Molecular scientist takes part in world congress for young farmers

Published 6 September 2007

A molecular scientist, who raises beef cattle on her property at Bentley in Northern NSW in her spare time, was one of 10 people in Australia to be selected to take part in the World Congress of Young Farmers in Argentina.

Frances Shapter, a researcher with Southern Cross University’s Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, has recently returned from the Congress and a week-long study tour, which was organised by the Australian National Farmers’ Federation.

Frances joined the other participants, who came from all states of Australia and included a dairy farmer, beef producers, cotton, vegetable and grain growers, landcare coordinator, youth agricultural training manager and representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). They took part in the three-day world congress in Buenos Aires and then toured Argentina and Brazil, visiting research centres and farms.

“It was an amazing experience. Everywhere we went we got an incredible reception,” Frances said. “I learnt an enormous amount from the experience, particularly with regard to world trade implications, economics and the agricultural research and production undertaken in both countries.

“We are now looking for opportunities for collaborative research projects with Brazil’s equivalent of the CSIRO, EMBRAPA, and major universities. There are some fantastic opportunities there.

“Brazil has a similar environment and some common primary industries with Australia and has the potential to be a strong market competitor. They are the largest exporter of grass fed beef, sugar cane and coffee in the world.”

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) chose 10 delegates from more than 100 applicants to attend the congress.

“With agriculture crucially intertwined in the leading issues of the day including climate change, water and the environment and dominating headlines the world over, the NFF is excited to see our young farmers seize the opportunity to discuss ideas and share experiences with their international counterparts,” NFF president David Crombie said.

“From over 100 applications the NFF had just 10 places to fill, with young farmers and farming professionals from across Australia bringing diverse backgrounds and a passion to engage other young farmers from around the world to advance agriculture.”

Frances grew up in the Lismore area, completing her schooling at Lismore High. She studied agricultural science and then spent a year teaching before heading overseas.

“I came home to Lismore and when I couldn’t find a teaching job I met with Peter Baverstock (recently retired as Pro Vice-Chancellor Research). He was fantastic and encouraged me to do some lab work with the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics, she said.

“I worked there for 12 months and then a PhD came up.”

She has recently submitted the study, funded by the Grain Foods Cooperative Research Centre, which investigated the use of Australian native grasses as novel sources of germplasm for cereal improvement programs.

She is now working with the Centre for Plant Conservation Genetics on an Australian Research Council project investigating the use of native grasses as an alternative food

Photo: Frances Shapter, third from right, visits a dairy plant during her tour of Argentina.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.