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How one grandma’s words of wisdom are impacting agriculture

When you’re 16, everything’s a big deal. Natalie Bell was a teenager from Sydney facing the tough decisions – to stay at a school that doesn’t feel like the right fit – or move to a school with an agricultural curriculum. Her grandma shared seven words that have impacted the founder of Hylo Ag every day since. ‘Natalie, it’s not a risk, it’s an adventure.’

Natalie Bell on stage at evokeAG 2024 Natalie Bell, 27, was a 2024 evokeAG. Future Young Leader, and Founder, Hylo Ag, a startup aiming to provide a recycling pathway for livestock ear tags.

Fast forward a decade and I’m not in Sydney anymore. I’m standing in a paddock at a field day – and this is my life now.  

I did swap schools and my life changed forever. I fell in love with agriculture; I even went to university and got a degree in it.  

Now I live on a farm at Holbrook in southern New South Wales, and every part of my life is connected to agriculture.  

At this field day I meet a farmer called David who tells me he drives a two hour round trip to dispose of the enormous amount of plastic he gets stuck with in an environmentally sustainable way.

‘We have to try and do something good,’ he says. 

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So, armed with Mardi’s mantra – it’s not a risk, it’s an adventure – I decide to share with David what this fledgling entrepreneur is passionate about.  

One small ear tag, many enormous contributions to landfill

I’m passionate about finding ways to be sustainable that make good business sense without relying on planting more trees.  

I’m passionate about not asking producers to adopt something that costs them a kidney just to be accredited.  

Natalie Bell, 2024 evokeAG Future Young Leader

And I’m passionate about leading a step change that starts with something small, relatable, that most livestock producers use. 

Ear tags.  

One ear tag may seem small in the grand scheme of plastic waste. After all, the Australian livestock industry produces around 15,000 tonnes of on-farm plastic waste every year.  

But think about how those small pieces add up. We turn off over two million head of feedlot cattle every year that wear an ear tag, usually two.

We process over 25 million sheep and lambs, and they all wear an ear tag.  

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With waste management options being few and far between for rural communities, it’s no surprise that ear tags end up in landfill. So, when David says to me that he drives two hours to recycle farm plastic, he really is going above and beyond.  

The problem isn’t that ear tags exist – it’s that we haven’t realised the opportunity to use them for good beyond when they become rubbish.  

Natalie Bell, evokeAG 2024 Future Young Leader.

Doing right by the environment is so important, but so is running a profitable business, avoiding complex process, and keeping good records.  

And that’s why I founded Hylo Ag.  

Hylo Ag; it’s as simple as 1, 2, 3

Step 1 

Users register a batch of waste ear tags on the Hylo Ag digital platform and purchase a prepaid postage label.  

We’ll keep track of the amount of plastic that you’ve diverted from landfill, kind of like keeping track of your savings in a bank account.  As easy as checking your social media, you’ll be able to see the value of your impact and share that with your customers.  

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Step 2 

Tags are sent to our recycling partner who processes them into raw plastic. We’ve also started brainstorming ways to overcome the issues that multiple materials pose to the recycling process.  

Step 3 

The recycled plastic material can now be used as an input into new products. But hopefully, not just any product. With investment into Hylo Ag and support from ear tag manufacturers, we’ll be able to look into the viability of using that plastic material to make new ear tags. The first fully circular solution to an on-farm plastic, and a huge feather in our cap as the livestock industry being the ones to do it.  

Fuelling the challenge with passion, not despair

It’s no secret that our supply chain is under pressure to reduce emissions so that our end users can be more sustainable as a result. 

Imagine the next time your cattle or lamb buyer comes to you on behalf of the major supermarkets and asks, “what makes you sustainable?”. You’ll be able to whip out your phone and confidently tell them the kilos of plastic that aren’t in landfill because of your effort.  

Part of the power of my grandma’s advice was that it taught me how different an outcome can be if we view challenge with excitement, rather than dread.  

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But I get it, it’s hard not to feel hopeless when staring at the 15,000 tonne a year problem that we have. But just because the problem is bigger than a potential solution in front of us, does that mean we should do nothing? 

If we start with something small and common use like ear tags, imagine the impact we could have on the livestock industry globally. We’d be joining David in doing something good.  

Hylo Ag is aligned with the National Waste Action Plan and its goal is to reduce 80% of waste in Australia by 2030.  

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I’ve worked really hard developing this concept, the revenue model, and validating market fit. 

But that’s where you come in.

I want to partner with other ambitious businesses looking for ways to satisfy their corporate social governance responsibilities. The investment required to launch Hylo Ag is conservative, and the platform will be quick to get off the ground.  

Why wait for 2030 when we can start putting runs on the board together now? This step change is just the beginning and with every small effort, we build momentum. We have to start somewhere.  

As Mardi says, ‘It’s not a risk. It’s an adventure.’ 

Natalie Bell was part of the 2024 Future Young Leaders program that saw five emerging leaders in agrifood, innovation and related industries build their capabilities, skills, confidence and networks, to ultimately present their key message, innovations or research project on an AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024 stage.

Applications for the evokeAG. 2025 Future Young Leaders Program will open shortly.

For more information on how to apply for the Future Young Leaders Program, visit



Tickets are now on sale for evokeAG. 2025 to be held on 18-19 February 2025 in Brisbane, Queensland. Following a sell-out event in 2024 we are encouraging delegates to secure their tickets, flights and accommodation early.

We look forward to seeing you in Brisbane for evokeAG. 2025. In the meantime, catch up on the other conversations about sustainability, climate resilience and the role of agtech in meeting those challenges from here.

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