I rode into agtech on a broom handle

J Matthew Pryor

J Matthew Pryor / January 06, 2022

3 min read––– views

My journey into agtech started with a broom handle - in a very roundabout fashion.

I didn't grow up on a farm exactly, but my parents owned and operated two largeish hobby farms. Both were wool sheep and beef cattle operations, of varying sizes, and questionable economic success.

A roustabout by any other name

People who think shearers are well paid have never worked in a shearing shed. Hotter, harder, less forgiving work cannot be found. Nobody wants to be there really, least of all the sheep.

The lowest job in the shearing shed org chart is the roustabout - that was me. Basically, everything that nobody else wanted to do - and at double speed, lest you slow the shearers down (who get paid piece rate - so keep out of their way).

Most of it involved wielding a straw broom at high speed, cleaning up after each sheep was shorn, and making sure the boards are clear for the next one.

Three weeks of that work, mid-summer where the inside temperature is never below 40°C, was money well earned. Despite the heat, and a large expansion of my swear word vocabulary, I can't remember any other summer job as clearly or fondly.

An aspiring doctor trades a broom for a personal computer

My first cut-out check felt like a huge sum at the time - $500 that was unquestionably all mine. I blew the lot on a Microbee kit-form personal computer. I had barely held a screwdriver before, let alone soldered electronics but somehow I got it to work - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Much to my father's disappointment, I was entirely consumed by this new personal computer phenomenon and switched my tertiary study plans from medicine to electronic engineering.

From tech back to ag

Despite some questionable career advice (in 1984 my careers advisor told me that there was no future in software and I best learn to build computers since they would soon be programming themselves), the switch to software was definitely the right move. 15 years in tech was a wild ride and the ups and downs of the original dot-com era held so many lessons. Being able to apply those lessons to supporting impact and innovation in ag is exactly where I want to be. I could never have guessed that a summer job on the end of a broom would take me full circle back to agriculture - but I am so glad it did.