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FFA members learn about Australian culture, agriculture during trip
By Michele F. Mihaljevich
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS – For Mary Jones, traveling to Australia was on her bucket list, so she jumped at the chance to travel there as a part of the National FFA Organization’s International Leadership Seminar for State Officers (ILSSO). Holly Schmitt wanted to visit the island country to learn more about different cultures and agricultural systems.
The two were part of a group of more than 70 current and past state FFA officers who visited Australia Jan. 4-15. ILSSO immerses participants in the culture of the country they are visiting while facilitating learning opportunities while the students are there, according to an FFA release. During the trip, the students had opportunities to demonstrate foundational knowledge of global values and diversity while forming empathy and awareness of domestic and global conditions, the release said.
Jones, a former FFA state officer from Indiana, said she was excited to travel to such a unique place.
“Growing up in agriculture, I love getting the chance to see how the industry grows in other places, and I knew I would get to see that on our trip,” she told Farm World. “I also hoped to continue growing connections with the other incredible participants; a goal that was accomplished in abundance. I was lucky to become so close to the other officers I traveled with. I know that many of them will be lifelong connections.”
Schmitt, current FFA Iowa state president, said her goals for the trip were to learn more about the local culture of Australia, the government, and how it is different from the United States, and the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian agriculture industry.
“I was surprised by the amount of diversity in crop and animal production in Australia,” she explained to Farm World. “Within a small area of land, we toured a cotton gin, dairy farm, olive oil factory, rice farm, and agritourism business. We also drove by corn fields, sheep pastures and orange orchards.
“Growing up on a northeast Iowa dairy farm, I always believed agriculture needed to be very segmented and specialized like it is in the United States, with oranges and cotton being grown in the South, and corn and cattle being raised in the Midwest. Australian agriculture challenged my beliefs and helped me learn more about many diverse industries.”
Jones said one of the group’s most surprising visits was to Langley Family farms, which is located on an active volcano.
“It was incredible to see how they have adapted their practices and equipment to maintain such a successful operation,” she said. “It was a huge testament to the innovative and resilient nature of the many Australian farmers we met.”
During the trip, the students visited locations such as Sydney; Canberra, the country’s capital; Melbourne; and the Darlington Point District, home of some of Australia’s most productive farmland, the FFA release said.
Jones said the group’s visit to Marcus Oldham College (Australia’s only independent agricultural college) and talking with its students and staff was one of her favorite parts of the trip.
“As a college student, just beginning my degree, it was so special to connect with other students at the same stage of life,” she noted. “Many of them had also just completed a trip to explore agriculture in the U.S. I loved hearing their thoughts on American agriculture. I loved hearing the similarities and differences of their education and college experiences. I loved talking about their favorite spots in their hometowns and the favorite spots in mine.”
Schmitt said she enjoyed the tour of Reiland Angus in Killimicat, New South Wales.
“The Lucas family showed us great hospitality as they toured us around their black Angus seed stock operation,” she said. “It was interesting to learn about the company’s history and the challenges they faced raising cattle in Australia. In addition to raising black Angus, the family also grazes sheep in the more rocky areas of their property. The Lucas family farm was a favorite of many state officers because they showed us where the heart of the Australian agriculture industry is – in its people.”
Water usage and government influence are two categories where Australia and the U.S. have major differences, Schmitt said.
“Being that Australia is such a dry continent, irrigation canals and water rights are a constant source of worry for Australian farmers,” she explained. “The Australian government also impacts farmers with the policies they make. The variety of industries is very different than in the United States. Sheep and wool production are huge for their country because of the amount of grazing land they have.
“Although there are some big differences, Australian and American farmers have a lot in common. Technology, staffing challenges and consumer misconceptions impact both industries. Both industries are rooted in faith in the land and hope for the future. People are the driving force to make a change in the agricultural industry in both Australia and America.”
Jones said she would recommend a similar ILSSO to other FFA members.
“If another trip like this came up, I would tell any FFA member to jump in!” she said. “Any bit of hesitation I had about traveling across the world with a group of strangers quickly faded when I met each of them. I was so blessed with the opportunity to travel to such a beautiful, agriculturally driven place, but the people who surrounded me made the trip even more special. I know that I was able to make lifelong connections with the other participants, something that wouldn’t have been possible without this trip.”
Schmitt said she would also recommend a similar trip, adding it was an opportunity to broaden a participant’s knowledge about agriculture in the U.S. and across the globe. “You get to see the world, experience new cultures, and make new friends who have similar passions as you,” she said.