Dan Rolls took the scenic route on his way to studying agriculture, from the 'burbs to the Kimberley and back to Ballarat with a Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology
Dan went from high school in the suburbs to working on a farm, but it was a detour in an old caravan up the coast and through the Kimberley that put him on the path to a Bachelor of Agriculture and Technology at Melbourne Polytechnic.
In Kununurra Dan ended up working on the Ord River Irrigation Scheme ‘growing and developing hybrid seeds technology, when you grow two different strains of a plant and breed them to make a new hybrid strain, to grow a more resilient plant with more desirable traits’.
‘When I worked in Kununurra I was working under three really qualified agronomists so the course I’m doing at the moment I’m majoring in agronomy, which is crop sciences,’ Dan says.
‘I looked at what these guys were doing and I thought “well how did they get to that point?” and the degree was the next step to get there for me at that point.
‘That job there really spurred me on to go the next step and do further qualifications in the field.’
Along with the inspiration from those agronomists, Dan also has ‘a love for how plants grow and everything in the plant kingdom’.
‘I’m interested in agricultural systems, every type of agricultural system in Australia, be it intensive horticulture, viticulture, cropping, pasture.’
Now he’s juggling third year studies at the Epping campus with a full-time job in Ballarat, which he secured after a work placement for his course.
At soil science company Precision Agriculture he started off being a field tech, taking soil samples or doing surveys, testing soil conductivity.
‘Now I’ve moved into a specialist role so I go out and advise farmers about where Precision Agriculture techniques can help them increase their yields,’ Dan says.
‘I’ve probably visited about 400 farms this year.’
It’s fair to say he likes to get his hands dirty, but does a soil scientist have the best garden at home? Turns out, no.
‘I just bought a house and it’s a barren wasteland but I’m very committed to improving the soil, come spring,’ Dan says.
‘I used to grow a couple of hundred tomato plants every year and make sauce and chutney and all that sort of stuff.
‘Now that I’m almost a fully fledged soil scientist I should be able to do a better job of it, I’m committed to have a decent garden here.’
To gain his bachelor degree, Dan has three subjects to go, including a research project. The flexibility offered by Melbourne Polytechnic meant he could power through extra subjects last year, so he could get back to work this year.
‘I didn’t just do that course to get the bit of paper at the end, I did the course to actually absorb the information,’ he says.
‘The teachers have been fantastic, very knowledgeable, very practical too in how they teach, so it resonates a little bit stronger with you and they’re actually giving you practical solutions.’