Young beef industry leaders hail ‘life-changing’ program

Sue Webster, 12/06/2023

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A CHOPPER pilot, an ex-vegetarian and a chartered accountant were among the future leaders celebrating the beef industry at the Advancing Beef Leaders (ABL) graduation in Brisbane last week.

The 22 course graduates greeted the next intake of participants in the annual handover, organised by Queensland DAF and private sector collaborators.

The graduates showcased projects they had completed during the 12-month program, including a roadshow featuring inspirational speaker Sam Bailey that reached more than 700 rural children, an agri-tech session within MLA’s BeefUp forum that earned a 9.2/10 audience-approval rating, a social media video and a calf management survey.

Program participants included beef producers, agribusiness staff and service providers from across Queensland, chosen to undertake mentoring, farm economics, group learning and networking.

It was the third annual forum and saw past graduates, mentors and sponsors join the audience to hear what the participants thought of the program – and how it had changed their lives.

AgForce’s Ann-Maree Johnson completed her application to join ABL in the car park of the Goondiwindi Show. “I was encouraged by two people to apply for the program … what those two people didn’t know is that, 12 months ago, I was not OK. I was struggling big time. I was in a new role. I was in a new town. I was no longer working as part of a team. I was working alone.”

ABL changed all that, she said. “Life-changing is an understatement. I completely immersed myself in this program,” she said. “Now I have friends. These people, my mentor – now lifelong friends. I don’t want this program to end.”

Helicopter pilot Dan Slaney hurriedly flew from his Robinson 22 from Mt Surprise to Mareeba to grab a flight to Brisbane the morning of the forum. He originally wasn’t going to come. “I should have been here earlier, but I kept making excuses,” he confessed. “But then I made myself come down because the energy is infectious and I think that being part of this group of people charges your batteries and gets you back on track.

“And like me today, this program came just at the right time,” he said. “It came at at a time when I was very frustrated and I was thinking ‘what am I doing with my life? Where am I going? What do I do?’”

Newly-married and facing stresses of taking on more roles within a family business, he said: “I just wanted to try to escape the situation and I remember going to the first event in Townsville last year and it really opened my eyes to start to understand why I was clashing with certain people.

“I found I changed my perspective on a lot of things. It’s only a start, not a solution, but it started my journey of starting to look after myself and starting to enjoy the people around me … so that was amazing.

“And then I got paired with an amazing mentor and that was the next part of my journey, helping me to understand myself and helping me work through some issues I had with family and get some conversation going, which was huge – to be able to have the courage to talk to people.”

He continued: “I remember everyone was talking about vulnerability and I wondered ‘what the f- is that?’ I could understand the word , understand about opening yourself and being transparent and all that – but I couldn’t feel it.

“Now I really actually understand what that vulnerability is. And I think that without it – being as a family leader – without being able to be vulnerable, you can’t really lead properly, truly . That’s been a pivotal moment for me.”

Ann-Maree Johnson with some of her fellow graduates addresses the dinner.

Canadian-born former vegetarian Sam Curran said “I came to Australian as a vegetarian and now I ride, horses, chase cows, catch, kill, cook, eat and … repeat. I’m very passionate about this. I learned by actually having a go and doing it. It’s not something that people can read in books and unfortunately not enough people get to do this.

Nick Curran with the youngest future beef leader at the dinner – Cooper Curran, aged 4 months.

“I love the industry and I’m so privileged that I got accepted into the ABL program and met so many amazing people. The networking is above and beyond something you’d ever experience until you’re in it.”

Beef producer Tim Clay said: “I joined the program because I was getting into a position where I wasn’t getting myself uncomfortable. And when you get yourself uncomfortable, that’s when you have your best learnings.

“It’s been a really great learning journey, putting myself in positions that naturally I mightn’t do – just getting into the zone and making myself do something that I usually probably wouldn’t do.”

Kasmin Brotherton, a team member at Gulf Savannah NRM said: “The combination of the program, the group project and the mentoring and the tours we took individually all combined into some magic recipe. By the end of this, we are all standing here in awe of each other.

“I found the ABL a safe container that I was looking for to help rebuild my confidence and my capacity after five years of feeling like I was living quite small and at a reduced capacity, recovering from burn-out.

“What we’ve learned is that you don’t need to be an expert, you only need to give a shit and be willing to learn and grow along the way.”

Chartered accountant Ally Becker said: “There are various reasons I wanted to become part of ABL and also to grow our business and, as a result, I definitely have a greater understanding of who I am.”

Livestock agent Cody Close said the farm economics module was the most useful, while the community engagement session really opened his eyes. “It was about how to get back into your community and be involved in boards. I’ve never thought of myself as somebody being invoved in the community, not the sort of person to step up to the job. But it’s given me good inspiration and – yeah – I’d love to join some local communities and boards.

“This experience is going to benefit me day-to-day in my work and also back on my family property.”

DAF beef extension officer Emily Corbett said: “Working as a group is not easy. We all definitely experienced some lulls and its very natural to have some ebbs and flows during this process,” she said. “The most important thing is to not fall off the wagon.

“From a group perspective we found that, by being vulnerable in our communications, leaning on each other as a group, leaning on our mentors, leaning on other people’s mentors, that’s where you’ll find your strengths and support to get you through the hard times and to 100% celebrate through the good times.”

Hereford breeder Tom Nixon kept the 200+ guests at the Brisbane Pullman laughing with his presentation: “I saw in this program all the things I probably needed to learn – at the age of 40. So I put in my application and I swiftly got an email back saying ‘try again’. Which I think possibly hit me in the right part of the heart. It was like ‘yeah, this is really worth doing … get someone else to write my application’.

“I didn’t expect the road to be easy and I didn’t understand where it would end. And it doesn’t end,” he said.

Helicopter pilot Dan Slaney, said engagement with the program had changes his perspective on life, work and family

ABL program manager Alison Larard proudly counted the number of former graduates who had used the experience to springboard into higher roles within the industry. “Four alumni are now serving on state industry committees, two on the AgForce Young Producers’ Council, two are on NRM boards and eight are on regional beef research committes,” she said.

The program incorporated weekly online meetings, mentoring and other conference sessions designed to boost personal growth, understanding of the industry and skills such as public speaking, negotiating and self-confidence.

Attending the dinner were the chair of the ABL Foundation Don Heatley and Dr Mike Stephens, the foundation company secretary.

The dinner followed a day of speakers from Rabobank, Trademutt, Our Cow and Black Box Co. The following morning the participants toured the Australian Country Choice processing facility in Brisbane where they were addressed by the CEO Anthony Lee.

Graduates from 2022/23:

FNQ chapter – Lara Conaghan, Kasmin Brotherton, Emily Corbett, Keerah Steele, Bill Bjurstrom, Ian Marsterson, Cailan Byrnes, Kate Hams, Dan Slaney, Brandy-Lee Shannon and Mandy Pickering. Maranoa chapter – Allison Becker, Tim Clay, Cody Close, Samanha Curran, Elsie Dodd, Leanne Hardwick, Sophie Hartley, Ann-Marree Johnson, Mitch Koster, Tom Nion and John Syme.

Participants in the 2023/24 intake:

Southern Queensland chapter – Heidi Millership, Melissah Dayman, Robert Freeman, Lucy Moore, Nathan Lister, Lucy Morrisey, Casey Spencer, Ashleigh Duncan, Lachy Jensen, Joe Allen and Salli Thomas. Northern Queensland chapter – Riley Tomlin, Brendan Crouch, Alana Carter, Jo McGuigan, Natalie Hughes, Harry Evans, David Anderson, Henry Claridge, Cindy McNaught, Kate Watts and Jack Heslin.








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  1. Alison Larard, 23/06/2023

    By way of acknowledgement,
    ABL is jointly funded through the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund and the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaptation and Reef Water Quality Programs.
    The ABL Alumni Forum was supported by our new ABL Foundation partners Rabobank’s Rabo Client Councils, and graduation dinner sponsors MLA.

  2. Margaret Johnson, 15/06/2023

    This sounds like the most amazing programme. Something positive for those in the Beef Industry.
    Wonderful that it has been developed.
    Congratulations to every graduate. Kodos to those that make this happen

  3. Bob Shepherd, 12/06/2023

    Congratulations to the ABL graduates; well done. A great program providing a platform for a stronger beef industry in the years to come; and very capably headed by Alison Larard.

    • Alison Larard, 13/06/2023

      Thanks Bob, there has been some wonderful DAF guest speakers over the years for ABL modules and tours 🙂 An amazing depth of talent in our industry and organisation.

  4. Adam Coffey, 12/06/2023

    Kudos to Alison for initiating and developing such a fantastic program. In a day and age where the options for leadership, capacity building and mentoring programs are plentiful this one really seems to hit the mark. I know a few ABL graduates personally and they speak very highly of their experiences. Well done

    • Alison Larard, 13/06/2023

      Thank you Adam. The support of current industry leaders has been fundamental to the success of ABL.

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