Jo Newton is part of a growing group of bright young minds seeing agriculture as an incubation hub for cutting edge research. Jo grew up in suburban Melbourne and one of her fondest memories is watching the shearing at a friend’s woolshed. This led to a university degree and a PhD, and to her current role as a research scientist for Agriculture Victoria. This, in turn, has led to Jo’s desire to see agriculture perceived as a rewarding career pathway.
Jo scored in the highest percentile in the country in her high school exams. With the smarts to study medicine or veterinary science, she chose to set her brilliant mind to agriculture. At university Jo immersed herself in her new world, excelling at her studies and gaining practical experience working with sheep at Stanley Vale Merino Stud – a relationship she continues to this day.
Today the world sees Jo working as a research scientist on the Gardiner Dairy Foundation initiated Project, ImProving Herds. The project is demonstrating the impact investing in genetics and herd improvement has on the bottom line for dairy farmers. For example, the project has recently been able to show cows sired by high genetic merit bulls make greater contributions to farm profit over their lifetime than other cows do.
In addition to research Jo takes every opportunity to encourage others to follow her into agriculture. This has included presenting to visiting students from South Dakota State University, and facilitating a careers panel for Melbourne University agriculture students. She mentors post-graduate students and, in March this year, instigated an opportunity for students and early career researchers/ professionals to have access to two eminent international researchers and science communicators from the United States and Ireland.
Then she has visited local high schools, including her old high school where the school farm formally introduced her to agriculture many years ago, to talk about careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and, after a three year break, will be heading back into schools with The Archibull Prize, an innovative program designed to connect primary and secondary students with farmers.
“I’m passionate about ensuring that research outcomes don’t just reside in scientific journals. We have world-class research facilities and minds in Australia but haven’t always done a very good job of translating research into action. I think projects like ImProving Herds, where research and extension are intrinsically woven together, is a good way to work towards achieving this. I really enjoy the challenge of collaborating with diverse industry stakeholders to ensure that the work we are doing is relevant, useful and delivered in a way that the industry can use. For example, in a ‘typical week’ I may be working with economists, farm consultants, farmers, vets, extension staff and breed societies. At 16, I was told I was too smart to study agriculture. I’m passionate about being involved in changing the stigma surrounding careers in agriculture and hope that one day every young person, regardless of their background, views agriculture as a rewarding career pathway."
Awesome work Jo- we love the fact you are trying so hard to make research turn into changes within the industry. Agriculture is great for living a varied career and we think that is sometimes what makes it so rewarding to so many. Keep up your efforts to promote the industry in such a positive light!