The next generation of agronomists stand on the cusp of brilliant careers and will be sharing their success with the wider community.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary agronomy is defined as ‘the science of soil management and crop production’.

To agronomist Casey Onus it means to be out standing in your field. Casey is part of the new generation entering the world of agronomy and finding their passion lies in the soils of Australia’s cropping regions.

“I attended my first agronomy meeting chaired by Dallas Parsons at Seed and Grain Sales at Croppa Creek on the morning of the 8th of January 1993 at 0 days old and was born later that afternoon at Goondiwindi base hospital,”

Casey says. “Despite living in town my whole life I spent a fair chunk of my childhood with my father bouncing around paddocks identifying weeds for lollies and weaving my way through what seemed like forests of cereals and sorghum, trying not to lose myself down Moree’s heavily cracked black soil plains in the process.”

Casey’s interest in agriculture was honed at high school where she received many accolades including, appropriately, the Dallas Parsons Memorial Agricultural Award. It was enough to inspire her to study agronomy at university. “University was hard and I certainly lost count of the amount of times I wanted to throw in the towel,” she says, “but heading home for holidays and getting amongst the crops kept me going and rekindled my motivation to get me through another year.”

For Laura Bennett, who grew up on a banana farm on the New South Wales Central Coast, high marks achieved in her Higher School Certificate meant she could study anything she chose, and with encouragement from her career’s advisor she chose veterinary science. But a summer job as a bug checker in the Namoi Valley at Narrabri made Laura re-assess her career direction. “So despite successfully completing my first year of vet I changed courses and enrolled in a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at Charles Sturt University,” she says. “And I have never looked back.”

In her final year of study Laura is undertaking a three month placement in Western Australia with Warakirri Cropping. “I am working on a 12,700 ha cropping property located 100km east of Esperance, gaining more on-farm experience with winter cropping in order to consolidate my scientific knowledge,” she says. “Whilst here I am helping to sow, spray, fertilise and monitor the growth of wheat, canola and barley. I will be gaining competency with all on-farm operations of a dryland cropping enterprise along with helping with on-farm agronomy in terms of monitoring insects, weeds, diseases and the germination and establishment rates of crops. I will also be looking at chemical use, timing of sprays and nutrient application, and by working closely with the farm manager I will also gain experience with human resource management, staffing, budget management and decision making in a corporate farming system.”

Martin Murray developed his passion for agriculture on his family’s rice and sheep property in the Riverina Region of New South Wales and is in the final stages of a Bachelor of Agri Food Systems at the University of New England, a hybridised course welding agriculture and business. “I started in Rural Science and absolutely hated it,” he says. “There was a lot of straight maths and a lot of straight chemistry. I couldn’t see the relevance in these, couldn’t stand the course and hated uni in general. Someone then suggested this new course so I looked into it and thought ‘Jeez, this sounds more like what I want to do.’ It sounded more hands-on and I could see the relevance of it so I changed degrees and have thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Casey, Laura and Martin stand on the cusp of brilliant careers. Laura envisages her working agronomy life starting upon graduation this year. “I hope to secure a job in crop agronomy as I love the satisfaction that comes from being a part of growing the crop from a seed to a commodity. I love the client based relationships that we have, and I believe that I learn as much from my clients as they learn from me,” she says.

For Casey, career and university morphed when she was accepted into the Landmark Agronomy Program while still studying. “Despite having worked for Landmark for 3 years (in casual positions), my graduate year taught me a hell of a lot at an incredible pace” she says. Now based in Tamworth as a full-time agronomist Casey is refining her agricultural fervor. “I’m very passionate about precision agriculture, especially variable rate technology.

I think it has a lot to offer farmers in terms of cutting costs and increasing their long term sustainability and efficiency. Land is a non-renewable resource and with the growing global population I think precision agriculture holds the key to helping farmers meet the demand in the future.”

Martin, too, has begun his career prior to the completion of his university degree. He has recently taken up a full-time job as an agronomist with Amps Agribusiness in Tamworth while he completes his final university subjects by part-time correspondence. “The job will be a varied role including all the winter and summer crops and pastures, and I’ll also be working with the area’s dairies,” he says.

As they transition from university to the working world Casey, Laura and Martin will also benefit from the training they have received as Young Farming Champions in Art4Agriculture’s innovative program to foster the best agricultural minds. Already they have had experience sharing their stories with school children through the Archibull Prize, and equipped with skills in media relations and public speaking they will be confident in engaging with the public as their careers grow. Australian agriculture can only benefit from this arrangement. The next generation of agronomists will not only develop relationships within rural communities, but will ensure their message can be heard by a much wider audience.

Young Farming Champions

This story was first published in Leading Agriculture magazine.

Featured Image: Martin Murray