Meet Alexander Stephens whose cotton picking life is taking him on a big journey across this vast country

Alexander Cotton Picker.JPG

Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI), with financial injections from the Federal Government and the private sector, is about to harvest Western Australia’s first wet season commercial cotton crop in nearly fifty years and Cotton Australia’s Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens will be the man doing the picking.

Since the initial cotton industry in the Kimberley’s Ord Irrigation Scheme collapsed in 1974 after a ten year run the science of cotton has come a long way with the development of new varieties, a huge reduction in the amount of pesticide used and an increase in water use efficiencies. KAI’s crop, which was planted in February, heralds a brand new era, and after a challenging growing season with higher than normal spring temperatures, is ready to harvest. Read the back story here

Cotton Australia Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens is driving the harvest – literally –as he is aboard the picker contracted for the job. Alexander’s adventure as Western Australia’s only cotton picker comes at the end of a season that has seen him travel through Queensland and New South Wales following the cotton harvest. The western extension to his job came about after his boss and Nuffield Scholar Matthew McVeigh entered into discussions with fellow Nuffield Scholar Luke McKay, farm manager for KAI.

Alexander Picking Cotton.JPG

Leaving Hay on July 8th with the cotton picker aboard a truck from BJC Heavy Haulage of Goodiwindi and Alexander in an escort vehicle, the convoy travelled 3900km through Bourke, Mt Isa and Katherine to arrive in Kununurra five days later.

Alexander Cotton Picking Life.JPG

Alexander has been fascinated with large machinery since he was a boy playing in the sandpit and says:

“In reality the toys have just got a lot bigger and

I have migrated from the sandpit to a farm.”

And his computerised cotton picker is indeed a big toy weighing in at 32 tonnes with a laden bale, and standing 5.2m tall and 6.5m wide. With GPS to measure yield mapping the picker toddles along at 7km/hr and can harvest up to 45-50ha each day.

Alexander Stephens

Alexander explains how a Cotton Picker works to students at Calvary Christian College 

Alexander expects he will be on the picker for about 4 weeks beginning with a 16ha feasibility trial plot before the remainder of the 350ha is picked for KAI and trucked across Australia to the Louis Dreyfus Company gin at Dalby in QLD.

The world is watching this momentous occasion as commercial cotton moves into the Kimberley and Alexander is excited to be playing such a crucial role.

“Being able to work and travel around the different cotton growing regions that Australia has to offer is an amazing experience and after starting back with the McVeigh family two years ago, I never would have thought that I would have an opportunity to make my way northwest to Kununurra to pick cotton,” he says. “This experience is a combination of excitement and pressure because there is a lot riding on the outcome of this harvest not only from the researchers involved in the trial crops but also for Australian and international investors waiting to find out yield results from the commercial crop.”

Alexander will be hosting our Picture You in Agriculture Facebook page during Cotton picking  time in two weeks time so stay tuned and be part of this watershed moment for agriculture in the Ord

This great video from Bess Gairns shows you how a Cotton picker works

#thiscottonpickinglife #YouthVoices18 #Youthinag

_2017 Supporting partners Capture


Young Farming Champions Muster July 2018 Week 3

This week’s Young Farming Champions stories from around the country

In the Field

Cotton Young Farming Champion Alexander Stephens takes out this year’s award for the most fields visited having covered over 6000km from Dalby, QLD, to Hay, NSW, and up to Kununurra, WA, to pick the world’s strongest and whitest cotton.

Alexander Picking Cotton Across Australia.JPG

What a way to see Australia, driving very big toys! We can’t wait to hear more about cotton picking on the Ord River, Alexander.

Wool Young Farming Champion Emma Turner spent last week home on the station collecting data for her honours thesis looking at the differences between 6 monthly and 12 monthly shearing. It involved lots of colour:

Emma T lots of colour.JPG

Out of the Field

Youth Voices Leadership Team Chair Jo Newton will be hosting our social media pages this week. Head on over to our Picture You in Agriculture Facebook page to follow along and enjoy Jo’s insights from the Dairy Research Foundation Symposium and  Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo 

YFC Anika Molesworth jetted off to Argentina this morning. By invitation from the Argentine Agriculture Minister, Anika will be visiting farms, running workshops with young farmers and presenting on global agricultural challenges and opportunities.

This program coincides with the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, and part of her brief is to collaborate with young South American farmers to prepare a report for the Ministers on the vision of strong and resilient farming sectors, enabling young farmers, and promoting future industry leaders. Anika will be working with Australian Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud and visiting farmer groups to discuss collaborative relationships between countries and tackling the industry’s big challenges.

YFC Sam Coggins has just returned from Myanmar where he reviewed three Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) projects looking at pulses, soil mapping and nitrogen fertiliser efficiency. The three projects aim to improve food security and farmer livelihoods. Read more about what ACIAR is doing in Myanmar here

Sam Coggins in Rice Field

Prime Cuts

We are very excited to announce the Rice industry has joined the Art4Agriculture team and our very first Rice Young Farming Champion is Erika Heffer. Welcome Erika and thank you the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia. We’re really looking forward to working together. Read the story here

Erika-Heffer3 (002) YFC

Following us on Facebook here and Twitter here

#YouthVoices18 #ArchieAction #YouthinAg

_2017 Supporting partners Capture



Meet Alexander Stephens growing the fibre that Australia wears

Todays guest post comes from young Goondiwindi cotton farmer Alexander Stephens

I am very passionate about the Australian cotton industry, and taking up every opportunity that is placed in front of me will not only build my own personal career, but it helps bring connections throughout the cotton growing regions of Australia.

Hi my name is Alexander.  I am 23 years old and I come from a great, loving farming family of four children. Being the youngest of the family, I was the child that always got that ‘special attention’ from my parents out of my two older sisters and brother.
I grow cotton and you wear it

I was raised on an 800Ha beef/grain/cotton farm on the northern Darling Downs, about 30 minutes east of Dalby. My father managed the farm for 13 years, and it could have not been a better area to germinate the great passion for agriculture that I have today. The majority of my childhood was spent playing in and around of the farm house, with my mother constantly yelling at my brother and I about all the mischief we got up to. At a young age I developed a great obsession with machinery, especially tractors. This obsession would see me having little make-shift farms with my toy tractors around the house, and when it was too wet outside I would be inside the house, pretending to farm up the carpet floor.

Me as a young fella checking out some of the cotton grown on the property “Plain Farm” which my father managed.

After the years of ripping up my mum’s gardens and eventually wearing the wheels off my toy tractors, my attention quickly turned to what was happening on the farm. My afternoons/weekends were spent helping my father, either feeding the cattle in the feedlot, changing syphons in the irrigation, or sitting on my dad’s knee with my hands on of the steering wheel of a tractor.


Helping my dad with pest control in our chickpea crops

After the years helping my dad tackling jobs on the farm, and completing primary school in Dalby, it was time to ship off to high school. At this stage, the property on which my family had been living and farming was sold due to the drought which swept through the region in early 2000’s. However this gave my parents the opportunity to buy into a partnership with the previous owners of the property.

So we packed up and moved three and half hours north to a small town called Wallaville, about 30minutes South/West of Bundaberg. This property was a whole different kettle of fish to what I was used to. It was a 700Ha (approx) citrus farm, and consisted of 60,000 fruit trees, the biggest fruit packing shed in the local growing area, lucerne which supplied the local area with hay, and about 300 head of cattle.

After 4 years of attending high school in Bundaberg, my interest in school began to fade. My parents then decided to send me off to the Australian Agriculture College (Dalby campus) to help me expand my knowledge in what I was more interested in: farming. This would see me excel in my subjects, and I ended up receiving 2 scholarships in 2008. One these scholarships with Oswald Brothers (a earth moving company) and Monsanto Australia helping out with cotton research trials throughout northern NSW and Southern Queensland.

Receiving my Diploma of Agriculture

Attending agricultural college opened up many opportunities for me in the agriculture sector, including the chance to do work experience on my holidays. I was fortunate to be invited to spend time in the cotton growing area around Goondiwindi, with a well-known local farming family, the Corish family.

The Corish family gave me the opportunity to rotate across their farms, learning many skills off the highly knowledgeable farm managers. While doing my work experience with the Corish family, I ended up working and living with one of Peter and Kerry Corish’s sons, Nigel Corish. Nigel is now a highly respected farmer within the cotton industry in Australia. Little did I know all these years ago that working with Nigel Corish would have such effect on my life in the future.

After my two years at the Australian Agriculture College, I graduated at age 18 with a Diploma in Agriculture. With this diploma under my belt, I walked straight into a farmhand role on a Jimbour Plains property, just north of Dalby. The farm is owned by Neil and Sonya McVeigh, and consists of about 2,800Ha of dryland and irrigation country. In summer, the McVeighs farm sorghum, cotton, millet, corn is grown; in winter, wheat, barley, canary, chickpeas. Though Neil had three sons of his own (Matt, Craig and Lachlan), I was treated like I was one of the family. The McVeigh’s farming enterprise was expanding rapidly, and I was given the chance to become care taker of one of their properties. With this responsibility came long work hours, and I would often miss out on nights out with my mates.

Planting millet in late January


Grain Millet

Similar to most Australian cotton properties, we relied heavily on international workers (i.e. ‘backpackers’) during busy parts of cotton growing season, especially around cotton picking in April. I spent many long hours working side by side with the international workers, and I got to know them well. I’d listen to all the stories they had to tell about their home countries, and it made me think it was about time to pack my bags and head overseas. So in 2011 I flew to Europe on my maiden flight, and I spent three weeks tracking through countries such as France, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

Visiting Rome, Italy

After I returned, three and a half years of growing crops on the rich and fertile soils on the Jimbour Plains quickly flew past. I then decided it was time for me to move on to see what new experiences the world had to offer. Although the McVeigh’s gave me plenty of great opportunities while working for their farming business, I knew I had to start expanding my career and my love for farming the land. So after a lot of phone calls, plenty of nagging to my good mate, and a long trip down to Sydney, we booked a one way flight to Kansans City, Missouri. We obtained a working visa with an American “Custom Cutter’ company, a header contractor in Australian terms. I then spent the next six months harvesting wheat in the summer, and corn in the fall, travelling from the great flat plains in northern Texas to the rolling hills of Montana. So far, this would have to have been one of the best experiences of my life.

Waiting for wheat to dry in Seymore, Texas
Harvesting corn in Ellendale, North Dakota

After returning to Australia in early November of 2012, and working for a farming contactor for 9 months, I had an urge to resume my career in growing cotton. Cotton has always been a part of my life, no matter what I was doing or where I lived. This passion for cotton would see me take up a leading farmhand role with Nigel Corish on his irrigated cotton/dryland grain farming property, just 15kms west of Goondiwindi. It was the very same property I had undertaken work experience on so many years ago. In addition to taking on this job, I am also now studying part-time for a Diploma in Cotton Production, through the University of New England.

I am very passionate about the Australian cotton industry, and taking up every opportunity that is placed in front of me will not only build my own personal career, but it helps bring connections throughout the cotton growing regions of Australia.

Australia produces cotton that yields two and half times the global average, and we are renowned for our high quality fibre. To remain competitive on the global market, it is essential that we as a growing community aspire to build on our high achieving attributes. That’s why I see that it is very important to build relationships outside the farming community to show how professional  Australian farmers are generate pride in the community and abroad for what they grow and produce.