Kathryn is grounded in Mid West community

Kathryn is grounded in Mid West community

Kathryn Fleay has lived in Mingenew for 10 years and said it is important to try and keep young people in rural towns.

Kathryn Fleay has lived in Mingenew for 10 years and said it is important to try and keep young people in rural towns.


There are many ways in which Australia can learn from Canada's agricultural industry in order to improve our own.


THERE are many ways in which Australia can learn from Canada's agricultural industry in order to improve our own.

That's what Kathryn Fleay discovered on her trip to Alberta and Saskatchewan in Western Canada this year, where she covered more than 4500 kilometres to see how on-farm research and extension initiatives could potentially be applied in Australia.

Ms Fleay said, comparatively, there was a high level of agricultural education in Canada, right from primary school through to post-secondary education.

"They have lots of hands-on learning in their agricultural sector, which I think is really lacking in Western Australia and the amount of options there are for people wanting to study agriculture in Canada is mind boggling," Ms Fleay said.

With a large proportion of Canada's agricultural land close to its major cities, Ms Fleay said the rural city divide also seemed to be less, perhaps due to its city people being more exposed to the agricultural industry.

"You are constantly driving past farmland in Canada, so that might be why their city people seem to have a greater understanding of agriculture than we do here in Australia, as it would help to start the conversation" Ms Fleay said.

The four-week trip was partly funded by the financial scholarship component of Ms Fleay's 2019 Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Emerging Leader Award, which recognised her dedication and work within WA's grains industry.

With Canada's equivalent to Australia's grower groups called Applied Research Organisations, Ms Fleay said the organisations faced similar challenges in terms of getting funding to get their projects up and running.

However, she said the Canadian grower groups were managed differently, in that a lot of them were self-funded for a larger proportion of their projects and had invested in their own land so they could conduct their own trials.

"At Mingenew Irwin Group (MIG) we do some projects that aren't funded as well, off our own back, co-ordinating them with farmers who use their own machinery to evaluate different varieties and herbicides etc, but it can be a bit hard without funding," Ms Fleay said.

After having an idyllic childhood growing up in York on a mixed cropping and sheep farm with her mum, dad and brother, Ms Fleay attended the Muresk Institute in Northam where she studied for an agribusiness degree.

Rather than just focussing on science or business, she said the degree encouraged her to consider the various aspects of agriculture, which has been beneficial in her career.

"When you consider and understand a farmer's whole financial position and business rather than just the problems they're facing in terms of their crops, you can provide much better advice," Ms Fleay said.

After completing her honours she knew she wanted to do agricultural research in some capacity and landed a job with MIG as a research agronomist.

Over three years, she co-ordinated crop trials and farmer demonstration sites while also working with research organisations to monitor and measure a range of different agronomy trials.

With the work of grower groups such as MIG becoming increasingly valuable as farmers across Australia endure extreme conditions including drought and fires, Ms Fleay said farmers adopting new practices was particularly important so they could relate to and have confidence in the new developments in crop research.

"For farmers to be able to see and do the work themselves on a large scale, on their own farms with their own machinery, is vital," Ms Fleay said.

Following her role with MIG she worked for Landmark as an agronomist for two years.

The position provided her with more diversity, with many of her clients having mixed farming operations in Binnu and Northampton.

"In Mingenew the majority of the clients I had were solely cropping, so it was good to have a bit of pasture and livestock thrown into my work, as it expanded my agronomy knowledge" Ms Fleay said.

Following that, she decided to mix it up a bit, accepting a role as a farm manager at Merkanooka Farms, based between Mingenew and Moora.

"I wasn't too sure what to expect to begin with, but looking back now I'm so grateful to the farm's owners for giving me the opportunity as I don't think I've learnt as much in any role as what I learnt there."

After four years Ms Fleay returned to MIG, this time as the chief executive officer.

In her day-to-day role she could be doing anything from writing fundingapplications, talking to farmers, organising events or working out in the field.

At the moment the group is part of a national project called Dung Beetle Ecosystem Engineers, funded by Meat and Livestock Australia.

The aim of the project is to determine what gaps there are in terms of dung beetle species across southern Australia and the benefits the insects play within our farming systems.

"It's something I knew very little about, but it's great to see lots of our growers really interested and engaged in that project," Ms Fleay said.

The group is also busy finishing up a few GRDC crop trials, including a Late Break trial, which looks at the benefits of dry seeding versus waiting for the rain.

"It's particularly relevant in years like this one, where we didn't get rain until about mid-June and by that stage, most farmers had seeded the majority of their program," Ms Fleay said.

Now in her 10th year of living in Mingenew, Ms Fleay said it is a young community with lots of things happening, but that it was important to keep the town's clubs and events going so that young people didn't feel the need to head elsewhere on the weekends.

"Once that starts happening, it can really break a town, because there isn't enough going on to draw young people back in," she said.

"It's definitely a challenge to get young people into rural communities in the first place, so once you do you really need to do what you can to keep them there and make them feel that sense of belonging."


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