The Cotton Industry Awards celebrate excellence, innovation and leadership within the Australian Cotton Industry. As announced in the Spring edition of The Field, the 2015 recipient of the Chris Lehmann Trust Young Achiever of the Year Award, which is sponsored by Bayer CropScience, is Ross Burnett.
Ross was born and grew up on “Barkool”, a property in the Emerald region that his parents, Ian and Rhonda, had drawn in a ballot in 1981. Back then it was an undeveloped irrigation farm, and they started growing cotton in 1984. Ross had always been interested in cotton farming as a viable option for his life, and so he undertook a Bachelor of Agricultural Science from the University of Queensland and returned to “Barkool” to follow that path.
From very early on, Ross realised the benefits for cotton growers of having representation at the local level through the Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association (CHCGIA), so he became involved with the Association about ten years ago. Ross sees the industry as evolving from year to year, which offers challenges and opportunities for improvement and growth. His characteristic attitude of seeking the best outcomes to any challenge must have been obvious to others in the Association, for, soon enough, Ross was invited to be part of the executive. He served as CHCGIA President until 2014, and during that time he succeeded in sharing his vision of achieving greater outcomes through networking and information sharing, greater involvement with growers and greater connections between them and the industry at large.
Ross also used his time as President to develop partnerships with other organisations that would benefit the cotton industry. One notable example is the creation in 2013 of a scholarship for Studies in Cropping in partnership with the Emerald Agricultural College, where a selection panel applies a set of criteria to choose up to two recipients per year for the scholarships. Ross attributes this achievement, like pretty much all of his many others, to team work, giving credit to those around him who contributed to turning the vision into a reality.
Innovation and cooperation are also evident in Ross’s own farming practices. As an example, he has a number of research projects going, including some trial work conducted by the federal government’s Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC). Ross is also a firm believer in the advantages of new technology, in particular precision agriculture, and he was an early adopter of the John Deere GPS system, having used it since 2004. Some of the benefits that Ross has experienced with precision farming include less waste, uniform seed placement and ease of operation. On a related note, Ross also comments on the huge developments the industry has seen from the days of basket pickers to the current availability of cotton pickers such as the John Deere 7760, with all it has to offer in terms of increased comfort, productivity and, ultimately, profit.
Ross has always chosen John Deere for his agricultural machinery needs, as he appreciates the high quality of their products and knows the excellent service and back up offered locally by Vanderfield Emerald, a team lead by manager Mark Tosswill. In Ross’s experience, the support provided by Mark and his team is essential to successfully operating in his business, and is therefore much appreciated. Ross also sincerely appreciates Vanderfield Emerald and, in particular, Mark’s own involvement with the local community. This engagement is shown in a number of ways, including sponsorships and participation in events, and, in Ross’s view, these strong links and real support of the local primary industry, result in many benefits.
One project that Ross has had for some time is to develop a tailor-made course for CGA executives. Having completed a number of courses for leaders and company directors, and having held roles of responsibility in the cotton industry himself, Ross would be the ideal person to develop an industry-specific course to help participants in areas such as roles and responsibilities, risks and corporate governance procedures. Ross points out that the course is not a reality yet, which is understandable given his various commitments to Barkool and other fronts. When this article goes to print, the 600 hectares of cotton that Ross planted in September-October will still have some time to go before the March-April picking season. This may give him some time to further develop this project, but, in any case, with his proven time management and team development skills there is no doubt the course, and any other endeavours Ross gets involved with, will come about at the right time.