Buoyant Aussies impress French visitor

Photo of French exchange student Dorothee de Romemont

By Richard Henderson

[Photo (left) by Richard Henderson: A "valuable experience": French exchange student Dorothee de Romemont.]

Australian graingrowers are more positive about farming than their French counterparts, according to an exchange student studying with the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG) in north-west Victoria.

French exchange student Dorothee de Romemont has only been in Australia for two months but has been struck by local attitudes towards farming.

"Farmers in France are more political and focus on what they receive from the government," she says.

Dorothee, 19, studies at France"s University of Agriculture, Food Industry and Management (ISA) at Beauvais, north-west of Paris.

The Birchip group has been hosting French agricultural students since 1996 as part of an informal relationship that has been developed over the years with French agricultural universities.

"French agricultural students have practical programs that require them to work in the field in an English-speaking country for at least six weeks," explains BCG chief executive Alexandra Gartmann. "It began in 1996 when we were contacted by a single French student through one of our sponsors.

"He related his experiences when he returned home and since then we"ve hosted up to three French students each year, usually in May and June when they can provide important labour."

Ms Gartmann says the experience provides students with an understanding of Australian agriculture and rural life, and their English improves as well.

"We"ve also hosted students for up to four months while they complete research projects. In 2001 a student completed a project on spot form of net blotch in barley, while in 2003 another did her Masters on greenhouse gas emissions from broadacre cropping in the region."

Ms de Romemont is the daughter of a flour miller, and is keen for a career in food marketing. "The food here is a bit different," she says tactfully. "But the people are very friendly and this has been a valuable experience.

"Australia is similar to France in some ways, although our farms aren"t as big and we don"t have as many sheep."