A desire for resilience and renewal saw more than 160 growers gather at the Central West Farming Systems (CWFS) 2019 Women & Youth in Agriculture Conference at Condobolin earlier this year.
CWFS chief executive officer Diana Fear said the event, held with GRDC investment, celebrated the contribution of women to rural life and inspired young people to pursue agricultural careers.
"Women are the backbone of rural life, with many under-acknowledged and underpaid," she said.
"You are smart, resourceful and, most of the time, too modest to recognise your own achievements."
An impressive line-up of speakers represented politics, management, fashion, grain marketing, the arts (a comedian), fitness and technology.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley shared insights into her life as a mother, grower, shearers' cook, student, air traffic controller and tax office employee, and what led to her appointment as the Member for Farrer.
She acknowledged the circumstances of growers and their communities still in the grip of drought.
"It's been a long, tough series of years. Whether you're in irrigated or dryland farming, it's been pretty awful," she said.
Her message at the event, she said, was to encourage women to consider a representational role in the community, whether that was as a board member, an office bearer of a community group or as a politician.
"Don't let the world around you decide what's possible for you. Believe in yourself with unshakable faith and commit to your goals," she said.
NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) business resilience programs manager Pip Job, a former NSW drought coordinator and the 2014 Australian Rural Woman of the Year, gave a candid account of her life, saying she had battled feelings of inadequacy for 30 years.
"You need to tackle it and confront it head on," she said. "If you don't have a go, you don't know where you'll go."
Ms Job paid tribute to her 'cheer squad', many of whom are men, who recognised her leadership qualities and gave her opportunities to grow and learn.
She said it was important to:
- have the courage to back yourself;
- put your hand up for leadership positions;
- recognise feelings of inadequacy and drop them immediately;
- identify your cheer squad (support network or friends);
- identify your chief cheer leader (supporter, spouse or friend);
- make sure you let your chief cheer leader know you value them;
- open the door when opportunity knocks;
- know why you are closing the to door to opportunity by asking yourself if you are fearful, not ready or if the door is one that should remain shut; and
- respond to a situation, don't react.
Vanessa Bell, owner and founder of the luxury baby blanket brand Sarah Jane Bond, spoke about lessons learned during her career in modelling, finance, wine and communications.
This, she said, was all before she became a farmer and fashion label developer to add value to the Merino wool she and her husband Philip produce on their farms at Breadalbane and Gilgunnia in NSW.
"The common theme for me has always been a passion for learning, having a glass-half-full approach, confidence and stickability to see things through, and a desire to be the best that I can be," she said.
"I'm super keen to inspire other women and youth to take a leap of faith to follow their dreams, and I'm especially passionate about raising the profile of women in agriculture."
Ms Bell said there were outstanding opportunities for women and youth in agriculture to use the digital space to leverage products to a global market.
"If you have an idea or goal you should absolutely go for it," she said.
"Digital storytelling provides an outstanding platform to provide consumers insight into a lifestyle they normally wouldn't have access to. Education can empower consumers to make informed decisions."
The grain marketers
NSW DPI international engagement manager and CWFS board member Josh Gordon facilitated a panel session that explored the outlook for grain prices with insights from ADM's Michael Vaughan, GrainCorp's Izzi Hutchinson, Rabobank's Josh Coulthurst and AWB's Warren Lander.
Mr Vaughan said to forget about forward pricing in western NSW grain growing environments because it was too risky:
"Contract washouts are no fun for anybody," he said.
"Be conservative about forward selling or selling leading into harvest and have great certainty about the crop you have because spring in the Central West can be cruel."
A highlight of the event was Fiona O'Loughlin, who spoke about her journey from farm girl to award-winning stand-up comedian and television personality.
Ms O'Loughlin, who grew up on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula near Warooka, reminisced about her father's debt, life as a nurse, a 27-year stint in Alice Springs and her 10-year battle with alcoholism.
"I was in a coma for 2.5 weeks with organ failure," she said. "It was terrifying for my kids."
The Melbourne-based comedian said she woke up from the coma angry, but wasn't sure why so asked her doctor, who said she had liver failure.
"That makes sense ... I woke up livid," she said with a cheeky smile to the laughing crowd.
The fitness instructor
Active Farmers owner and founder Ginny Stevens spoke about her initiative of setting up fitness groups around the country to bring growers together to overcome feelings of isolation and depression.
Later that day, she launched the Condobolin Active Farmers group to facilitate better wellbeing among growers in central NSW.
The final speaker was Hamish Munro, from Pairtree Intelligence, who introduced the concept of how to be an effective "employee-preneaur", which involves making your interests and passions add value to the work you already do.
His shared insights included:
- don't miss the opportunity to network at industry groups such as NSW Farmers or local grower group like CWFS;
- test everything you do and make sure you understand the end-to-end functionality of the jobs you are doing;
- be good at process management and flow;
- identify a 'gap' within the business or similar businesses where you can test a 'minimum viable product' and find new customers or opportunities;
- look for like-minded people and partners to future-proof your operation; and
- honour and be open with your employer.
CWFS chief executive officer Diana Fear thanked everybody involved in the event, from sponsors to staff and volunteers:
"Without such strong support at all levels, a day like this would not have been possible," she said.
More information: Diana Fear, 0427 897 530, firstname.lastname@example.org