JOANNA Newton maybe city born and bred but her passion for sheep has paved the way to a win the inaugural Peter Westblade Scholarship.The $10,000 scholarship has been designed to foster young people interested in a career in the Australian sheep and wool industry.
Honouring Riverina wool grower, the late Peter Westblade, the scholarship was the brain child of industry specialists Craig Wilson, Sally Martin and Marty Moses.
Miss Newton, 22, grew up in Melbourne's eastern suburbs with no family farming background.
Her interest in sheep genetics was encouraged by agricultural subjects at high school and family holidays to a sheep farm at Hamilton.
Studying for a PhD in sheep reproduction at the University of New England, Joanne completed an honours project in quantitative genetics and internal parasites in sheep.
"I feel there is a big gap between pure research scientists and farm extension work,'' she said.
"I am concentrating on yearling lambing performance because there are ways we can select for an early maturing ewe able to join at eight months.
"But there are still big issues around collating accurate reproductive data on-farm.''
Joanne said the best advice she had received was to turn a job she loved into a career.
"For some reason I have always been fascinated by sheep,'' she said.
Joanne was one of three finalists selected from a field of 33 applicants from around Australia.
They were interviewed by a panel of seven industry experts including agribusiness consultant David Sackett and Peter Westblade's daughter Louise Westblade.
The two other finalists were Luke Davis, of Brewarrina, NSW, and Richard Manion, Bowna, NSW.
Wagga Wagga sheep classer Craig Wilson said the scholarship would provide opportunities to network with other industry likeminded people, and be exposed to leading Merino studs from across Australia.
It also offered the chance to be involved with Australia's biggest commercial genetic trial, the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino Challenge.
Mr Wilson described the calibre of the applicants as extraordinary.
NSW DPI sheep and wool officer Sally Martin said the scholarship added value to existing secondary and tertiary education funds.
Ms Martin said an auction last night during the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino challenge dinner raised a total of $33,000 for the scholarship fund.
"There are some amazing young people in this industry,'' she said.
Luke Davis, 26, had been forced to use a helicopter to leave his family's flood bound 10,867ha Brewarrina property for the scholarship interview.
"We run 6000 Merino ewes and have 5200 sheep inside the (flood) levy bank,'' Mr Davis said.
His family run a flock of Pastora blood ewes, averaging 20 micron and cutting fleece weights of 6kg.
Mr Davis worked on a feed budget last year of 3.36 million DSE days for the station's sheep flock.
"In November 2010 I was told by a ram breeder I knew nothing about sheep so that spurred me into action,'' he said.
"Up until that point I had been satisfied with chasing sheep, lamb marking and playing in the sun - my brain had atrophied since school and uni.''
Finalist, Richard Manion, 27, manages the 2000ha property Wingadel, near Albury, for Meurer Pastoral Company.
He oversees a flock of 5000 Pastora, Hazeldean and Greendale blood Merino ewes, averaging 18.5 micron.
"I am on a massive learning curve with Merino genetics and this scholarship (process) is a good opportunity to gather information, and take it straight back into a large Merino flock,'' Mr Manion said.
"The performance information coming out of the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino Challenge is one of the best tools we could use in a commercial situation.''