hero inner

Let’s celebrate the women who are leading change in food and fibre industries

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the achievements of women in every area of human endeavour. At PIEFA and Career Harvest we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women leading the development of food and fibre industries in Australia.

More women are taking up the challenge of making a difference in people’s lives through careers in food and fibre. These industries are constantly changing and increasingly innovative and reliant on technology.

Fiona Simson is head of the National Farmers Federation. On being elected as President she said “women contribute tremendously on farm, along the value chain and increasingly as thought leaders and public advocates for agriculture”.

Each year Australian agriculture feeds and clothes more than 60 million people from around the world. Improving efficiencies and productivity can make a big difference in people’s lives. It is just one of the factors that is resulting in more women leading change in the sector.

Through its annual Rural Women’s Award Agrifutures Australia recognises and supports the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities.
The 2017 winner was Tanya Dupagne. Tanya founded Camp Kulin in the WA Wheatbelt in 2013, after moving from Perth despite the warnings of her friends that she might regret moving to a town with a population of just 300. Since then, Camp Kulin has gained national and international recognition for its pioneering work, particularly in helping children and teenagers who have survived trauma.

Runner-up award winner Simone Kain was recognised for her work helping inspire young Australians to future careers in agriculture. The South Australian is co-creator of George the Farmer, a children’s character and series of educational resources helping kids learn where their food comes from, and encouraging them to think about the varied careers in agriculture.

The range of opportunities for women is truly diverse. For example, Jane Trindall (R&D Manager with the Cotton Research and Development Corporation) has recently led the Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture project aimed at facilitating the development of digital technology in Australian agriculture.

When Marie Piccone signed the lease on three mango farms in early 2005 she used her entrepreneurial skills to grow Manbulloo into the largest supplier of Kensington Pride mangoes in the country. She did it by building a passionate and dedicated team, with world-class knowledge, training and experience in mango growing, harvesting, export and supply chain management. Marie was awarded the Telstra Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award in 2015.

Across the country, there is now more support for women wanting to enter the sector. See some of the scholarships on the Career Harvest site. Just one example (Nuffield scholarships) shows the range of areas that women are exploring. The 2018 winners include:

• Sarah Bolton will investigate how to rear dairy calves so as to integrate successfully into the beef supply chain.
• Emma O’Flaherty will investigate factors that contribute to the laying of floor eggs across different nesting systems.
• Sarah Sivyer will investigate how producers can optimise trust in their brand by leveraging a culture of continuous improvement.
• Sonya Comiskey will investigate the use of effective branding to attract a premium based on the consumer’s perceived value of the product and its provenance as opposed to merely selling beef as a commodity.
• Robin Tait will investigate how regeneration agriculture principles can be integrated into cropping systems with the aim to reduce reliance on synthetic inputs for crop production.
• Olabisi Oladele will investigate the changing requirements of human capital and industry collaboration needed to efficiently run increasingly automated horticulture businesses.
Each of these women are adding to the evidence for improving food and fibre industries in Australia.
However we know that young girls begin to exclude occupations at the age of 8 and earlier. The gender assumptions that cause young girls to narrow their choices is being challenged. Farming could not have existed without the skills and talents of hundreds of thousands of women. Those stories are currently being collated. The Invisible Farmer is the largest ever study of Australian women on the land. This three year project (2017-2020) is funded by the Australian Research Council and involves a nation-wide partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations. https://invisiblefarmer.net.au/

The women who are driving change in the food and fibre sector need to be celebrated widely to provide role models to encourage more women to explore opportunities in the sector. Why not apply for the 2019 Nuffield scholarship (http://www.careerharvest.com.au/scholarships/nuffield-australia-farming-scholarship/) or Agrifutures Australia Rural Women’s Award (http://www.agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award/)?