Optimism fuels ag leader’s future vision

For many people working in Australian agriculture, it’s in the blood. They’re from the land, they have been raised on the trials and rewards of primary production; they know where their future lies.

But as is the case for many in ag, David Keetch was raised in the suburbs, and felt the sector’s pull just as strongly from Adelaide as from any pastoral property. It was thanks to his high school offering agricultural science that David found his pathway into the compelling industry.

“I decided when I was studying agriculture in school that it would be an exciting field to work in. I won the ag science award at the end of year 12, and then took a Bachelor of Environmental Science at the University of Adelaide,” David, who is a Field Development Officer with Nufarm, says.

After graduating, David gained experience working on plant breeding with the University of Adelaide, but it wasn’t until he joined Nufarm that he was able to solidify a deeper connection with his industry.

“I got to have a much bigger interaction at the coal-face with growers on the ground, as well as agronomists and consultants … a lot of what I do is stewardship and extension, alongside the research trials.” He says.

For David, being an ingrained part of Australian agriculture comes naturally. He loves the exposure he gets to different farms; varying methods of production and the people that run the properties he visits. He is enmeshed in discussions of best practice, sustainable cropping inputs and resistance management. And, when the opportunity arose to take part in the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation’s Australian Agribusiness Program (AALP), it created a perfect confluence of motivation.

“Right at that time, I had been a regular attendee of the Crop Science Association of SA updates and field days as a member. Just as the AALP came up, the Association Chair asked whether I’d be interested in becoming the next Chair. At first I said I don’t have time for that. I have two very young boys who take up a lot of my spare time,” David explains.

“The AALP helped me take the time to reflect on my goals, and I decided that it really was something I would like to do, to have a role in the industry outside of my work. So, I agreed to take on the Vice Chair role, starting in July. It’s a little thing, really. We’re not talking about huge leadership aspirations, but it’s a step towards having another voice in the sector and taking some of what I have learned through the AALP and applying it.” David says.

Chief among the things David has taken from the AALP is the diverse strengths and experiences of his cohort.

“I’m a bit of an observer, and it was a big thing to be able to watch 15 brilliant minds and leadership styles in action; to watch where they excel and how they approach problems. It was impossible not to be inspired by their leadership” he says.

During a session in Canberra, three experts in Australian agriculture joined the cohort to discuss their views on where the sector is heading.

“We ended up talking about the communication of science and whether we are doing that well. Alison Penfold [rural leader and former senior political staffer] shared some resources with me … That access to people from the same sector with such varying experiences is key.” David said.

As someone who wants to be involved in ag for “the next 2-3 decades” David is committed to “humanising data” and to speaking to all Australians about how our food and fibre is produced.

“I’ve never once felt like an outsider in this industry,” he reflects. “I’m always welcome through the farm gate, but being an urban kid, I have that attachment to the city as well. Maybe there’s an advantage there in the future, and an opportunity to leverage that commonality. I get to engage with farmers, and I want to work on the opportunity to engage with urban Australia.”

As David continues stepping through farm gates in his work with Nufarm, he’s keenly observing the next generation preparing to take up the reins.

“They’re a bit younger than me and starting to have more influence on-farm. Many have gone away to study and then come back. They’re inquisitive and want to know more … I’m noticing more questions about the impacts of climate change on ag and the sustainability of current practice, and just asking these questions is very positive.”

One AALP lesson David is finding applicable in all areas of his life in ag, is the simple reminder that we can be prone to talking first and listening second.

“I’ve learned to listen a bit more, rather than choose to be defensive and throw facts and figures around. Listen and acknowledge what other people think, and where their concerns are coming from.”

As for how David plans to spend the coming 2-3 decades, it’s simple.

“I love what I do at Nufarm, and my goal for now is to continue to do that work and do it well. You don’t have to be a ‘manager’ to be a leader. I’m not alone, I work within a field development team and I can positively influence and mentor my colleagues … at the Crop Science Society, I hope to positively influence the delivery of our updates and the type of content in the updates to implement greater engagement with the next generation of farmers and consultants” he says.

“As an industry, we need to be careful to look beyond ‘group-think’, and keep having challenging discussions about ag.”

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