Perspectives Online

From Farm Life to Queensland - CALS senior Robby Manning derives maximum benefits from her ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ educational opportunity in Australia.
By Terri Leath

Manning (top, overlooking Brisbane) studied agricultural business at the University of Queensland’s Brisbane and Gatton campuses. Near Gatton, she learned about wildlife restoration efforts and encountered animals, such as these Koala bears (below).
All Photos Courtesy Robby Manning

Sure, she fed a wallaby, scuba dived at the Great Barrier Reef, threw a boomerang and had her photo taken near the Sydney Opera House. But Robby Manning’s excursion to Australia last summer was anything but a typical tourist jaunt.

She saw the sights on weekends, but on weekdays, she saw the sites — swine, poultry and dairy units, wineries and wool processors.

A senior double major in agricultural business management and accounting (with a minor in economics), Manning was Down Under on agricultural business when she traveled to the University of Queens-land last June for 4 weeks’ study abroad.

The trip, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Study Abroad Program, was led by Dr. Morgan Morrow, CALS professor of animal science and Extension swine veterinary specialist. Manning, with a travel scholarship from, was one of 14 students — 11 of whom were from CALS — who studied at the university’s main campus in Brisbane and its agricultural campus in Gatton.

“The Gatton campus was much like the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State,” said Manning, who spent the majority of her time in Australia learning extensive lessons about agricultural business, marketing and production and the global policies at work there.

She now can tell you that India, the European Union, the United States and Eastern Europe are the main dairy producers internationally, whereas the European Union, New Zealand and Australia are the main exporters (in the form of milk powder); that Australia and New Zealand use exports to generate income, while others (like the U.S.) use exports as a means of handling surpluses.

She can reveal that currently American farmers receive 40 cents per liter for their milk, while Australian farmers receive 30 cents, and Japanese farmers receive $1.20; that Australia has more of a pasture-based industry, whereas the U.S. uses the conservation of forages such as hay and silage.

The Jondaryan Woolshed (top), Toowoomba Hills Estate Winery (middle) and the Gatton campus swine unit were among sites toured by Manning (bottom, holding a piglet).
She offers fascinating facts among the stats: It’s quite common in Australia for goats to become feral, she’ll tell you, adding that, “in fact, the only domestic species which will return to its original wild state as rapidly as a goat is the domestic cat.”

She can tell you why the sheep and goat industries are some of Australia’s most vital.

Specifically, she’ll inform you that Australia’s “total wool production in 2000-01 was valued at $2.5 billion or around 7 percent of total agricultural output” and that “China currently purchases about 55 percent of Australia’s wool production.”

Manning calls her report of all the above “Experiencing the Australian Life through a Country Girl’s Eyes,” but the information delivery is pure ag econ major.

Of course, she is a country girl. Her home, a Jamesville address, is actually in a rural community called Farm Life. “I was raised on a farm in northeastern North Carolina. My family farms, mainly cotton — 900 acres of cotton — also peanuts, soybeans and wheat,” she says. “This gives me a good background for ag business.”

Truth be told, her agricultural marketing education began well before she came to N.C. State, even before she graduated from Williamston High School. It began on the farm of her maternal grandparents, Seth and Rachel Perry.

“My grandma grows pumpkins and sells them at her house. All the grandchildren would pick them and load them on trailers,” says Manning, who began helping at the age of seven. “That was my first experience marketing produce.”

The farm’s livestock sparked her interest in the swine industry and her participation in 4-H livestock activities raising lambs, Manning says. “All that led me to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

Add to that the influence of her brother, Seth Manning, a 2005 CALS Agricultural Institute graduate. “My brother went to N.C. State and was a brother in Farm House,” says Manning. “I had visited UNC but didn’t get the warm fuzzy feeling that I did when I visited my brother at State, where the people were so friendly.”

She lists among those friendly people Agricultural and Resource Economics Department faculty members Bob Usry, Dr. Arnie Oltmans and Guido van der Hoeven, her adviser.

“I got to know them all my freshman year through the Agribusiness/NAMA Club,” she says. “Getting involved on campus opens so many doors.”

At N.C. State, Manning has been recipient of three CALS scholarships — the Fred G. Bond Tobacco Scholarship, the AgCarolina Financial Scholarship and the T. Newton and Josephine Cook Scholarship — as well as the Thad Eure Scholarship from the N.C. Association of Register of Deeds. All are merit awards.

Along with Agribusiness/NAMA, which she served as vice president her sophomore year, Manning is treasurer of the Alpha Zeta honor fraternity and a member of the Accounting Society in the College of Management.

Her involvement extends to the community, as well. She has worked as a lifeguard at the Farm Life swimming pool; as a substitute teacher, covering K-12, with Martin County schools; and as a restaurant hostess and waitress. (“It’s good public relations experience.”)

The 14-member study-abroad group — including 11 students from CALS — gathers near a bottle tree as they tour the Gatton campus. Later they traveled to Stradbroke Island (bottom), which is off the coast of Brisbane.
She also lends a hand in the auto mechanic business of her dad, Robert Manning, assisting with books and billing in the office, changing oil out in the shop. And when customers drive in for annual auto inspections, she’s licensed to perform those, too.

Her mom, Tina Manning, the Martin County Register of Deeds, “is a volunteer on the Rescue Squad back home and I help with that, too,” Manning adds.

“I’m a driven person. I want to get the job done,” she says. “I’m a neat freak: I want the numbers to balance. I want it to be perfect.”

That perfectionism extends to her hobbies of scrap booking and photography — which she put to good use recording her many experiences in Australia.

While at the Gatton campus, Manning visited the Helidon Hills, where she learned about the wildlife restoration program there and encountered such animals as the wallaby, kangaroo, emu and echidna. She fed exotic birds in the Bunya Mountains and sampled wines at the Toowoomba Hills Estate Winery.

“This was a small wine operation where the grapes were grown on the side of the mountain and transformed into great-tasting wine. I learned many different things about the wine industry and the production process,” she says.

A trip to Queensland’s Gold Coast was “my first time seeing topography that included the mountains and the beach intertwined,” Manning recalls. “While walking on the beach, you have the crystal-clear water on one side, large city buildings on the opposite side and the beautiful Australian mountains in front of you.”

Part of Manning’s study abroad included a paper on Indigenous Australians, the Aborigines, researching their history and how many of them now live, selling authentic tools and artifacts to survive.

“The Indigenous Australians are very grateful to the tourists who are interested in their artwork. This has provided a much needed source of income,” she says. “Possibly one of the most interesting places that I visited was the Musgrave Park Cultural Centre. This was an Indigenous Australian operation in which they provided information to tourists about their aboriginal ancestors.”

There she learned how to draw Indigenous Australian artwork and to throw the boomerang, and she enjoyed performances of ritual dances by Indigenous Australians.

Her group also visited Stradbroke Island, which reminded her of North Carolina’s Ocracoke. Other destinations included the University of Queensland’s Animal Clinic, Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens, the Queensland Art Gallery and Museum, and the Australia Zoo, famous as the park directed by the late Steve Irwin.

After the study-abroad program concluded, Manning and some other members of the group extended their time in Australia to discover some other sites, such as Cairnes, the location of the famous Great Barrier Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef was a blissful spot that I am so very glad I decided to go and experience,” she says. “I was given the opportunity to go scuba diving for the first time in my life, and it was just so amazing to swim with the magnificent marine life there.”

At Musgrave Park Cultural Centre, Indigenous Australians (front) share their history and culture with an NCSU study-abroad group, including CALS student Robby Manning (standing, third from right), attending sessions at the University of Queensland.
Courtesy Robby Manning
Back in Raleigh, Manning says the study-abroad experience has benefited her both academically and personally. “I learned about the agricultural production in another country and was exposed to several different activities that influenced my outlook on agricultural opportunities beyond what I could ever imagine,” she says. “I definitely did a lot of growing up while I was in Australia. I developed new ideas and a brand-new outlook on life.”

Up next, she’s planning to intern with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, working with accounting-related investigations, such as audits and frauds.

After graduation, she plans to pursue her master’s degree in accounting, become a CPA and then go home and start a business. “With this degree I can help out in my community,” she says. “I chose this major because of my agriculture background and because I like numbers and helping businesses make a profit.

“I’m geared to become a business leader.”