Gwydir Valley hosts year 12 students for work experience as part of UNE GRASS program

Farrer student Harry Page from Goondiwindi and Calrossy student Matt Tomlinson from Bellata pictured touring the Brighann Cotton Gin during their week of work experience in the Gwydir Valley. Photo: GVIA
Farrer student Harry Page from Goondiwindi and Calrossy student Matt Tomlinson from Bellata pictured touring the Brighann Cotton Gin during their week of work experience in the Gwydir Valley. Photo: GVIA

Two students have been getting their hands dirty these school holidays, learning about all facets of the cotton industry in Moree as part of the University of New England's Growing Regional and Agricultural Students in Science (UNE GRASS) program.

Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School student Harry Page from Goondiwindi and Calrossy Anglican School student Matt Tomlinson from Bellata have spent the past week in the Gwydir Valley, gaining a broad exposure to the possible career opportunities in the Australian cotton industry as part of the UNE GRASS program.

The week has been jointly organised by Gwydir Valley Irrigators Association (GVIA) and Gwydir Valley Cotton Growers Association (CGA) and funded by Moree Young Aggies.

Moree Young Aggies co-chair Casey Onus said the idea of the program is to encourage students to think about what potential career opportunities there are in cotton, with the hopes they might one day come back to the Gwydir Valley to work. UNE also hopes it will inspire the students to study with them.

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"It's designed to get kids out into work placement before uni," she said.

"We're trying to showcase ag as a career and hopefully they'll pick Moree to come back to work.

"We hope it just gives them an idea of what working in agriculture looks like. This week they've looked at metering and agronomy to ag consultants and farmers and everything in between."

During the week the boys spent a day with Ms Onus, an agronomist with B&W Rural, who showed them different technology devices used in precision ag and also gave them a tour of the pecan nut farm and citrus farm to show them the diversity of the area.

They also got an overview of water monitoring and metering with Ryan Hunt from AgFlow Solutions; visited various properties including Redmill, Brighann Cotton, Morcott, Keytah and Norwood with CottonInfo's Janelle Montgomery and PoolAg's Sam Simons who each gave the boys insight into their roles; reviewed and assessed variety trials with Cotton Seed Distributor's Alice Curkpatrick; toured the Australian Cotton Research Institute, Cotton Seed Distributors and visited the Cotton Research and Development Corporation in Narrabri and Wee Waa with Cotton Australia's Alec Macintosh; learnt about irrigation in the Gwydir Valley and the industry as a whole from GVIA's Lou Gall and took part in an irrigation workshop and area wide management meeting.

Harry and Matt learnt about water monitoring and metering with Ryan Hunt from AgFlow Solutions. Photo: GVIA

Harry and Matt learnt about water monitoring and metering with Ryan Hunt from AgFlow Solutions. Photo: GVIA

Throughout the week the boys also met a number of other growers, agronomists, researchers and industry professionals.

"That's why I've enjoyed this week so much - we got a bit of everything," Harry said.

"And we met so many different people."

Harry, who grew up on a property west of Croppa Creek which had irrigated and dryland cotton as well as cattle, has always been interested in cotton agronomy and consultancy, but said this week has given him a greater insight into all the different jobs and pathways to get there.

He said his favourite part of the week was talking to John Seery, who developed the Brighann Cotton Gin.

"He came out here in the early '70s and developed a lot of land west of Moree for irrigation and cotton production," Harry said.

"It was very interesting talking to him and hearing how he's had to go through so many changes in the industry, from water and pest management to expanding his business to the gin. They do everything from growing to ginning and marketing and follow it all the way to milling in China. It's interesting to see how he's diversified himself."

Meanwhile Matt, who is from a dryland cropping and grazing property east of Bellata, has enjoyed learning more about irrigation.

"One of the highlights for me was understanding irrigation and learning about how irrigation works, how it's managed and how they keep on improving their methods to try to increase water efficiency," he said.

"That's one of the big problems today; increasing water efficiency is what we have to steer towards and improve."

Matt has always been interested in getting into cotton but is now leaning towards studying rural science at UNE and doing agronomy/ag consulting before getting into cotton research.

"For me, because I come from a dryland background, I was always dryland orientated and always thought I'd just be an agronomist," he said.

"But after this week, I think there's more opportunities in doing a diverse range of consultancy."

Harry is also hoping to study at UNE after finishing school and both boys would love to eventually come back to this region to work.

This is the second year that GVIA and CGA have taken students for work experience as part of the UNE GRASS program. Last year's participant Safina Ireland ended up topping the state in primary industries during the HSC last year.