Advising growers on the right path

20 May, 2014 02:00 AM
One of the inaugural Women in Australian Agribusiness 100 Loretta Serafin.
My love of agriculture really developed through my education
One of the inaugural Women in Australian Agribusiness 100 Loretta Serafin.

ONE of the best things about managing a farm for Loretta Serafin is being able to test her own advice.

Loretta began work as a trainee agronomist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries back in 1999, and over the years has advised hundreds of farmers about their crops.

Although she now works in management and research for the department, she also manages two small properties in the Tamworth region with her husband.

"It's great - it gives the opportunity to maintain that involvement with the land... not just to give advice but to implement it as well," she said.

Loretta had an early connection with agriculture, having grown up on a small acreage property in western Sydney near Badgery's Creek.

Her parents also owned some land near Tamworth, but it wasn't until her schooling that Loretta began to feel her future lay in agriculture.

"My love of agriculture really developed through my education," she said.

Loretta completed a Bachelor of Applied Science, specialising in agriculture at the University of Western Sydney in the Hawkesbury, before being snapped up straight away by the department to become an agronomist.

Stints in Moree, Gunnedah and Tamworth followed, as did prizes and recognition for her tireless work.

Loretta's recognition for her work in the grains industry has included the 2012 Australian Agronomy Society's Young Agronomist of the Year and 2010 Australian Sunflower Association Contribution to Industry Award.

At the time of the Young Agronomist of the Year award, Loretta was the DPI's Technical Specialist for Northern Farming Systems, responsible for co-ordinating northern and central district agronomists and assisting in the development of broadacre cropping.

She was nominated for the award by her colleagues, who regarded her contribution to the grains industry extremely highly.

One area Loretta has specialised in has been in sunflower cropping in north west NSW.

"Sunflowers are quite a small crop, so a lot of the focus has been on trying to improve in areas like higher yields and higher oil content," she said.

With careful management in water supply and the amount of nitrogen in the soil, however, Loretta noticed many farmers were actually able to increase the oil content from their sunflowers.

Improving the reliability of sorghum crops has been another area Loretta has focused on, both in her time as an agronomist and researching for the DPI.

Looking towards the future, Loretta said the most important thing for men and women in agriculture was to remain adaptable, to always be ready for new circumstances and ways of doing things, and a lot of her research work is pushing towards that end.

"We're trying to develop a system allowing farmers to be flexible and adaptable," she said.

"My focus has been on crop diversification...what more can we do with our current summer crops and what alternative crops can we look at?"

Another area of research has been managing herbicide resistance.

Loretta said farmers were gradually being "forced to look at other alternatives," to chemical-heavy cropping, and thought options like strategic tillage or alternative crops that have better weed resistance might become more prevalent.

Having recently given birth to her first child, Loretta is looking forward to the experience of being a mother, but will be back at work after her maternity leave finishes to continue advancing the research and development of cropping in NSW.

The Women in Australian Agribusiness 100 is a joint initiative of Emerald Grain and Fairfax Agricultural Media, supported by Syngenta.

Read more of our 100’s stories here

Roderick Makim

Roderick Makim

is a senior journalist for The Land


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