“Tom told me he was open to new ideas and he very much struck me as a forward-thinking farmer. The more I got to know him it became apparent that he was always striving to not just have his operation in line with best management practices but exceed them.”
When travel restrictions were enforced in March 2020, Kate identified an excellent opportunity to work more closely with Tom and Michell Pontarelli on farm through their key supplier EE Muir and Son’ agronomist Tom Andison.
“When the pandemic hit it meant I could utilise some of my skills as I was bound to my own backyard so to speak and while it felt frustrating initially it gave me an opportunity to really get my hands dirty again and work side by side with the agronomist,” Kate said.
“It was a silver lining opportunity to challenge myself from a professional point of view and walk the walk and talk the talk on the ground at a granular level and have discussions that were the foundation of farm decision making,” she said.
Tom and Michell were keen to use an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach to crop protection and review their spray practices.
“We spent a lot of time discussing the science behind key chemistry and the idea of protecting naturally occurring beneficial insects as well as looking at the spray application,” Kate said.
Before ‘social distancing’ or ‘quarantine’ was part of our daily vernacular, Corteva Agriscience’s North Queensland Territory Account Manager Kate Daly had the opportunity to make a rugby league pilgrimage to Brisbane for the State of Origin game as a guest of EE Muirs in the June of 2019.
It was the start of a relationship that’s returned dividends both professionally and personally for the Townsville based Manager.
“Not only did Queensland win the game, but I had the opportunity to meet local Burdekin producer Tom Pontarelli of Pontarelli Farms who was keen to learn more about Corteva and discuss his mixed farming operation,” Kate said.
2020 may have changed the world in a way that will mean the impacts of the global pandemic are felt for decades to come, but according to Corteva Agriscience’s North Queensland Territory Account Manager Kate Daly it wasn’t all bad - offering priceless opportunities to better connect with customers.
“We continued to talk in the months following that trip and at the end of 2019 Tom reached out to talk about what options might be available to him in regard to virus control and crop protection more broadly,”
Customer connection and practice change in a pandemic.
“By the end of 2020 we’d created an outline for preventative fungicide and insecticide sprays, utilised technology to map crops, mark insect and disease ‘hot’ spots and record the spray applications accordingly, with all sprays subject to change as per the crop monitoring process,” she said.
“The value in good communication and considered decisions with everyone at the same table cannot be underestimated.”
Kate said one of the key aspects to the practice change review was around spray application.
“We were able to focus on issues that were affecting profit per hectare and focus on spray application to ensure correct product rates and coverage was achieved,” she said.
“Pontarelli Farms had recently invested in a new rig which allow Tom to alter spray volume according to pest or disease pressure and ensure applications were effective.
“We used water sensitive paper out in the field to evaluate spray volumes, effected canopy penetration and crop coverage.
“While Tom had always calibrated his rig, he’d not specifically looked at his water rates in relation to crop coverage which could lead to poor product performance.
Kate said the relationship building done before and during the farm visits meant a solid base of trust had been built between herself, the EE Muirs agronomist, and Pontarelli Farms.
“The bottom line is that farmers are very time poor and they’re dealing with competing pressures every hour of every day. And we know that in the busy and difficult times, farmers will often revert to what they know for efficiency sake,”
“Being able to engage and educate meant that Tom and Michell were confident when we suggested different chemistry and they were quite empowered having the support to do so.
“Farming in north Queensland offers a whole new host of challenges and trying new chemistry and new management practices can be very daunting when you’ve already got millions of dollars’ worth of crop in the ground.
“I’m really happy that on behalf of Corteva Agriscience I’ve been able to play a role in Pontarelli Farms taking a leap of faith and being excited about their future seasons.”
For Tom Pontarelli, the support from Kate Daly and Corteva Agriscience has been invaluable.
“Every year is different of course and since we’ve been growing melons over the past decade there have been lots of learning experiences,” Tom said.
“We are at the stage in our business though where we want to step it up and we’ve invested a lot of time and money to make that happen. Being able to work with Kate has made me confident to change up aspects of my program,” he said.
“By the end of the season we were able to evaluate our program rigorously and now we feel much more prepared for the next.
“With the hands-on approach Kate was able to take with us in 2020 it feels like there is a real story to what we are doing now, and her interactions with us meant I didn’t feel like a number.“
"We’d meet every Monday morning and have farm operations discussions. This was always an important day operationally for us to discuss our strategies for the week ahead and there was always a real honest element to these conversations, not just a walk-in walk-out approach.
“You can really feel when someone is interested in your business and success and that’s important to me.”
Relationships formed like the one with Pontarelli Farms, and others like them, makes Kate Daly confident she’s chosen the right career.
Originally studying a Bachelor of Law when Kate Daly went to help on a family farm near Childers nearly 20 years ago – she hasn’t looked back.
“There are so many opportunities in this industry, and you get such a feeling of excitement when you see things come to fruition. Being part of a crop cycle is something I just love,” she said.
“Agriculture offers so many excellent opportunities for women and it’s a great industry to be involved in. There’s a real respect for anyone on the ground who has worked hard and has the knowledge to help.
“There was so much that COVID-19 stopped and made exceedingly difficult, but for me it was one of the busiest and most rewarding years of my life. Hard but worth it, and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.”
International Women’s Day is celebrated on Monday 8th of March.
The international theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”.