By Melissa Keogh
At 22 years of age, Elizabeth Ward spends most of her working week among grape vines and under almond trees in one of South Australia’s picturesque food and wine regions, McLaren Vale.
Brand South Australia’s latest I Choose SA ambassador is in her final year of an agricultural science degree at the University of Adelaide and has scored an internship with independent agricultural consultancy DJ’s Growers, where she is learning about the world of agronomy.
Elizabeth has few doubts about her future and securing full-time work in SA’s agribusiness industry, with her university course’s webpage stating “there are five jobs for every one graduate”.
“One of the key selling points for students looking at studying ag science is the opportunity for graduates,” she says.
“I think people are pretty confident that there are jobs out there, and I’ve found from speaking to people in the industry that there are jobs to be filled.
“So I think SA is really cool in that there are many jobs in agriculture.”
Working for three days a week for DJ’s Growers in vineyards across McLaren Vale, the soon-to-be university graduate has already got her foot in the door of the state’s agribusiness sector.
The business’s consultants and agronomists are in charge of regularly monitoring vines and crops, providing technical advice to producers of winegrapes, orchard fruits, potatoes, horticulture crops, pasture and broad-acre crops.
Agronomists help detect pests and diseases before suggesting and monitoring appropriate controls to help reduce economic damage to crops. They also monitor soil quality and salinity, and give advice on the right tools to improve produce quality.
Elizabeth is one of three internship participants currently monitoring vine health in large-scale and boutique vineyards prior to the harvest season in early 2019.
“We use an app called Agworld Scout to record and monitor the growth stage of the vines, then we report back to our agronomist, who reports back to the grower, who can then decide on the management of their crop,” she says.
“It’s wonderful working outside, I love it. McLaren Vale a great spot to work and I really enjoy working with such beautiful crops as well.
“The growth of them is so quick. In the past six weeks we’ve seen them go from being pretty much bare to really gorgeous canopies.”
Elizabeth’s curiosity about the world of food production and a passion for the state’s abundance of high-quality produce was all it took to spark a desire to pursue a career in agribusiness.
Studying for three years between the University of Adelaide’s North Terrace, Waite and Roseworthy campuses, she says her studies have exposed her to crop, livestock and soil sciences, biology, biochemistry, genetics, and soil and animal health.
Students also access the latest research and technology and build practical skills through a number of work experience opportunities, with 91% of the university’s ag science graduates finding full-time employment within months of finishing their degree.
Elizabeth also spent a semester on an agricultural science exchange at the University of Guelph in Canada.
Viticultural agronomist Joe Siebert completed the agronomist internship in 2016 before transitioning into a full-time role at DJ’s Growers.
Servicing soil moisture monitoring equipment installed in 200 vineyards across Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, and Barossa Valley, he also provides technical support and knowledge for winegrape growers.
Joe’s work involves regular monitoring of vineyards for pests and diseases, assessing the quality of the vine and crop, and advising on the appropriate use of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides when needed.
DJ’s Growers takes pride in its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, which involves more environmentally sensitive methods for controlling pests, rather than the use of chemicals and insecticides.
An example of IPM is the use and fostering of ‘beneficial insects’ released into strawberry crops or hot-house environments to control unwanted insects.
Joe also provides services on mapping, canopy measurements, soil and plant nutrition, irrigation water quality and irrigation advice.
He says DJ’s Growers is an independent and unbiased agronomy business that places paramount importance on the needs of local growers and their crops.
“Our primary focus is to provide good technical advice that improves crops and returns to the grower. We try and look at it from the perspective of ‘how can we make sure they are still doing business in 10 years’ time?’
“We are very much tailored to every grower’s needs.”
DJ’s Growers is currently supporting more than 100 producers growing a number of crops including winegrapes, potatoes, strawberries, cherries, almonds, olives, onions, garlic, broad-acre crops and salad greens, just to name a few.
DJ’s also stocks its own line of organic and conventional fertilisers designed for local conditions to combat problems such as low yields and build ups of high soil salinity.
Industry in focus: Agribusiness
Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.
South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.
Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.