Dr Cole recognised for agricultural service


LONG-TIME Vervale resident Mary Cole was awarded Cardinia Shire’s Senior Citizen of the Year title in recognition of her many years work as a microbiologist specialising in research, teaching, and implementation of sustainable farming and soil health practices.

At the Australia Day awards presentation, Cardinia Shire Mayor Jack Kowarzik paid tribute to Dr Cole, describing her as “a dedicated farmer and advocate for regenerative agriculture”.

“With 55 years of experience, she volunteers her time to assist fellow farmers in adopting regenerative techniques and promoting sustainable and resilient farming,” Cr Kowarzik said.

Dr Cole and her husband Alan Cole (OAM) have lived on their 60-acre farm in Vervale, near Koo-Wee-Rup in South Gippsland, for close to 55 years. Dr Cole grew up in Far North Queensland near the Atherton tablelands before moving to Victoria in the 1960s.

The Coles bought the then dairy farm in 1969 and have since developed it into a model example of sustainable and biological farming.

“As a dairy farm, there was not a tree on the property when we first moved here,” she said.

The farm is now alive with plant life and crops, testament to Dr Cole’s methods. “We have not put a drop of chemical on the farm since we have been here,” she said.

Dr Cole is a well known academic, plant pathologist and soil microbiologist who provides instruction, workshops and courses in sustainable agricultural practices to farmers, students and consultants around the world.

With a Phd in plant pathology from Monash University, Dr Cole has had a long and distinguished career in academia. She originally worked in the viticulture industry with a number of large winegrowers and was part of a project that developed an organism to combat pests that damage vines without the need for chemical intervention.

Dr Cole is an Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne and she supervises PhD students as well as providing summer vacation experiences in soil microbiology and composting for graduates in the field. As well as this, Dr Cole’s business takes on a number of local Year 10 students undertaking work experience at the laboratory every year.

In 1980, Dr Cole founded the company AgPath at the Vervale property and its mission since then has been to introduce farmers to biological farming with an emphasis on improving soil health and productivity to give farms a sustainable future while raising awareness of alternative farming methods and generating ideas for the long term health of the planet.

AgPath provides laboratory testing in many fields of fungal and microbial pathology, as well as consulting services in agriculture, viticulture, environment and food manufacturing. The laboratory also provides services in water and soil testing, validates commercial biological products, provides expert witness statements and whole farm management procedures. The groundswell of interest in these practices is evident with the company consulting to more than 1500 customers in the past year alone.

Dr Cole’s continuing ambition is to teach people about both the benefits and the absolute need for sustainable farming practices.

“We have done a lot of damage to our farm land in Australia over the years and if we are to continue to produce enough quality food, it is important that we move away from chemicals and towards methods such as composting,” she said.

“The medical literature shows a lot of illness comes from toxic chemicals and the more we can get the chemicals out of the environment the healthier we should be as a community.”

Dr Cole is also collaborating with the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance on a trial of the use of hemp plants in building materials. She said use of concrete in the long term could be perilous as worldwide stocks in quality sand dwindle.

“It has been shown that hemp fibre is a versatile product that can be used to make excellent and fit for purpose building products,” she said.

Dr Cole and her colleagues from the Australian Industrial Hemp Alliance will be at Farm World exhibiting products and talking on the untapped potential of the product.

Whether it be in her roles in academia, consulting or education of farmers, she has no intention of slowing down.

– Warragul Gazette

Gippsland Farmer

The Gippsland Farmer is a monthly agricultural newspaper reporting on rural news and distributed FREE and direct to an area covering from Cann River through to South Gippsland. For more than 40 years Gippsland Farmer has reported on a range of issues and industries including dairy, beef, vegetables, sheep, goats, poultry, organic farming, and viticulture.