Spreading the word on ag's opportunities

05 May, 2014 02:00 AM
University of New England PhD student Jo Newton is a strong advocate of the career opportunities available in agriculture. Photo: Art4Agriculture
I don't believe in sitting on the sidelines ...
University of New England PhD student Jo Newton is a strong advocate of the career opportunities available in agriculture. Photo: Art4Agriculture

JO NEWTON first encountered a desire to forge a career in agriculture as a Year 7 student in Melbourne when she became involved in the school's co-curricular agriculture program - and realised she loved it.

It became a passion that would grow throughout school and that would lead to her decision to study agriculture at university.

Jo is now in her third year of a PhD at the University of New England (UNE) at Armidale, focused on reproductive performance in sheep.

"I hope I can continue in the sheep and wool industry and engage with everyone across the agricultural supply chain," said Jo, a member of the inaugural Women in Australian Agribusiness 100.

Her clear love for agriculture has also been evident in her efforts to promote it as a viable and exciting area of study for students, and as a necessary and rewarding career option.

Jo herself doesn't come from a farming background.

She was born in Reading in the UK, about one hour west of London.

Her father is British and her mother Australian, and so they made the move to Melbourne when Jo was young.

She attended Tintern Girls Grammar School and it was here where she was first introduced to agriculture.

"For me, my favourite part of school was the time I was able to spend on the school farm."

When she was 15 the school’s farm manager advised her to work out what she loved doing - and make that her career.

For Jo, that was agriculture.

She commenced a Bachelor of Rural Science at UNE in 2008 and was also the recipient of an Australian Wool Education Trust which helped her with the relocation to Armidale.

When she moved to Armidale she became involved with NSW Farmers, and has now been a member for the past six years, and is a representative member of the association’s Young Farmers Council.

Since being at uni, she has been a strong advocate of agriculture as a career option to students.

"Back in 2011 I was one of the founders of the Farming Futures Committee, which is an annual day where we showcase agriculture to students," she said.

She said the Farming Futures day attracts a range of companies as part of a careers fair.

"Last year we also introduced a special program targeted towards high school students, where we got first and second year university students to speak to high school students about agriculture and their studies."

Jo chaired the committee for three years and this year will step into a mentoring role.

"Agricultural education is a real passion of mine," she said, noting one career adviser had tried to discourage her from choosing agriculture as a career path.

She said the support she had received from her parents had been very important, and her father became convinced that agriculture was the right career choice for Jo when he saw just how happy she was when visiting her in Armidale after she had commenced her studies.

Last year Jo was selected as an Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion, and started making school visits which have continued through to this year.

"The aim of Art4Agriculture is to bridge the urban/country divide through art," she said.

"We go into schools and share our stories about how we came to be involved in agriculture."

Jo is a strong proponent of getting actively involved to make a difference.

"I don't believe in sitting on the sidelines," she said.

A key vision for agriculture for her is that those in the industry are vocal as to just how exciting it can be, and how much workers are needed.

"I think it is important that every person who is involved in agriculture gets out there and shares their story and views as to why agriculture is so vital."

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

Read more of our 100’s stories here.

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