The agricultural industry accounts for 55% of Australian land use, 12% of goods and services exports in 2020–21; 1.9% of value added gross domestic product and 2.5% of employment in 2020–21. So, suffice to say, as we all know, this industry is an important one.
One of the great things about the agricultural industry is there is a plethora of avenues for those wanting to build a career in the industry and this episode of the podcast provided a brief snapshot into the careers of some people in ag, asking them about their story, how they got to where they are and where they are going from here.
In this chat we will be joined by Alexis Gandy and Lachlan Woods. I caught up with Alexis and Lachlan at the GenAngus Future Leaders Program, which took place in June. Both attendees of the program, Alexis and Lachlan sat down to speak to me about their journey to where they are in the industry, why they applied for a program like GenAngus and its benefit to their careers, and what they took from a development opportunity like GenAngus.
Firstly, we kick off with Alexis. A Canadian by birth, Alexis started from ground zero when it came to her experience in agriculture and has since built a career in the industry. Now running Gandy Angus with husband Kim at Manjimup in the southwest region of WA, Alexis let us know about her background and what she took away from GenAngus to implement in her day-to-day life.
Welcome Alexis to the podcast. I appreciate you taking time to come speak with us, I know it’s a bit daunting. Please just introduce yourself, who you are, where you come from and a bit of your background in the industry.
Thanks for having me. I am originally from Vancouver Island in Canada, which is on the west coast, and I don’t think there is any Angus cattle there, or maybe only a few dairy cows, but I certainly had absolutely nothing to do with farming. I met a few girls from Australia who were working lifeguarding in America, so I came to visit them on a university break and a pretty typical story, got a job on a farm and haven’t left.
How amazing is that? What did you study at university?
Well, I started off studying science, chemistry and that sort of stuff. Then I was switching to more of a business degree, so I’d already done the requisite courses. So that’s what gave me that eight-month gap to come to Australia.
So, what inspired you to really continue that career in ag once you got here?
I just fell in love with it. I was actually saying to someone earlier today I found it very difficult having almost too many opportunities and too many choices. When I got to uni, I started wondering that everything felt pointless and like there wasn’t a beginning and an end. When I got to the farm, I just loved it.
I didn’t even know how to drive a manual vehicle or do anything. They said, oh, you’ll be checking water troughs and things like that, and I just found it so rewarding. Like every day I felt like I achieved something, learnt something, and that the opportunities were endless, but in a good way that you could layer them and build them and create anything you could think of.
It’s amazing because you’ve started from base level and worked your way up, and coming to events like these (GenAngus), you speak to people who have started with no background in ag and have forged careers and really take it every opportunity that they can. So, what is your business?
We run a stud Angus herd where we run about 500 cows, and we have a bull sale once a year in the autumn. We used to have a February sale, which is the traditional WA time, but now we’re selling them at 18 months at auction and sell about 50 privately on farm from April to May.
So why did you apply for GenAngus?
I applied because we are somewhat in a rebuilding phase of our herd. We had a few family succession issues about five years ago where we sold 300 cows, which was the majority of our herd. However, we ended up retaining the heifers sort of by fluke where part of the deal fell through. We then thought, well we’re still going to run cattle, so we might as well breed bulls for ourselves. We were able to buy another farm and build our herd back up.
I just felt like we’re at the point now where our quality is right back or better than where it used to be, so I felt I needed to develop some skills to help promote where we are now because I feel like we used to have quite good branding and recognition in WA, but now I feel like that’s something we really need to work on to let people know we’ve got quality bulls and we’re back.
What have been the biggest take homes that you think you’ll be able to implement into your day to day?
Fresh in my mind is the social media presentation, which was something that really attracted me to applying for GenAngus because it’s something I really struggle with, and always put at the bottom of my to do list.
I thought we got some really practical tips on how to do social media and even with things I’d already been dabbling in, like Facebook ads, actually really putting some strategy around that.
I think that’s also made me think that I need to take the time to make a plan, write it out and be a lot more deliberate about what I’m doing because it can be really easy to rush those sorts of things because obviously there are usually physical tasks that always seem to take priority.
Why would you encourage other people to apply for GenAngus?
I just think it’s such a great opportunity. The networking and other people we are meeting here is fantastic.
Just asking the other people about their different ways and systems and then the calibre of the speakers is fantastic. I think there’s definitely been something for everyone in each session and definitely a worthwhile experience.
Thank you for joining us for the podcast. I appreciate you sharing a little bit about your story.
Next up we are joined by Lachlan Woods.
Lachlan joined us almost twelve months after he initially participated in his cohort of GenAngus, and while he recognised that he was still progressing his career in terms of study, he really highlighted that opportunities like GenAngus and similar are not to be missed by people in the industry in terms of how they can benefit your personal development.
Welcome to the podcast. Please introduce who you are, where you come from and your background in the industry.
Hi, my name’s Lachlan Woods. I’m from Mudgee, New South Wales, coming off an Angus commercial cattle property where we also run some black Suffolk sheep in the Bylong Valley. Personally, I’m just about to graduate a veterinary science degree through CSU down in Wagga Wagga. I’ll be graduating in July and am planning to head to Taroom in Queensland, which is a few hours north of Chinchilla, and am looking to progress my skills in bovine reproduction, production and also all things mixed practice veterinary.
Growing up on a farm, I wanted to go and experience the northern cattle sector and was fortunate to have spent two years up in North Queensland and the Northern Territory on cattle stations after school and really enjoyed that. I learned a lot about cattle industry on a big scale in pastoral sectors and really fell in love with the cattle side of things, asking those questions about why we’re choosing paddocks to graze or what production outcomes we should be expecting, our calf mortality and things like that.
That led me into the decision to go down to Wagga where I started an animal science degree and did a year of that with the intention to try and get into veterinary science.
I suppose leaving the station I was looking for a degree that would be a profession that would be a lifelong challenge and something that’s related to the cattle industry. I was fortunate to get selected into the 2017 intake for vet science and since then I’ve been progressing along, really enjoying my time down there and I’ve tried to really place myself in extracurricular activities to keep engaged with the Australian cattle and sheep industries.
A few examples of that were joining up with the ICMJ team at Wagga, where I went to the ICMJ conference and had an absolutely amazing time. It really opened my eyes to into the intricacies of cattle production on farm but that there’s probably a real loss of connection between the processor to the consumer and attending the ICMJ was really great to expose my mind into that side of the sector which is easily surpassed.
Through that program I was lucky to be selected for the Australian team and compete over in America in 2018. We travelled there for four weeks all through Central America, competing against American colleges, and we were able to get a first-place win at the National Western Stock Show, which was a really big milestone for us as a team. I then did two years of coaching and that was a really fulfilling process giving back to the other students and relishing the opportunity I had, trying to really show other people the power of the opportunity, the learning experience and how it helped change my trajectory and my career as a result of doing it.
Being open to opportunities is what led me to the GenAngus program when I was applying in 2019.
We were a bit unlucky with the COVID situation, with GenAngus planned to be down in Melbourne in 2020 but was postponed. However, we were lucky to have a three-day conference in September last year on ZOOM and that was really good. Three days of presenters and connections with other industry likeminded people from a range of seedstock, commercial, even livestock sales backgrounds, so it was a vast array of people across the red meat industry and another great networking opportunity for me.
Now in Adelaide for the last two days we have all been able to connect again in person. Yesterday, we had some challenges at a high ropes obstacle course and then had a team building session in the afternoon at an escape room, where it was good to connect with all three cohorts of GenAngus as well.
We had a beautiful dinner last night, with Libby Creek OAM giving a speech of her life story and what I took from that was being willing and open to opportunities that come to your life at an odd time and as long as they align with your five-to-ten-year goal, jump at them. We were also spoken to by Emma Thomas, CEO of Achmea Australia and Scott Wright, CEO of Angus Australia. It was a great line-up of speakers for all three years cohorts to take some really good notes and insight from before starting the week with some great speakers. It’s been a busy morning today with a lot of soft skills being developed.
What were some of the key take homes that you had from your GenAngus experience and have you been able to implement them going forth in your everyday life and growth in the industry?
I suppose it’s a funny one, the timing of GenAngus for me is fortuitous and also maybe a bit distant. The application for me has been a bit trickier than most people as I am obviously still trying to finish a veterinary degree and have the family farm at home. I suppose going into it, I was trying to be open about taking a lot of skills and also creating some mindset around the type of veterinary career I want.
Because I haven’t finished my veterinary degree yet, at times you feel like, ‘am I suitable to be here?’ compared to other people but I think there’s been a lot of takeaways.
Always interesting are Simon Quilty’s talks about what impacts our Australian market and producing high quality beef for certain markets and being aware of the external factors that are affecting our markets and our access to them, and therefore the prices that we are going to receive for our hard-earned efforts on farm.
I really gained a lot of insight out of Simon’s talk in being able to reflect on taking market indicators and having a look to see where we can make some good opportunities, maybe not necessarily this year with great seasonal outcomes across Australia, but looking back two years ago a lot of those insights could have been pretty integral to making a decision early when a season becomes tight again or our markets are closing up and keeping our mind open to the opportunities across the market.
Another notable mention was Pete (Clark) from 21 Whispers. Obviously moving into a new career and having a lot of unknowns there, being able to back yourself on why you’re choosing a career and the path you want to take is important.
I think we create some big goals in our life early on and that’s great that we have vision, but implementation of steps to achieve that goal in the short term often come with difficulty and therefore there’s ease of just letting it go to the wayside. Pete has been instrumental in trying to help you retrain your mind to break it down and make it simple.
Make a little step achievable, as day on day consistency creates an outcome and you’ve got to grow with intention so making that decision to make a change every day to get you towards that goal, consistency compounds over time.
Over the time of applying that we can get closer to achieving that goal that we’ve set so I think breaking it down, deep thought and taking it away from I can’t or I have to I can or I get to, which we all get sort of tied up with and we don’t have enough time or we don’t have this, the mind power associated with all that is instrumental to move forward in anything in life.
With all that in mind, why would you encourage other people in the beef industry to apply for opportunities like the GenAngus Future Leaders Program?
I’ve gained so much out of my three year wait to have the opportunity to be spoken to by some industry leading individuals, and also being able to meet our cohorts this year. The program is an opportunity for you to grow mentally and also in your professional networks.
Again, as I mentioned earlier, opportunities that are in line with your goals down the track have to be taken, and I would definitely encourage anyone take part, even if you’re not into seedstock production or anything, but are an avid ambassador for the red meat sectors in Australia.
I think the GenAngus Future Leaders Program is instrumental as an opportunity itself and I would recommend to any person in the red meat industries in Australia to apply. Whilst it is an Angus Australia program, it’s a way of trying to promote young professionals coming into our industries and really trying to upskill our youth generation in Australia. And the best thing about it, or I suppose my big takeaways of it is the networking opportunities. You are in a room in a capital city with some of the industry leading representatives from private and corporate companies in the world of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Opportunities like this should not be surpassed because of that networking opportunity. Even if at that time you may not see yourself as a leader, it’s not about becoming a great leader or anything, it’s about upskilling yourself to be better in a team, to be able to motivate people around you or even dictate goals and visions for businesses.
I came into it thinking I wasn’t a suitable applicant, got selected, and am very appreciative that I did because I’ve come out of it growing as a person, being able to be more confident in myself and therefore being able to give more to others as well as obviously being connected with all these great speakers both this year and last year.
So, for anyone out there that’s thinking that they would like to take a step in the red meat industry, small or large, I’d highly recommend applying for the GenAngus Future Leaders Program. You don’t have to be a leader, you have just got to take a step, open that laptop and apply.
Final question, how do you have your steak?
Without hesitation, medium rare. I’ve got a brother and we were at a restaurant the other day and he said, I’ll just have it well done. We spent $45 on a nice little rib fillet, and he said he’d have it well done. And I nearly had to kick him out of the pub.
Listen to the Behind the Beef episode