MORE than 140 students from across Australia, including 19 from WA, enjoyed an introduction to the wool industry in Sydney last week, through the National Merino Challenge (NMC).
The NMC is an initiative of Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and is designed to allow young people to engage with the Merino industry by developing their knowledge, skills and networks, and involves presentations and demonstrations from industry professionals.
It aims to introduce students to career opportunities within the sheep and wool industries but also to the basic skills surrounding sheep management and appraisal using both traditional and modern methods.
Last year's addition of a careers panel was broadened to seven panellists this year to provide students with more insight into the wide variety of options available through the sheep and wool industries.
During the two-day event attendees participated in seven mini-challenges which tested their knowledge in relation to the Merino fleece, production, breeding and selection.
The challenge has two sections late secondary and tertiary; and is open to years 11 and 12 and tertiary students, Australia-wide.
WA was represented in both sections with students from Murdoch University and the WA College of Agriculture; Cunderdin, Narrogin and Harvey attending this year.
Up against students from eight other secondary schools and nine other tertiary institutions from across Australia, WA participants shone through in both the secondary and tertiary sections to take out some major awards.
In the tertiary section, Murdoch University student Kristy Walters was champion over all sections and the top performer in the production section. Ms Walters said it was a privilege to be able to compete in the challenge.
"It is a fantastic opportunity for young people interested in the Merino industry to directly engage with industry professionals and meet others studying similar courses across the country, at the same time competing to develop skills and knowledge," she said.
"It's great to see the event growing each year and inspiring such enthusiasm and passion in the future generation.
"For myself, it was an inspiring opportunity to begin the transition from my last year of studying animal science at Murdoch University, to entering the workforce and beginning to play my part in the agricultural industry next year."
In the secondary section, WA College of Agriculture Narrogin student Lauren Rayner stood out for WA when she placed second over all sections and top performer in the production section.
NMC steering committee member Mitchell Crosby, Landmark Breeding, said it was great to see so many students from WA participating in the challenge this year.
"It was the biggest group of WA students to participate in the challenge since its inception," Mr Crosby said.
"It was the first time tertiary students from WA have participated and also the first time students from the Cunderdin and Narrogin colleges have participated."
Mr Crosby was pleased to see WA students in the top performers and take home awards.
"The WA students represented the State very well and hopefully they will all be involved in the Merino industry in the years to come," he said.
"A thank you must go to the teachers for taking them and a number of sponsors who helped get them there.
"These included AWI, which contributed to getting all members of the WA team there, and also to the Stud Merino Breeders Association of WA and Bayer, which sponsored the secondary teams as well."
The NMC is in its fourth year and this was the first challenge outside its pilot phase.
It has educated more than 360 secondary and tertiary students about the basics of the wool industry.
With a growing list of sponsors and continued growth in participants every year, the NMC has established itself as a leading education program for young students interested in a career in the wool industry.
AWI manager of woolgrower extension and adoption Emily King said the NMC had grown rapidly because it met the demands of a new generation.
"There is a strong wave of young people coming through who are increasingly enthusiastic about the wool industry," he said.
"These are the young minds that will take the industry forward with new ideas and new leadership.
"It's exciting to see and great to be involved."