The Young Farming Champions (YFC) are identified youth ambassadors and future influencers working within the agriculture sector. The YFC promote positive images and perceptions of farming and engage in activities and innovative programs including The Archibull Prize and Kreative Koalas to get these messages across to wider audiences. The YFC demonstrate passion for their industry, while providing real life examples to young people who may have never considered a career in agriculture. Because they are young they can relate to students and are adept at breaking down stereotypes of farming and agricultural careers.
Taking part in the YFC two-year induction program Cultivate-Growing Young Leaders involves undertaking a series of immersion workshops and complementary activities under the mentorship of some of Australia’s finest communication, marketing and professional development experts.
The program’s focus is developing confident, independent, reflective thinkers who can share their story and their personal experiences, while voicing their own opinions about agricultural issues in their industry and more broadly.
The program equips and prepares the participants for that often very daunting experience: of standing up to be counted, even in difficult circumstances. The YFC leadership development model is providing the rock-solid foundation and pivotal stepping stones as part of a journey to lead agriculture’s next generation.
Through these workshops and the program’s lifetime mentorship opportunities, the YFC are also equipped with unique insights into all aspects of the agricultural supply chain as well as consumer attitudes and trends.
The Young Farming Champions are focused on the big picture and have shared interests in mobilising movements that influence policy, practice, and culture.
Bryan Van Wyk is PYiA’s inaugural fishing Young Farming Champion and he is living the life of his dreams as head of operations for Austral Fisheries’ northern prawn fleet, based out of Cairns in far north Queensland. It is fair to say Bryan grew up in the sea off northern Tasmania; fishing, diving, exploring rock pools and spear fishing whenever the opportunity presented; an upbringing that inspired him to study marine science at the Australian Maritime College in Launceston.
Bryan’s love for the ocean is reflected in his work with Austral and his desire to join the YFC program to advocate for Australian fisheries.
“I would like to become a respected influencer and leader with a positive impact for the industry I work in. I believe that one day I will be leading my organisation in the Northern Prawn Fishery and hope to maintain a profitable operation while staying true to important values such as environmental sustainability and crew wellbeing. I would also like to empower others around me to think about the bigger picture and work collectively to tackle common threats such as climate change, pollution, bycatch and water development.”
Dylan Male is our Riverina Local Land Services scholarship winner and he brings to the table an indigenous agricultural perspective.
“I’m passionate about agricultural systems that produce enough healthy food for all and reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This passion has led me to commence my PhD studies investigating the agronomy and ecology of a native Australian grass species that was cultivated for grain by Indigenous Australians.”
Dylan is a Riverina local and has vivid memories of the millennium drought from growing up on a farm on Wiradjuri Country. Wanting to make a change he completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University before commencing his PhD in partnership with Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and Latrobe University.
“Participation in the two-year Young Farming Champion program will complement my PhD studies by providing me with a greater sense of empowerment as an emerging leader in the rapidly evolving agricultural industry. I am looking forward to the journey and graduating the program as a Young Farming Champion.”
A month long stint as a jillaroo on a Northern Territory cattle station has led Perth girl Shannon Chatfield to an extraordinary career with Australia’s northern beef industry. Shannon works with Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC), currently based on Newcastle Waters Station in the joint roles of Research Project Officer and Assistant Manager.
When she began in agriculture Shannon had no idea of the career paths available. “What started out as a month contract on a station out of pure curiosity has turned into a new passion and a career with long-term goals.” Those long-term goals include leadership in an industry Shannon has come to love.
She sees social licence, research and technology and the retention of young people as important issues and would like to see the northern beef industry lead in sustainability both economically and environmentally.
“I want to be a leader people look up to; someone who can confidently promote the industry but also talk about the tough issues challenging agriculture and help the industry take steps to overcome these. I want to be part of the solution encouraging conversations between producers and consumers and help support young people within the industry to be future leaders.”
Olivia Borden is a YFC who exemplifies the spirit of having a go. Raised on a piggery in Victoria Oliva has crafted a diverse career in agriculture, having worked in western NSW shearing sheds, NT live export yards and with aboriginal stockmen on vast northern cattle stations. Never one afraid to get dirt under the fingernails she is currently an agronomist based in Katherine, NT and has discovered a desire to take a leadership role in the industry she loves.
“They [her bosses] threw me in the car and introduced me to the world of tropical pastures, watermelon and mango growers but it was the developing northern cotton industry that won my heart over. I find every day incredibly challenging and stimulating and I haven’t looked back.”
Realising her somewhat unconventional career pathway may have set her back in professional development, Olivia has joined the YFC program to rapidly upskill to enable her to give back to agriculture.
“I hope to move from being an average employee at the risk of getting lost in the business world, to being a humbly confident, supportive agronomist and businesswoman, who can advocate for NT agriculture, build strong community rapport and encourage other young people to join agriculture and be part of the fast pace of its future development.”
Connie Mort grew up on a sheep property near Mudgee and spent her childhood running her hands through fine wool and learning the finer points of stock husbandry, but spreading her wings was always high on her agenda.
Like many young people Connie took a closer look at the world post high-school working on a station in South Australia, travelling overseas and teaching English in Tanzania. However her deep-seated love of agriculture brought her home to a Bachelor of Science at The University of Sydney. At university she stepped away from her sheep and wool upbringing to explore other aspects of agriculture including soil science and farming systems in developing countries.
This exploration continues today with her current role as Territory Account Manager for Corteva Agriscience. Connie sees many challenges and opportunities for agriculture and has joined the Young Farming Champions program to develop her communication skills and to build a network of colleagues from across agricultural industries.
“I am passionate about people being provided with information backed by science and the latest research so they can draw their own conclusions and opinions from a position of fact.”
Growing up in Sydney Steph Tabone never imagined she would have a career in agriculture, nor that this career would take her to vegetable paddocks of south-east Queensland and then back to the city streets of Sydney.
With a love of animals Steph initially wanted to study veterinary medicine but a change saw her study agriculture at university.
“I soon learnt that agriculture was a small, close-knit faculty where everyone became like family. Through laboratory and field practicals, rural field trips and placements on-farm, I quickly learnt of the diverse opportunities the industry had to offer and it was here I developed my true passion for agriculture and came to appreciate the industry’s importance in providing food for millions of people.”
Post university Steph was working for a vegetable grower when she was nominated for the Corteva Agriscience sponsored Young Grower of the Year award. It was a portentous meeting of minds and when circumstances presented she took a job with Corteva back in her hometown. She has joined the Young Farming Champions program to share her story and to help “growers have the expertise and tools they need to meet the challenges they face now and in the future.”
Like Steph, Veronika grew up in Sydney and discovered agriculture while at university. With a foot in both the rural and urban camps she sees the need for genuine and lasting relationships between producers and consumers.
Veronika studied a Bachelor of Animal Science at Charles Sturt University and now is a PhD candidate at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation where her research involves the beef and dairy industries. “Consumers in our society are becoming increasingly conscious of animal welfare standards, the quality of their food and where it is sourced. My first-hand experience has shown me consumer views can be distanced from the reality of modern agricultural practices. The diversity of views shared on social and in print media can either expand the urban-rural gap, or minimise it. Bridging the gap is where I believe we should begin.”
Bridging this gap by telling her own story is what draws Veronika to the Young Farming Champion program, where she is looking forward to learning communication and leadership skills. She believes enabling others to broaden their agricultural knowledge and to encourage individuals to enter this diverse industry will strengthen agriculture.
Emily May is a Young Farming Champion alumna continuing her advocacy journey into peri-urban agriculture. Emily saw first-hand this agricultural frontier, growing up in the Hawkesbury district of Sydney’s western food bowl where she witnessed farming land give way to urban development.
Emily studied a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of New England and volunteered with Hawkesbury Harvest to advocate for peri-urban agriculture.
“I am proud to be part of a passionate team adapting to a changing world. I am excited to be part of the movement to ensure that agriculture is valued and prioritised as an important land use and economic activity within our communities and ensuring buying local food is a choice that consumers can make in future.”
Emily is currently expanding her agricultural horizons as a graduate agronomist with Thomas Elder in Forbes and is looking forward to continuing her association with Young Farming Champions.
“I am very committed to learning how to effectively amplify the voices of youth, advocate for the industry I love and inspire the next generation to follow in my footsteps.”
Francesca Earp has worked at white shark research centre in South Africa and as a farmhand on a goat property in central NSW but it was while studying a Bachelor of Animal and Veterinary Bioscience that her honours project in Laos redirected her life. In 2018 Franny flew, once again, to Laos – this time as the in-country implementation officer for two agricultural development programs – determined to make a difference.
Her work in Laos has made Franny hungry for gender equality.
“I became dedicated to the inclusion and empowerment of female farmers in a culturally appropriate manner…. And I became a PhD candidate, investigating the impact of socio-cultural factors on the uptake of agricultural development training programs, with an emphasis on the female farmer.”
Covid travel restrictions mean Franny’s PhD is currently suspended but, not one to waste time, she is now studying a Master of Global Development at James Cook University. Franny joins the Young Farming Champion program as a Gender Equality ambassador and is looking forward to fighting for gender rights alongside the team.
“I believe in order to achieve true gender equality we must engage with all sectors, cultures and societies to ensure everyone feels empowered.”
Sally Downie grew up on a dairy farm near Forbes. Sally recognised early on her career would be in agriculture, and she initially envisioned this as on the farm. But life has a way of throwing curve balls and after being diagnosed with an eating disorder, spending time in hospital and battling the resultant mental health issues, Sally has found her own path.
“I took a job with my local council as Drought Coordinator. I had no idea what to expect and it was strange to not milk cows every day. But I love it. It’s diverse. It’s meaningful. It’s challenging. It allows me to live out my visions. I saw my new paddock, a new life; a life where I was me, who I am meant to be and not who I thought I had to be. This paddock will change but my passion will not.”
Matt Cumming owns and operates his own contracting business, a one-stop shop for all shearing needs from mustering to wool pressing. He employees a core team of six, under the age of thirty, and encourages them to reach for the stars. “I am very proud of my team for their workmanship and the pride they take in their work and I especially enjoy the moment when they reach personal milestones, which enables them to build confidence in themselves and their work.” Matt and his team compete in shearing and wool handling competitions, and believe Australia’s reputation for high quality wool demands a high-quality shearing and wool clip preparation.
“I have been mentored by many Australian and World Champions and it is important I pass on my knowledge and experiences and continue to be an advocate for professional standards within the sheep and wool industry.”
Rebecca George grew up on a farming property near Nevertire in central west NSW immersed in agriculture and always felt supported and encouraged by the industry. Throughout her school years Rebecca participated in the local agricultural show and in multiple cattle showing events. Now, in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Agriculture at UNE, Rebecca is paying that goodwill forward. She volunteers on committees for the National All Breeds Junior Heifer Show, the Angus Youth Round Up, the Dubbo Show Society and UNE Robb College’s Rural Focus committee.
“I appreciated those who put in the time and effort to invest in the next generation of agriculture [in me] and in the last two years I have found my own passion to support and inspire the next generation of #YouthinAg.”
Tom Squires grew up around sheep in Tasmania and owned his first mob by age sixteen. He completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Commerce in New Zealand and is now living his dream job as a shearer. “There’s an incredible feeling of excitement as you hear sheep hoofs trotting down the ramp into your stockyards, knowing they’re your sheep. But the true thrill comes when you stencil your name onto your first bale of wool. There’s that sense of achievement in seeing a fleece being packed into a bale, knowing someone will benefit from what you produced.”
Tom wants consumers to understand the entire wool supply chain and to realise the true pride farmers have for their produce.
“It’s a long road to this destination but I want to be a part of the change: One voice, one education, one person at a time.”
From Orange to Asia Jessica Fearnely knows a career in agriculture can take her anywhere. With a degree in rural science from UNE Jessica works as a development officer with temperate fruits for the NSW DPI and her role here, amongst apples and cherries, is strengthened by her varied agricultural experiences in the past.
Not afraid of a challenge Jessica has worked with government researchers, farming advocacy and education groups and software development companies. She has participated in agricultural tours of Cambodia and Laos, competed in meat judging competitions and has been an active member of university clubs and groups. “All of my study and work experience have led me to my current role, which focusses on developing the horticultural industry to help growers and associated people remain competitive in markets, as well as to supply Australians with quality fruit.”