I grew up only half an hour from Carlingford West – these students were me – and I had no idea about wool at their age,” Sam says. “I was excited to talk to the next generation of wool consumers about the benefits of wool and wool’s importance in Australia and of the career opportunities available. I even got a message from AWTA (the largest wool testing organisation) managing director, Michael Jackson, reminding me he went to Carlingford West, and then had a successful career in the wool industry!”

For Zoe, this was the second year she had participated in Paddock Pen Pals and although she feels she now has a strong understanding of the world of wool,

“there is no comparison between me standing up in front of the students and telling them what I know about wool to having an actual farmer, standing in a field, talk with them.”

For the students, they have had their queries answered by an expert and they now know what a farmer looks like.



Introducing the highly successful Paddock Pen Pals


Picture You in Agriculture (PYiA) in association with Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) has launched the new school-based program to connect students to Australian farmers and agriculture. Called Paddock Pen Pals the program utilises online audio and web conferencing programs to beam Young Farming Champions (YFC) directly into the classroom.

The concept has been used successfully in the past to take the schoolroom to the paddock, such as when YFC Emma Ayliffe used the technique with Parramatta Public School for The Archibull Prize. For teacher Esra Smerdon the experience brought a real-world connection to the students. “When we skyped with Emma she was able to show us how they used moisture probes to identify whether or not they needed to water and how they used that data to inform them,” she said. Read more about Emma’s interaction with Parramatta Public School here.

The Paddock Pen Pals program was launched recently at Sydney’s Carlingford West Public School where 300 Year 6 students gained insights into sheep and the wool supply chain from YFCs Danila Marini, Dione Howard, Sam Wan and Chloe Dutschke.

Carlingford West is a large inner-west primary school with a high percentage of English-second-language students.

“Many of my students have little time outside and have never visited a farm,” teacher Zoe Stephens said. “In order to make their learning relevant, I wanted to connect them to real farmers to share what they have learnt and see what real farms are actually doing in Australia.”

The first YFC to talk to the students via the big screen was CSIRO Sheep Researcher Dr Danila Marini who discussed animal wellbeing, virtual fencing and technology.

Danila Marini

Dr Danila Marini, UNE post-doctoral student, is researching the welfare implications of virtual fencing on sheep.

“The students were absolutely fascinated by the process of using digital technology like those new collars Danila is a part of, creating virtual fences,” Zoe said.

Carlingford West Public School with Dione Howard 2

The following day the students were introduced to Riverina Local Land Services District Veterinarian Dione Howard and again both students and teacher were enthralled.

“I think Dione may have inspired some students to become future vets,” Zoe said. “The medical equipment she showed the students was amazing; especially as they could identify that we use the same equipment for humans.”

Wool Technical Coordinator at Elders National Wool Selling Centre in Melbourne Sam Wan was the third YFC to Google Hangout with the students and she had an immediate connection, being herself a city-kid.

Sam Wan Carlingford West (5).jpg

“The students were amazed that someone like them, a city kid from another country, could become involved in the wool trade,” Zoe said.

The final YFC was Sheep Musterer Chloe Dutschke who beamed into the school direct from the vast plains of Hay, and the students were fascinated by the open spaces and huge areas.


One student commented:

“I always thought the sheep were just in a green little paddock.”

Paddock Pen Pals has given the students an opportunity to talk to real farmers about their daily life and to ask real-world questions about what they produce and how they work the land. In response the students are now making short movie-style presentations to share with their YFCs.

This pilot of Paddock Pen Pals at Carlingford West has been an immediate success with Zoe recommending the program to fellow teachers and congratulating all PYiA people involved:

“I want to extend a huge thank you to Lynne (Strong) and the wonderful farmers. Every farmer brought a unique perspective to our students and opened windows into the world of agriculture that they had never experienced. Highlights from the students were the virtual fencing collars, vet equipment and caring for a flock, looking at how wool is marketed and sold and viewing the great open spaces of Hay. Thank you for your time, enthusiasm and energy. When I asked the students to raise their hand if they enjoyed meeting a farmer every hand when up! That just doesn’t happen with Year 6.”

Thank you Zoe and Carlingford West Public School students our Young Farming Champions declared you were the highlight of their week


The first Saturday on the Royal Easter Show provided the perfect opportunity for Paddock Pen Pals teacher Zoe Stephens from Carlingford West Public School and YFC Sam Wan and Dione Howard to meet face to face in the Sheep Pavilion.

Find out more about the world of work in agriculture.

Visit our website here

#YouthVoices #YouthinAg #StrongerTogether



Young Farming Champions Muster August 2018 Week Four

This week’s top stories from Young Farming Champions (YFC) across the country.

In the field

Inspiration has struck and an idea has been born! Introducing… “Paddock Pen Pals”

Spurred on by the great success of Cotton YFC Emma Ayliffe’s Paddock to Parramatta skype sessions, our YFC are now are pairing up with schools participating in the #FiverForAFarmer initiative as pen pals.

Wool YFC, veterinarian and farmer every spare minute she gets, Dione Howard is our first YFC to sign up, saying, “I am very excited to be building and strengthening our farming networks and the connections we have with schools to start the Paddock Pen Pals program.”

Equally excited to pair up with students is cropping farmer Dan Fox who inspired the students at Stockinbingal to write a book about him

The coming weeks will see more YFC connecting with schools via social media, skype, email and snail mail, building long-term conversations and relationships. We’ll keep you posted as we continue to build this exciting new initiative.

Out of the field

Wool YFC and WoolProducers Youth Ambassador (WYA)  Dione Howard is looking forward to joining the WoolProducers Board as an observer for a 12-month period. As part of her involvement, Dione will deliver two contemporary issue-based policy projects that will see her supported to understand policy development and engage with the WoolProducers Board and staff in key industry representative organisations. Well done, Dione! #welovewool

Dione Howard LR.jpg

Youth Voices Leadership TeamChair and Dairy YFC Dr Jo Newton joined Blackmore Wagyu founder David Blackmore and Dr Peter Marendy from CSIRO Data61 on the panel  hosted by ABC journalist Tim Lee at the Geography Teachers of Victoria conference in Melbourne on Sunday.

Jo Newton David Blackmore

Jo shared the ground-breaking work being done by the Agriculture Victoria dairy research team that could see the Australian dairy industry reduce its greenhouse gas emission by up to 30% per litre of milk produced in the next ten years. We can’t wait to hear more about this incredible research, Jo. #youthinag #STEM #WomeninScience

Jo Newton Lower emmissions per litre of milk

This week Cotton YFC Laura Bennett is visiting Miller Public School for The Archibull Prize. Check out the hashtag #ArchieAction on Twitter and Instagram to see photos and highlights of these exciting school visits. Good luck Laura!

Laura Bennett (002)

Laura Bennett always a popular visitor to schools participating in The Archibull Prize

YFC Anika Molesworth is on the panel at the Brave New World Ag to 2030 Ag Institute Australia National Conference 2018 in November. Sharing the stage with John Harvey Managing Director of AgriFutures Australia and Professor Salah Sukkarieh Director, Australian Centre for Field Robotics Anika will give a youth perspective to the challenges and opportunities for the Australian agriculture in the next ten years.

Anika Brave New World Conference

Wool YFCs Emma Turner and Bessie Thomas are busy preparing mental health events in far-western NSW for drought affected farmers in their areas. Read more about this on the fliers below.

Prime Cuts

Art4Agriculture is proud to name Sally Poole, Alexandria Galea, and Anika Molesworth as youth ambassadors of Australian agriculture in the form of the 2018 Cotton Young Farming Champions (YFC).


Sally and Alexandria are fresh faces on the YFC block, while Anika has worked with Art4Agriculture for several years as a sheep and rice YFC. Welcome, and welcome back! We’re looking forward to sharing your journey as Cotton YFC.

A huge well done to Wool YFCs Sam Wan and Cassie Baile who were both runner up n the 2018 Wool Broker of the Year Awards. We are incredibly proud of your great work. Read more about the award and winner Candice Cordy, here.

Watch Sam present here

Watch Cassie present here


Applications are now open for NSW RAS Rural Achievers Award 

Rice YFC Erika Heffer and YFC Meg Rice, who were both named 2018 Rural Achievers, both strongly encourage keen young agriculturalists to consider applying.


As Erika and Meg will testify you never know who you will meet as an RAS Rural Achiever 

#YouthVoices18 #ArchieAction #YouthInAg