Dione Howard, 22, is a sixth generation farmer from the beautiful Riverina Region of Australia who grew up surrounded by sheep and wool on her family’s Illawarra Merino Stud. Now studying to become a veterinarian at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, Dione hopes to specialise in sheep. She also has a passion for bridging the rural/urban divide and sharing her story of the wool supply chain.

I love being able to share the story of wool and its unique qualities with school students and play a role in bridging the divide between rural and urban communities"

I love being able to share the story of wool and its unique qualities with school students and play a role in bridging the divide between rural and urban communities"

At THE event for young people in the Merino world – Australian Wool Innovations’(AWI) National Merino Challenge – Dione has been both a competitor and a volunteer. At the two day convention she has been exposed to all aspects of the Merino industry including wool handling, valuing, condition scoring and nutrition – all skills she will later use in her career as a veterinarian.

Dione feels it is invaluable to understand the whole supply chain in order to be successful in her chosen field of agriculture and is grateful to the opportunities given to her by AWI. In 2016 she was part of an AWI pilot program called the Young Wool Grower Study Tour, where she spent 10 days in China and Hong Kong watching wool go from bales to garments. She saw how the fashion market was consumer driven and how quickly it changed from one season to the next.

Realising wool production cannot change as quickly she began to understand how imperative it was for Australia to continue to produce a consistent, biosecure, clean and green product. She saw, too, how her career as a vet will be important to that product by ensuring optimal animal health and production and enhancing growth and output to supply a quality fibre.

Knowing the story of wool and how as a vet she will influence it is one thing; communicating it to the wider world is another, and to this end Dione was excited to be named an Art4Agriculture Young Farming Champion (YFC). The YFC program gave Dione skills in media and presentation, allowing her to engage with those beyond agriculture, and to hone her techniques in schools with The Archibull Prize. By spending time with students Dione can take the story of the wool supply chain to a whole new audience and to the next generation.

“I love being able to help people take care of their animals to give them the best life possible – whether they have one dog or one thousand sheep! I love being able to share the story of wool and its unique qualities with school students and play a role in bridging the divide between rural and urban communities"

Dione, you are on a mission and we are right behind you. Agriculture is consistently moving towards consumer demands and we are all going to have to learn how we can best address this change. The urban rural divide is a challenge we all need to overcome in today's world and by providing understanding to both halves is one of the first steps. Great work Dione and good luck!