THIS year National AG Day is celebrating the vital work performed by the agricultural industry, with a call for all Australians to explore career opportunities in the sector.
Australian women face challenges pursuing a career in this male-dominated field.
Until 1994, Australian women were not legally recognised as farmers, the law defined their occupation as either domestics, helpmates or farmers’ wives.
2016 census data showed while 55 per cent of university students studying agricultural sciences are women, they comprise one third of the agricultural workforce.
“Women in agriculture are not celebrated”
Julie Mayne has worked in the rural industry for about 30 years in a variety of roles, from a horse trainer, dozer operator and station manager to beef marketing and business management.
Ms Mayne now owns and operates her own enterprise, Mayne Pastoral, a beef grazing property in central Western Queensland.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, it’s like you become a part of the land, like you’re getting drawn into the rhythm of the land and its seasons and the animals,” said Ms Mayne.
As the President of the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network, Ms Mayne is particularly passionate about advocating for the wellbeing and recognition of rural women.
“Women are not celebrated or championed for the contribution that they make,” she said.
“Women have been a vital part of agriculture for the last 200 years in Australia, and they just haven’t been included in the narrative.
“I want to champion what they do and who they are, and the remarkable skill sets they have in getting things done.”
Ms Mayne encourages others to connect with regional communities to explore what it’s like working on a farm.
“Try and get some work experience and you’ll understand the passion that rural people have for their soil, for their pastures, for their crops, for their communities, it’s just amazing,” she said.
“Helping the AG sector become more sustainable is really important”
Karin Stark is a passionate advocate for renewable energy in farming having worked for about 20 years on sustainability and environmental issues in Western Australia and the UK.
“I studied environmental science and sustainable development, so I’ve always had a keen interest in conservation of our natural world and particularly renewable energy,” said Ms Stark.
She lives on her partner’s family cotton and wheat farm in New South Wales, gaining first-hand experience of energy challenges for farmers.
“We were spending about $300,000 on diesel every year for pumping groundwater, because we’re drawing from about 80 metres deep,” she said.
They found an innovative solution replacing diesel with solar through Australian company ReAqua, and in 2018 installed Australia’s largest solar diesel hybrid irrigation pump.
“That means it’s solar during the day and diesel overnight when we need it,” she said.
The pump reduced carbon emissions by 500 tonnes a year and saved about $170,000 in energy costs per year.
Ms Stark founded the National Renewables in Agriculture Conference and Expo to share the benefits of renewables.
“We’re very motivated to share what we’re doing so other farmers can adopt the renewables and also learn from our experience.”
She encourages others to explore work opportunities in helping the agricultural sector to decarbonise.
“There’s lots of different ways to get involved – you can do work like I’m doing, or become an agronomist, there’s interesting AG tech coming around the use of waste and circular economies,” she said.
“Helping the AG sector become more sustainable is really important if we’re to change as a global economy.”
“The best thing about AG is you can learn something new every day”
Anna Toland is a third generation farmer, operating two sheep studs in a rural town north of Melbourne.
“My dad established the stud with his brother over 60 years ago,” said Ms Toland.
“My husband and I have worked here with dad since 2008 and we bought the business last year.”
Ms Toland enjoys working outdoors and caring for the animals.
“I love working outside in the fresh air with the dogs and the sheep, we’ve got around four and half thousand sheep at the moment,” she said.
“We care for them deeply and implement a lot of practices to make sure that they’re okay.”
Ms Toland is passionate about bridging the gap between the city and the country, sharing insights into agricultural work through her blog, The Farmer and The Cook.
“I went to uni down in Melbourne and I asked this young girl where do your chops come from and she says, I don’t know they just come in a plastic tray in the supermarket.”
“And that horrified me, these kids don’t know what they’re eating and where it’s from.”
Not only does Ms Toland use her blog to bridge the educational gap, she also loves connecting with others.
“I get these amazing people message me from all over the world,” she said.
“I really enjoy my job and I like to passionately highlight how much of a cool job it is.”
Ms Toland encourages others to ask questions to learn more about the opportunities of working on the land.
“There’s a great network of people you can tap into and there’s great mentors,” she said.
“There’s just so many different fields you can specialise in and I think that’s the perfect way to some up agriculture, is its diversity.”
Jessica Roberts is a Masters of Journalism and International Relations student at Monash University. She is interested in advocating for women’s empowerment, amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and creating a society more inclusive and welcoming of minority groups. Jessica is passionate about writing stories that help make a difference.