‘Filled my cup’; A week of growth, connection, and new horizons at the 2023 AgriFutures Stakeholder Summit

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AgriFutures Horizon Scholars at SkyBury Plantation on the Atherton Tablelands, QLD, holding Papaya.

As an Agricultural Science undergraduate student and 2023 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship recipient, Ben Peden, sponsored by AgriFutures evokeAG. could talk about the chemistry and biology of plant production in his sleep. But the chicken meat industry? Or the marine-based sector? Not so much.

And that is precisely one of the many purposes of the annual AgriFutures Stakeholder Summit – to unite individuals and organisations from various sectors of agriculture and rural industries, including new and emerging, and share unique perspectives and opportunities.

Since 2011, the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship Workshop program has been integral to developing the emerging leaders of Australian agriculture by taking the best and the brightest university students and offering a “money can’t buy” personal development experience.

The 2023 Stakeholder Summit was held in July in Cairns and brought together the current Agrifutures cohort of 44 Horizon Scholars, AgriFutures Board of Directors, Advisory Panel Chairs from AgriFutures Australia’s levied industries, and a wide range of stakeholders for a week of growth, networking, fresh connections and new horizons.

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award judging for the 2023 Rural Women’s Award Finalist was also held at the Summit. Seven finalists spent the week refining their pitches to present to the panel of four judges who had the difficult task of choosing a national winner.

“Bringing the seven national finalists together for the first time is always a thrill to be involved in and the sense of collaboration and community these women have as a group is something so admirable,” Belinda Allitt, AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Workforce, Communications and Adoption said.

“It is clear to see these ladies already know that they are winners and will be ready to cheer on when the national winner is announced in September.”

Summit experience opens exciting avenues 

The AgriFutures Stakeholder Summit builds fundamental skills in AgriFutures Horizon Scholars through a series of workshops and experiences; a field trip to the Atherton Tablelands where they could engage with many stakeholders; a Great Barrier Reef trip to help with reef restoration and to learn about the Indigenous connection to the reef; and a cultural experience with AppOriginee culminating in a native bush foods dinner at Orche restaurant were some of the 2023 highlights. The field trips are an opportunity to uncover new industries and careers and witness first-hand, what working in these roles would require.

“Obviously we had an incredible time, but the real value was being exposed to the variety that the agricultural industry has to offer while also meeting and networking with people in those industries,” Ben reflected.

“There’s just so much out there in terms of career options and industry placement in areas I hadn’t even considered.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by AgriFutures 2022 Horizon Scholar, Macey Holland, sponsored by FMC Australasia.

Hailing from Serpentine in Victoria’s North West, Macey said her Cairns experience further flamed her passion for building relationships between rural and metropolitan communities.

“I value the intelligence and experience of those who are doing progressive things in the industry and hearing about them at the AgriFutures Stakeholder Summit really filled my cup and excited me for my future in the industry,” Macey said.

Setting the scene for agriculture’s future 

AgriFutures Horizon scholars engage with the AgriFutures Board and panel chairs throughout the summit, a highlight for Bryce Ives, Chief Facilitator of the AgriFutures Horizon program.

“Seeing the scholars working alongside AgriFutures board members, industry leaders and local Far North Queensland leaders was incredible,” he said.

“The backdrop of Far North Queensland provided inspiration and provocation for all in attendance and opened our eyes to the innovations of the Atherton Tablelands and the broader region.

“Most importantly, the stakeholders spent significant time thinking about culture, country and connection, with several inspiring workshops and discussions led by local elder Gudju Gudju which lifted our perspective further on the role of native seeds, native farming approaches, and working in collaboration and respect with First Nations people.”

One table, many inspired voices  

This year’s Summit saw the inclusion of a 24-hour Hackathon event for the first time. AgriFutures Horizon Scholars worked alongside the AgriFutures Board and industry Advisory Panel members to come up with a solution to an industry problem.

AgriFutures Pasture Seeds Advisory Panel Chair Lisa Anderson said the experience provided no shortage of valuable, insightful commentary.

“There’s a certain amount of clarity you get by having to explain a really complex thing in simple terms,” she said.

“The students have this enormous amount of enthusiasm and they come up with ideas that are not related to a way that industry might normally view those things.”

Through thoughtful questions and conversation, Ms Anderson said the AgriFutures Horizon Scholars established innovative solutions, but gained even more value from the process in getting there.

While her week in Cairns is over, Ms Anderson said she continually draws upon the knowledge gained from a variety of industries in her day-to-day.

“The whole process of engaging with the AgriFutures Horizon Scholars was really fun, energising and a great way of showcasing the very best of what AgriFutures Australia does,” she said.

“One of the biggest strengths of AgriFutures Australia is bringing different thoughts to the table and part of that is engaging with really diverse groups of people from all walks of life and that helps facilitate innovation.”

What lies ahead?

For AgriFutures Australia Board Director Bill Ryan, the 2023 AgriFutures Stakeholder Summit provided a pivotal – and reassuring – insight into the future of Australian agriculture.

“Bringing our different stakeholder groups together and the inspiration that it creates amongst them and between them is so valuable,” he said.

“Seeing the opportunities that the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship provides for the rapid development of smart young people is wonderful and it’s not just their academic development, it’s their personal development and integrity.

“They’re just lovely young people and you think, ‘well, we’re in pretty good shape if this is the future.”

AgriFutures Australia would like to thank all the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship sponsors. Your valuable contribution is appreciated and will ensure we continue to attract and retain a workforce that will ensure Australia’s rural industries are future ready.

Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) 
Dairy Australia 
AgriProve 
FMC Australasia 
Meat Livestock Australia (MLA) 
Kalyx 
Baiada Poultry
Australian Wool Industry (AWI)
Cotton Research Development Corporation (CRDC) 
Australian Eggs 
Hort Innovation
CRCNA 
Southern NSW Innovation Hub 
Marine Bioproducts Cooperative Research Centre

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