A lecturer, a student, and a graduate from Charles Sturt University tell their stories on how they are making a difference in their country communities, and globally, in the lead up to International Day of Rural Women.
The research student
After completing a master’s degree in agronomy in the Philippines, Jhoana Opena wanted to improve the sustainability of one of the world’s staple foods – rice.
She is now a research student at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences.
“Having moved from a tropical climate in the Philippines to Wagga Wagga as an adult I had no idea about temperate rice growing in Australia,” Jhoana said.
“I sat down with rice growers and did a scoping study in south-east Australia to find possible solutions for weed management on water-saving systems for rice growing, such as drill-sowing and delayed permanent water methods.
“As weeds are a major problem for these water-saving strategies, I am looking at alternative integrated management options which are more sustainable than sole reliance on herbicides.
“Australia is a global provider of rice contributing to food security around the world with our perfect climate for growing this crop. The rice produced here is also high quality, including production of low-glycemic rice,” Jhoana said.
While Jhoana remains based in Wagga Wagga her expertise has expanded to global shores. She helps in developing a package of weed management practices in rice in countries such as Laos and Cambodia, while she completes her thesis on the impact of pasture legume phase on the seed bank establishment and growth of barnyard grass in drill-sown rice.
Dr Jennifer Manyweathers is passionate about helping stakeholders navigate decisions on important matters such as animal disease management and biosecurity, to assist their preparedness for complex global issues.
Growing up in Caringbah in Sydney’s south-east she experienced a taste of country life when she moved to Tamworth with her family at the age of six.
She returned to Caringbah to finish high school due to a job transfer for her father, then spent time in Japan, to pursue a career in organic chemistry.
Always having a keen interest in animals, she decided to become a vet and moved to Bega to work with dairy cattle.
Taking a break from practice, she returned to Japan to work as a lecturer in science communication, during which time her three children were born.
Upon returning to Australia, she completed a PhD at the University of Western Australia looking at the Hendra Virus vaccine, and why some people were vaccinating horses and others not.
She then applied for a post-doctoral position at Charles Sturt University and looked at Australia’s preparedness for foot and mouth disease, through a social science lens in partnership with CSIRO.
Jennifer was a researcher at The Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, an alliance between Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries for 4.5 years before commencing as a lecturer in ruminant health and epidemiology at the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences in 2021.
She is well regarded for her ability as an excellent science communicator who engages with livestock producers as part of her biosecurity research.
A vet by training, Jennifer is a big believer in taking the time to consult and engage with people on their concerns when it comes to adopting new vaccines or making decisions about other challenging circumstances.
She believes that applying a social science-based approach to tackling scientific vet questions is key to developing plans that are in sync with community needs.
“People won’t be pigeon-holed,” Jennifer said. “Ensuring stakeholders are informed and understand the risks when it comes to decision making on important matters such as bushfires and drought resilience can make all the difference in people’s preparedness for climate change and other issues.
One of the projects Jennifer is working on at present focuses on electronic identification in sheep and the barriers for farmers to adopt this approach.
Jennifer has become well versed in remote working during the pandemic, being based at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga while maintaining a family five hours away in Tathra where her husband and three children live.
Dione Howard started making her mark on the agricultural industry from a young age, taking the lead in school agricultural events.
Now, she is kicking goals on a global scale advising on herd and flock level health, which includes monitoring for diseases to assist relations with international trading partners.
Dione is a recent graduate of the double degree Bachelor of Veterinary Biology/ Bachelor of Veterinary Science in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences.
She enjoys working directly with the local farming community in Wagga Wagga in her role as District Veterinarian at Riverina Local Land Services (LLS) at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga.
Growing up in a farming family in Milbrulong, a small town between Lockhart and Henty close to Wagga Wagga, Dione was fortunate to have people around her from an early age who showed her the ropes in the agricultural world, allowing her to ‘fly’ in this industry as quickly as possible.
One of three children, Dione’s family farms sheep, and mixed cropping.
“Growing up on the farm and having a supportive ag teacher gave me a great foundation in the sector I ultimately wanted to establish my career in,” Dione said.
“I learnt that putting my hand up and asking for help or volunteering was the way to get as much exposure in this industry as quickly as possible.
“The opportunities that followed during my vet degree at Charles Sturt University complemented the course, as I was able to participate in things like meat judging competitions and becoming a Young Farming Champion.
“It confirmed that studying and working in a rural and regional community was a viable career pathway, as I was originally tossing up whether I should go to the city.
“I soon realised women can have a vibrant and exciting career in the country, and the communities here are very supportive to help you get there,” Dione said.