Charles Sturt students win top tertiary team at merino challenge

Two Western NSW locals with a passion for animals are part of a winning team at this year's National Merino Challenge (NMC).

Kayla Kopp, Peak Hill and Mitch Rubie, Forbes, are Charles Sturt University students and took part in the annual competition with the Charles Sturt team in Sydney over May 25-26.

The NMC is an initiative of Australian Wool Innovation which aims to provide young people with an understanding of the career opportunities within the sheep and wool industries.

More than 160 students took part in events to test their skills in areas such as feed budgeting, condition scoring, breeding objectives, wool typing and commercial classing of animals and fleeces.

Fourteen Charles Sturt students took part in the competition, with the highest four scores taken into consideration in the tertiary challenge.

The four highest scoring students, Kayla Kopp, Mitch Rubie, Patrick Crawley and Karissa De Belle, claimed first prize.

Mr Crawley was also named the individual tertiary student champion in the competition and Mr Rubie was awarded runner up.

Ms Kopp, from Towalba Merino Stud, is studying a PhD in Merino sheep at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga campus and said the NMC is a great opportunity to develop their skills.

This is the second that that Ms Kopp has been a part of the Charles Sturt winning team at the annual competition, with the first time being in 2015.

"It's still a great opportunity to meet with others, catch up with people that you know, meet with industry... all round it's a great learning experience as well as a competition. I guess winning is just a bonus," she said.

The Charles Sturt team trained for approximately eight weeks prior to the competition, which Ms Kopp and Mr Rubie both saying all that preparation helped when they finally got to Sydney.

The first year Charles Sturt student, who is studying a Bachelor of Agriculture Business Management, said it was great to see all the work they had done prior to the competition pay off in the end.

Mr Rubie, from 'Lachlan Merinos', Forbes, said being a part of the competition helped further his passion for the industry.

"It's helped further my knowledge and skills and I'll be able to take that back and use it at home," he explained.

It is a similar situation for Ms Kopp, explaining she gained more experience and knowledge of wool typing and pricing at the challenge, which she plans to use once back on the family farm.

"And that's something that I'll be able to use when I go back home to Towalba to the stud now that I'm a little bit more involved in the stud," she explained.

"Learning new things is always great, especially if I can use them at home as well."

One of the biggest things Mr Rubie took away from the event was hearing about the amazing work currently happening within the Merino industry.

He spoke highly of Lesley Prior who addressed the crowd as well as Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) CEO Stuart McCullough.

"She's the only wool grower in Great Britain and she just showed us that if you put your mind to something and block out everyone that doubts you, you can make a real thing of wool," Mr Rubie said.

"It was good to hear Stuart's perspective of the wool market and where it's going to head in the next 10 years."

Ms Kopp said as well as networking with the other students, she too was interested to hear from those making waves in the merino industry.

"You can learn from the industry leaders who are there on how to do things.. it's great insight, especially for some of the school students who go," she explained.

The team was trained by Charles Sturt lecturer in animal production and science, and member of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, Dr Susan Robertson and Ms Lexi Cesnick from Moses and Son.

The Charles Sturt team was sponsored by the Graham Centre, the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, the Charles Sturt School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Lachlan Merinos, Moses and Son, the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association, TA Field Estates Pty Ltd, The Rural Centre Orange-Molong-Manildra, and Riverina Wool Testers.