A firm and enduring connection with her farming roots sets up life in agriculture and the city for Myrtleford-born Courtney Walker.
Now thriving in “white collar” metropolitan employment, Ms Walker said the experiences and knowledge of agriculture and farming practices gave country people an ability to have an influence on those from the city.
Ms Walker grew up on a dairy farm at Myrtleford in North-East Victoria, where the family milked 200 cows before relinquishing milking after the 2009 Black Saturday fires that burnt out the farm.
She has a double degree at the University of Melbourne in Agricultural Science and Commerce.
Since graduating and completing her honours, her employment record reads confectionery manufacturer Mars and currently tea product company T2 - both removed from agriculture.
Ms Walker said young people didn’t know the roles that were available to them in agriculture and beyond and what they entailed.
“Agriculture gives so much flexibility. Your skills are transferable from a farm into the ‘white collar’ workplace and are valued,” she said.
“I think it’s the work ethic. It does come through, the willingness to get the job done and keep going to deliver the result.
“I sometimes wish there were more people from the country in city jobs because of the separation in understanding between the farm and the city. I have had great conversations about milk and its production and meat and how it’s processed in the city workplace.
“There needs to be another voice, not just animal activists spreading rumours, having a conversation with people, if they are interested.”
In the absence of information, people would make up their own story and younger people in agriculture had a role to play in spreading the true story, she said.
“So much of the debate is on social media these days and that’s where people get their information – whether it’s wrong or right,” she said.
Ms Walker said it’s about challenging the information that people have in regards to animal health and welfare.
“Small conversations can help send the message. Farmers and young people can be the best examples of how agriculture should be done that would sway a lot of opinion,” she said.
Ms Walker’s interest in dairy cattle began as a 12 or 13 year-old, helping out on the farm.
She became interested in genetics and “spent hours pouring over AI catalogues”.
“While at university I was doing all the management decisions for the herd from vet treatments to culling and drying off,” she said.
The interest in Guernseys started in 2004 with the purchase of cows from a nearby herd dispersal.
“I was on a quest to try a couple of every breed. In 2004 we visited a Guernsey herd that was being dispersed, looking for a trailer load of calves and came home with a semi load of cows because they were so cheap,” she said.
The cattle found firm favour in the Walkers’ herd.
After stints helping breeders at the Royal Melbourne Show and International Dairy Week, she met Guernsey breeder Lyndon Cleggett, and joined the Brookleigh team at IDW in 2007.
Mr Cleggett said Courtney was an important part of the Brookleigh team that prepared and showed a team at IDW.
“When I first met her we just started talking about cows,” Mr Cleggett said.
“I watched her in the show ring and she had a good work ethic and she’s a really great person.”
In 2015 she was appointed World Guernsey Cattle Federation secretary and attended the World Conference in New Zealand that year.
She also toured many Guernsey farms in the United States.
“The Guernsey family is amazing. In the US many Guernsey breeders are niche marketers of their own milk or cheese products. To be able to meet them on farm was fantastic,” she said.
Now employed by T2, Ms Walker said she was learning more about how a premium product could be marketed.
“I’m dealing with tea shortages and drought impacts around the world,” she said.
She is now working through the organisation of this year’s World Guernsey conference to be held in the US in June. The world body provided direction for the conference.
Subjects this year included genomics, classification and youth programs in the US.
Ms Walker said youth programs and youth support were things the Guernsey breed was interested in.
She said niche marketing was also a major part of the program.
“It’s almost all individual farms in the US, 100 to 150 cows, marketing their products – ice-cream, cheeses or milk - because of the distances between Guernsey farms,” she said.
Here the breed was working to ensure that locally collected reference data was suitable for inclusion in the overall genomics reference population and in effectively sharing information internationally.
She said she was also looking for partners to do research into Guernsey milk. The breed was keen to use the fact that Guernsey breed was 95 per cent of the population was A2, she said.
She keeps her agricultural roots replenished with stints at IDW as well as helping operate a beef operation on the farm at Myrtleford.
“I provide the physical labour. We are running about 150 cows, moving from the original dairy base to Angus joined to Charolais bulls,” she said.