City backgrounds no barrier to ag achievement


Queensland Chief Biosecurity Officer Dr Rachel Chay (left) and Rangers Valley data and operations officer Maddie Fryer.

What advice would you give to someone from a non-rural background considering a career in ag?

The issue was brought into focus at the Rural Press Club of Queensland’s International Rural Women’s Day lunch in Brisbane last Thursday where Tayla Ryan from AgTrade rose to ask a panel of female leaders what advice they would have for young women from different backgrounds or sectors on coming into the agricultural sector.

A common theme from the responses was that anyone who enters the industry with an open mind and a willingness to learn is likely to be rewarded with a warm welcome and fulfilling career pathways.

Responding from direct experience was Queensland Chief Biosecurity Officer and Deputy Director General of the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Dr Rachel Chay, who grew up in Brisbane.

Dr Rachel Chay addressing the Rural Press Club of Qld lunch in Brisbane last Thursday.

“If you go into agriculture and you’re humble and you’re honest about who you are and what you bring to the table, it is an amazing community of people who are happy to teach you and happy to see what you bring to the table,” she said.

“I’ve been out to Longreach and Winton and up to Thursday Island, they have an amazing knowledge base and they will welcome you with open arms, as long as you go in humble and wanting to learn from them and acknowledge their knowledge.”

Queensland chief veterinary officer Dr Alison Crook from Warwick agreed: “For me the primary answer is about the respect for the way of life, and not to judge, but to understand and value it, because it is pretty damn good.”

Queensland chief entrepreneur Julia Spicer, who was raised near Injune and now lives in Goondiwindi, added that joining local clubs or committees was an ideal way to become an active and integral part of a rural community.

From North Shore to Ag Achiever

Another industry achiever who has dynamically demonstrated that a city background is no barrier to succeeding in agriculture is Rangers Valley Feedlot data and operations officer Maddie Fryer.

Sydney-raised Maddie rose to national industry attention earlier this month when she was named as a grand finalist in the Australian Lot Feeder’s Association Young Lot Feeder of the Year award.

Click on video to learn more about Maddie’s project for the 2023 Young Australian Lot Feeder of the Year award

Maddie attended an all-girls school in Sydney and had planned to study mechanical engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy when she graduated high school.

She had been introduced to agriculture through spending occasional weekends and holidays on a family property a few hours west of Sydney.

However, it wasn’t until a family friend encouraged her to consider studying agriculture that she realised that was where her future lay.

“I literally dropped my application (to ADFA), changed degrees and ended up studying Rural Science with honours at UNE (University of New England, Armidale),” she said.

The Defence Forces’ loss was clearly agriculture’s gain.

Undertaking an Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) elective with Dr Pete McGilchrist convinced Maddie that she wanted to work in the meat and livestock sector. She was grateful to land a graduate position with Rangers Valley and describes her work now as the perfect mix of indoor and outdoor work.

Asked what advice she would give to someone from the city considering a career in agriculture, she said it was important to realise there were so many more opportunities in the rural sector than just being on a farm.

“One thing I definitely realised once I went to uni is that it is not just farm work,” Maddie said.

Maddie Fryer (centre) pictured with Madie Urquhart (left) and Zoe McFarlan (right) from AuctionsPlus at the ALFA SmartBeef 2023 event at Killara Feedlot earlier this month.

“There is grain trading, meat trading, online systems, agribusiness, banking.

“If you aren’t someone who wants to sit in an office all day long, but you don’t want to be outside all day long either, there is a really good mix of both in agriculture.”

She said the lack of agricultural studies at many city schools meant there was low awareness among students of career pathways in the sector.

“Even though I had the farm growing up, the reason it took a friend a make it click for me is because my school didn’t actually offer ag as a subject, so I had no idea about the wider ag industry.

“When you are in Year 11 and 12 everyone is trying to figure out what to do.

“There are lots of university days where universities would come and advertise their courses.

“I remember going to one and I spent the whole time talking to ADFA, and maybe I was a bit blinded, but don’t remember seeing agriculture advertised anywhere.”

A few years into her own ag career, Maddie says she has no doubt she has chosen the right path.

“I was in Sydney on the weekend visiting friends and it was nice to see everyone, but I was very glad to be back out here in my own space, with plenty of space to breathe,” she told Beef Central this week.

“We have got a very good community here in Glen Innes, I’m very lucky to have a good group of friends. Straight from the day I moved to college I found it has always been very quick and easy to make new friends and meet new people which is something I love as well.”



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  1. Rod Hibberd, 29/10/2023

    Great story, James.
    This town kid enjoyed his career across a range of ag businesses, working in the rural communities is very rewarding personally.

  2. Kim, 25/10/2023

    As a ‘city kid’ who has been working in agriculture for some time, I love hearing these questions, especially when ‘just not country enough’ was a phrase I heard more than once. I’m grateful for both the agriculture and the animal health companies that took a risk and recognized my individual skills as an asset to the team. This has allowed me to contribute in meaningful ways and grow both personally and professionally. With agriculture increasingly relying on data and innovation, the knowledge and ideas ‘urbanites’ bring can significantly enhance productivity, efficiency, and sustainability in the sector.
    As the world continues to evolve, the collaboration between urban and agricultural communities offers a promising future for both our food production systems and the communities that rely on them.

  3. Chris Howie, 24/10/2023

    Great article James. Over the years many very successful agents have come from inner city, my Father included. Often the city based employees willingness to learn without “this is the way dad does it” is a great benefit – fresh clay. Two in particular I employed are very good agents today – 1 was a surfing rugby player and the other was a steward at the Ekka for poultry. When asked why I gave the poultry steward a job I said ” If they can keep chooks calm they will have no trouble with sheep and cattle”

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