On the day Annie Warren left home to start studying at Tocal Agricultural College, Paterson her dad tuned into the rural television program, Landline, for the first time.
The daughter of an engineer and a music teacher, Annie had grown up in surburban Canberra, in a lifestyle that was about as removed from the dusty paddocks of northern New South Wales as possible.
“Two of my three siblings studied engineering in Sydney, so that line of work was rapidly becoming something of a tradition in my family, but I don’t know if anyone was honestly that surprised when I did something different,” Annie said.
The 23-year-old, who credits a love of bush walking with igniting her love of nature left home to study, initially completing a certificate three in agriculture through the NSW Department of Primary Industry’s Tocal Agricutlural College to bolster her practical knowledge. She then spent four years studying a Bachelor of Rural Science at the University of New England in Armidale.
“I do have some family involved in agriculture and an uncle who is an agronomist, but I think a lot of my initial interest stemmed from wanting to know more and be involved in food security,” Annie explained.
“From the start I loved agriculture: there were just so many interesting elements to it.”
This year she is one of eight graduates and young researchers offered positions as part of a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and NSW Department of Primary Industries investment into building future capacity.
She has spent the first six months of her position working as a research officer in farming systems with the NSW DPI based at the Tamworth Agricultural Institute.
“I have been working with NSW DPI’s summer cropping team and it has been an amazing experience,” Annie said.
“I really enjoy the field work and the opportunity to create trials and be involved in research that answers real questions for growers, and ultimately has the ability to change how people do things on-farm.
“Agricultural research just seems so powerful to me, it is about finding out information that impacts our food production and potentially has application beyond just the paddocks where we are working in northern NSW.”
The young researcher has her sights firmly set on staying in agriculture and believes the industry is a positive place for both young people and young women.
“I think at the moment there are many opportunities for young women who are keen to join the industry and make a contribution to agriculture. I also have had several female role models well established in ag research who I admire. Even to say agricultural research is predominately male is not within my experience; my current work team is 70 per cent female,” Annie said.
“I think the real reason we still see fewer women in ag now is not because fewer women start a career in ag, but because women more often leave the industry for family reasons and either struggle to re-enter or don’t want to re-enter the industry. Keeping women is the problem! We probably have to see this addressed before we see further change.”
Annie also believes gender makes a difference in agriculture, albeit it a positive one.
“I think one of the reasons we want women in agriculture is because men and women often have different ways of thinking, different experiences and therefore different ways of approaching a problem. The diversity of skill sets we end up with is one of the things that makes having both women and men in the workplace valuable, and is something that will really benefit the Australian grains industry.”
It is a sentiment that is shared by her supervisor NSW DPI research agronomist Loretta Serafin.
“This program is about building research capacity and succession planning and I feel like GRDC and NSW DPI have shown considerable foresight in instigating it and encouraging and nurturing the next generation of researchers,” Mrs Serafin said.
“On a professional level I like to think this program gives researchers like me an opportunity to give back and pass on what I have learnt from growers and agronomists.”
NSW DPI Northern Cropping Systems Director Dr Guy McMullen said the DPI/GRDC capacity building program had been designed to ensure the effective sharing of researcher knowledge and experience.
“There are eight positions in the northern NSW region at Tamworth, Narrabri and Trangie and each is supported by GRDC for up to three years, after which time DPI steps in,” Dr McMullen said.
“The roles are a mixture of early career scientists and mid-career researchers – it is about creating career paths for the right people not just short term roles in the grains industry.”
He said while researchers have embraced the program it had also already received wide-spread commendation from grain growers and agronomists, who were heartened to see investment in the next generation of researchers.
GRDC Grower Relations Manager North Richard Holzknecht also believes the capacity building investment between the GRDC and NSW DPI will have significant benefits for the grains industry into the future.
“This colloborative investment in people reflects the commitment GRDC have to capacity building and future-proofing the research capacity of the grains sector,” Mr Holzknecht said.
“It is also just one of the many investments GRDC are making into the human side of research, development and extension, along with scholarships and other iniaitives designed to bolster the skills and knowledge of those working with us to improve grower profitability in the grains sector.”