How did a 24-year-old girl from Sydney's southern suburbs of 'The Shire', with no family ties to farming end up set well into a career in agriculture? Well that’s an excellent question, and one I get asked often, generally accompanied by very baffled expressions from the asking persons.
Given National Agriculture day this week, and a time to celebrate all things agriculture, I'm going to share the tale of my unexpected journey into Ag.
It definitely didn't start with a yearning desire for the land, or a 'country heart'. With no sheep wandering down Cronulla beach last time I checked. It wasn't until my first day of university that I took that first big step outside my very urbanized life and onto the dirt road in Ag. I studied a Science in Agriculture degree at The University of Sydney. It may seem like an odd choice for someone with zero interest or desire for farming, but at the ripe age of 17 I thought I was heading towards a career in food science and the agriculture degree offered me an avenue to this, just with more potential to diversify.
That first week, packed in a theatre that seemed to be filled with students from 3rd generation farm backgrounds, I must admit panicked with thoughts of "what have I gotten myself into?!". However, it wasn't long before the worry faded and I found myself more interested in food and fibre production rather than then end product.
Throughout my degree I gained experience on a mix of livestock and cropping properties, enjoying getting my hands dirty and quickly found my wardrobe filled with a plethora of work shirts. The offering was far from just practical agriculture though, and when it came to narrowing it down agribusiness, plant biology and breeding were my streams of choice. This then led to an honours degree investigating genetic variation on the effect of high temperature stress in wheat.
After receiving the coveted piece of paper at the end of my degree, I was overwhelmed by the wide directions of jobs within agriculture and a graduate program with a major farm services business was the perfect first step in the big world of full time work.
The program took me across the country, from the Sydney head office in procurement to the front line of horticultural agronomy avoiding snakes in Northern Queensland. Having the opportunity to explore the diverse jobs on offer at different points in the supply chain so early on in my career was such a valuable step. In the end a one-month secondment with Mecardo turned into a full-time position in market analysis and agribusiness consultancy, which is where I find myself today, based in sunny Ballarat.
There are definitely perceived barriers to venturing into Ag for young people in cities. One is the stigma of what a farmer is. I always enjoyed watching the reaction from friends and family in Sydney when I said that I worked in agriculture. The customary response was "so you want to be a farmer?".
In no way do I plan on being a farmer. Do I love being out in the field? Yes. Do I have a passion for our food system? Yes. But the realm of diverse jobs in the agriculture industry offers is so much more than farming, yet it slides right under the radar.
Already my journey has taken me through so many exciting experiences. I could never have imagined looking at spending time in Laos looking at sustainable farming systems, teaching food security in East Timor or sitting in the front seat of a header for sugar cane harvest would be part of my story.
My earlier doubts of how far I could expand in an agricultural career without a history of family farming or rural background were unfounded. The number of people who have gone above and beyond to share their time and knowledge has been extremely encouraging. I can't say enough about the passion and enthusiasm of the people working in this industry.
Australian agriculture has so much to offer forward thinking young people that are willing to step outside and give it a go. I consider myself so lucky to have fallen into this career and couldn’t be happier with where it has taken me already.