Skills learned at expo still relevant for impressive alumni

Skills learned at expo still relevant for impressive alumni

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THOSE whose names grace the SA Junior Heifer Expo senior champion herdsman honour board have in no way been flashes in the pan in the livestock industry, with past winners still using the skills and connections they established while competing.

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THOSE whose names grace the SA Junior Heifer Expo senior champion herdsman honour board have in no way been flashes in the pan in the livestock industry, with past winners still using the skills and connections they established while competing.

Jono Spence won the event in 1995, as a city boy with just a handful of knowledge about livestock. Twenty-five years later, he is far from a novice in the field, now a widely-known and highly-regarded livestock agent based in the Upper South East.

With his grandfather being involved in the horticultural side of the Royal Adelaide Show, Mr Spence had been interested in agriculture from a young age, and took a steer to the show with his school, Immanuel College, where he was spotted by family friends Phil and Mary Withers, Nalpa Station.

"I was really fortunate that the Withers were generous enough to invite me along to the heifer show because they could see how much I enjoyed being involved," Mr Spence said.

Having competed in the show every year from 1989 to 1995 bar one, Mr Spence spent his early 20s acquiring work experience on a number of commercial and stud properties, but it was a gentle push from well-known livestock identity Graham Day, Allendale, Bordertown, which first opened Mr Spence's eyes to the possibility of becoming a livestock agent.

"Graham Day was a bloke who I hugely looked up to, he said I'd make a great stock agent - I took a few years to think about it, then began working with a private firm on the Fleurieu, Fleurieu Estates," Mr Spence said.

After working on the Fleurieu Peninsula, Mr Spence completed a stint with Elders, where he met friend Rodney Dix. The pair co-founded their independent livestock selling business, Spence Dix and Co in 2009.

"It's gone further than what we ever thought, we have a wonderful group of clients that stretch across the state, and it's quite hard to fathom that a boy from Flinders Park could be a part of that," Mr Spence said.

He is of firm belief that the generosity of stud breeders across the state involved in the heifer expo were pivotal to kickstarting his career in livestock, and likely the careers of many others.

"I think I'm one of a pretty big group that have got a great deal of gratitude not only for the people that have worked so hard to run the event for 30 years, but also the stud breeders and families that have continued to put up bigger teams of cattle to enable kids from all backgrounds to be picked up and taken along to this," he said.

The winner in 2004, James Wright believes the people he met as a result of the SA Junior Heifer Expo were the highlight of the event.

There are so many things I draw on, on a daily basis, from when I was competing in the event. - JAMES WRIGHT

"When you're at the heifer show, you have your eye on the prize to motivate you to perform in that week, but it's the people who I met there that have been great mentors, who have been very influential in my life - that's what has been really amazing," he said.

Mr Wright was studying a Bachelor of Natural Resource Management at the University of Adelaide when he won the event, which led to a varied and exciting career trajectory in the years that followed.

This included work on a number of remote cattle stations, followed by a stint as a sustainable practices policy officer, before taking on the role of regional NRM coordinator in Katherine, NT, finishing up in 2014 before moving south again. The pair moved to his wife Heidi's family's group of stations in western NSW, operating under Paroo Pastoral, where they stayed for three years before moving to Adelaide. Mr Wright remains business development manager for the company.

In a good season, Paroo Pastoral runs up to 50,000 Merinos and Dorpers and up to 5000 Angus cattle across an aggregation of 10 pastoral leases totalling 405,000 hectares.

Mr Wright said the cattle were in the business "opportunistically", and while mostly focused on sheep, he loves being involved in the cattle side in any way he can.

"It's great to be educated about all of that, you know the lingo and that's the result of the heifer show as well. There are so many things I draw on, on a daily basis, from when I was competing in the event."

Growing up, cattle was our priority, and since being involved with agriculture, and particularly being involved in the heifer expo, I just fell in love with it all. - JESSICA BURPEE

Mypolonga's Jessica Burpee also knows the power of the SA Junior Heifer Expo all too well, with her win in 2015 - as well as her consistent involvement in the event for 14 years leading up to her snaring the top prize - being a major influencer of her career path.

Amidst school days involving trips to her family's Tintinara farm Drayton Park on weekends, and a hectic sport schedule, Ms Burpee said cattle had always been "number one" growing up.

"Growing up, cattle was our priority, and since being involved with agriculture, and particularly being involved in the heifer expo, I just fell in love with it all, and that inspired me to go on and be an ag teacher."

Her first experience of ag teaching was at Loxton High School, alongside heifer expo coordinator Justine Fogden. After three years there, Ms Burpee is now in her second year teaching agriculture at Unity College, Murray Bridge.

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"My favourite part of my job is exposing students to livestock that they otherwise would not have got an opportunity to be involved with," she said.

"We have a wide range of students here from both rural and city backgrounds. Seeing how engaged and passionate the students are, when they fall in love with the animals it's really nice."

Ms Burpee is still heavily involved in the SA Junior Heifer Expo each year and enjoys working with competitors throughout the event.

"I was on the heifer show committee for a couple of years since I won, and every year I've gone back and helped the juniors, I think it's important to give back, and I really love doing it," she said.

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