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Jess Strauch

Cotton award winners inspire exciting future

The future of the industry is in excellent hands.
Jess Strauch

If recent winners of the Australian cotton industry’s Chris Lehmann Trust Young Achiever Award are anything to go by, then the future of the industry is in excellent hands.

The award has been running since 2006 in recognition of influential late cotton consultant, Chris Lehmann, and rewards the contribution of individuals under the age of 35 to the Australian industry. Winners receive financial support, allowing the opportunity for further education and development to continue their valuable contribution to the industry.

The award has been proudly sponsored by growing agricultural crop protection company, ADAMA Australia, the past three years.

“For us, this award provides important recognition of the hard work and vision that the next generation contributes to the Australian cotton industry,’’ said Stuart Moncrieff, the company’s General Manager - Marketing.

“Each year nominees have demonstrated how they contribute to the industry through work with cotton grower groups, local research and advisory services and contributing their time on boards and committees servicing the sector, as well as raising the profile of the industry in the broader community.’’

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the industry celebrated the winners of the Chris Lehmann Trust Young Achiever Award for the past two years, including Emma Ayliffe (2021), a Principal Partner and Consultant with Griffith-based agricultural consultancy, Summit Ag, and Jess Strauch, who manages the Border Rivers region and cotton pricing for Queensland Cotton based from Goondiwindi.

Also celebrated were other 2021 finalists including James Kanaley, Principal and Consultant of Kanaley Agricultural Consulting, also based at Griffith, and Angus Dalgliesh, Agronomist with Nutrien Ag Solutions at Dalby, and 2022 finalists, St George grower Lucas Wuersching and Moree grower and B&W Rural Agronomist, Bradley Donald.

Emma Ayliffe
Emma Ayliffe (centre), Summit Ag, Griffith, winner of the industry’s Chris Lehmann Trust Young Achiever Award for 2021, with Jess Lehmann and Stuart Moncrieff, ADAMA Australia.

Both Jess and Emma are carving out inspiring careers, also acknowledging the support of great mentors along the way, and what is strikingly impressive about their young journeys is their strong focus already on assisting the new generation entering the industry and promoting the cotton and agricultural industry to the wider community.

They both emphatically state that it is the cotton industry’s welcoming nature, inclusiveness and progressiveness that is attractive to young people.

“I wanted to be a part of that,’’ said Jess, who hails from a small cattle farming operation around Gympie and was working for the Goondiwindi Regional Council after completing university and before joining the cotton industry.

Emma said the cotton industry was “heads and tails in front of a lot of industries’’ as a result of its inclusive and progressive aura. 

“That’s what makes it attractive to young people – it is cutting edge,’’ she said.

Jess has chalked-up seven years in the industry after initially joining Namoi Cotton at Goondiwindi and working in grower services, including lint ginning and seed procurement, across the Macintyre Valley and Darling Downs regions. She also promptly joined the local Cotton Growers Association to increase her engagement and extend her networks across the industry.

Jess later moved to Dubbo in the role of General Manager - Customer Operations for the Macquarie Valley and Lachlan Valley areas, where she became immersed in gin operations with the Hillston and Trangie gins, leading a team and expanding her grower relations.

Jess returned to Goondiwindi with Queensland Cotton initially as an Area Manager in the Border Rivers region before developing within the trading and marketing side of the business and adding responsibility for the company’s cotton pricing and procurement. She also leads the company’s on-ground grower relations team in Northern New South Wales.

In addition to the roles with Queensland Cotton, Jess has been secretary, vice president and president of the Macintyre Valley Cotton Growers Association’s cotton field day committee.

The involvement with the association was fantastic for meeting and extending her network across the sector, and she said the industry was very good with the sharing of key learnings, which helped to keep it informed and agile.

Jess Strauch
Jess Strauch (right), Queensland Cotton, with Deb Lehmann, wife of the industry’s influential late consultant, Chris Lehmann.

Jess said “giving back’’ to those now coming through the industry was exciting and hopefully would serve to continue attracting young people to the industry.

“We are always looking at development and working with universities to assist new graduates, and Cotton Australia also does fantastic work in this space and collaborating with industry development and research organisation projects.’’

“Agriculture is booming, so all young people need to do is pick up the phone and jump into some work experience. Get some experience on the ground and then work out where you want to be,’’ she advised.

Jess said winning the Chris Lehmann Trust Young Achiever Award for 2022 was a “completely humbling experience’’ and she was still planning her next professional development steps in the industry.

Originally from Adelaide, Emma took advantage of a sliding doors moment and commenced in the industry in 2013, assisting the development of an irrigated farming operation and its agronomy at Lake Tandou, near Menindee.

She later worked as an Agronomist with Elders in the Griffith and Hay areas before co-founding Summit Ag, which, now with a team of seven consultants, supports irrigated and dryland farming systems and also conducts contract research and extension for a range of companies and industry organisations.

Emma is based in Lake Cargelligo, where she also bought a small farm with her partner, and the business supports a region from here to Colleambally in the south, over to Narrandera in the east and Balranald in the west.

Emma spends half her time in the research and extension program, which has conducted significant work, including field days, for the Southern Valleys Cotton Growers Association (SVCGA) that was previously more concentrated in the industry’s northern region. Other work also has been coordinated for the Cotton Research & Development Corporation (CRDC).

Emma also was sponsorship coordinator for the SVCGA for four years and was a member of the ‘Young Farming Champions’ program that incorporated media training and school certification, the latter which also provided teaching tools aligned with curriculum standards.

From 2014 through to 2020, she spent four to five days a year in metropolitan schools mainly in Sydney, educating students about our farming industries. She remains strongly involved in the program today, as well as supporting TAFE with the development of career pathways in agriculture and succession planning in the industry.

With her consultancy work, Emma said while “nothing in agriculture is a silo’’ and, hence, she had well extended her capability beyond cotton crop agronomy, cotton was still her “baby’’.

She said the cotton industry provided a great framework for career development and the opportunities for the next generation were strong.

“It can be very much about who you know, not what you know, so build relationships and that can come via university scholarships, networking groups and having conversations across the industry. And think outside the box,’’ Emma encouraged.

“If you are from grain, try something new like cotton, horticulture or sheep and expand your horizons. All the best experiences come when you are feeling uncomfortable.’’