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“It’s a Gift”: Wool Industry Leader on the ARLP

1 August 2019

Bookham farmer, David Young, is at the tail-end of his incredible experience with Course 25 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), sponsored by the Australian Wool Innovation. Here, he reflects on how the program has re-ignited his desire to make a greater contribution to rural Australia, as well as his resolve to never be “one of those crusty old buggers sitting on a board, taking up a spot.”

Skim rural media for articles featuring primary producer, David Young, and you might spot him clad in an Australian Rural Leadership Foundation t-shirt–truly happy to wear his passions on his sleeve.

“The Foundation has given me a lot and being willing to give back is one of the biggest things I’ve gotten from this course,” David reflects.

The soon-to-be-graduate, credits a breadth of life experience, both as a farmer and a manager for Australian manufacturer, Philmac, to his openness to growth and change within the program.

“I think there are challenges in agriculture and farming where there’s a lack of willingness from the older generation to do what’s required to encourage change. They’re not overly willing to see the reins change hands,” he says.

“The Foundation has helped to focus my awareness on what’s required to be successful and proactive in your field, and to make a contribution that factors in those coming along behind you.”

David’s contributions as a leader currently include running an innovative prime lamb, wool, and beef operation with his wife Jan, on her family’s property near Bookham, NSW; being Deputy Chair of the NSW Sheepmeat Committee; sitting on the national Committee for Animal Health and Welfare for Sheep Producers Australia; and captaining his local fire brigade.

He had a long-term awareness of the work of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, and came to experience its programs firsthand as part of the inaugural Sheepmeat Industry Leadership Program in 2016.

“It was a great introduction, but I was always keen to get that fuller, immersive experience.” David, who grew up on a sheep property near Coolamon, says.

David was so committed to taking part in the ARLP, that he didn’t balk at reapplying a couple of years after his first attempt missed out.

“My first application left me with great feedback, and a number of things to work on, which I did. I was encouraged to have another crack, and I’m really glad I did,” David says.

“I’ve always been very results-driven, and used to working with smaller teams, where it’s been somewhat easier to get your message across. Within the ARLP, it certainly throws people together who are totally unlike you—from different places and with different ways of thinking. The way different people perceive you can come as a bit of a shock. You certainly become more self-aware,” he says.

“Straight away this helped me to get a greater understanding of where people come from, and how to find that common goal, which is what you often have to do in your industry. It really taught me to sit back and reflect.”

David says both the initial ARLP session in the Kimberley, and the penultimate session overseas, in Indonesia, stand out when he reflects on the program.

“Both were places I’d never been before. I’m an outdoors kind of person, but the Kimberley does push your limits, as does travelling to a different country. Going to Indonesia is not something I would have done otherwise, and I’m so glad I did. It’s a country with people from so many different backgrounds. It puts into perspective the challenges we face bringing along industries and interest groups back in Australia,” he says.

“Especially in my role with the animal health committees, you’re dealing with sensitive issues like mulesing and pain relief. One thing the program has given me is that added confidence to interact with diverse perspectives and to gently but politely challenge certain views to find a more conciliatory approach.”

In the world of wool, David says the next generation of leaders will play a key role in taking the industry forward.

“Wool is an environmentally sustainable fibre with huge potential, globally, but there’s still a large debate and process of education to be had. We need more leaders that have the knowledge to take the conversation forward, and I see a real interest from some of the younger ones in ag,” he says.

“I want to do a lot more for my industry, whilst encouraging interest from the next generation, and creating opportunities for them.”

David says the ARLP does provide leaders with a “huge leg-up” to achieve their goals for rural Australia.

“I’m terrifically appreciative of the opportunity I’ve been presented with by the AWI. I’m lucky to have experienced two programs that connect me with such an amazing network— the people on these programs are just so talented.”

To those considering applying for the ARLP, David says simply “Do it. The program takes a time commitment, and the support of your family, but you will end up with incredible growth, and a unique resource at the other end. The greatest thing I’ve gotten from the ARLP is that leadership cohort. To be able to draw on their experience and knowledge: it’s a gift.”