Women in agriculture – let’s push things forward

Pushing your sleeves up and getting on with the job. It’s what we’re all about here at Charles Sturt University. It’s about doing.

And there are few things as important when it comes to the doing, as providing people with food. Agriculture has played a huge role in shaping Australia’s history. In fact, it’s an image etched into the Australian psyche: the farmer, transforming the outback to raise his crops or livestock.

But it tends to be a ‘he’ in that picture, doesn’t it?

Not anymore.

As agriculture forges into the future, women are playing a key role. They’re finding ways to meet the needs of our communities while preserving the environment and increasing sustainability.

So let’s meet some of the women in agriculture – the women changing agriculture.

Leading the drive towards sustainability

Take Anika Molesworth. She’s a two-time Charles Sturt University graduate. A thought leader. A researcher in international agricultural development. And a sought-after keynote speaker.

Has Anika won any awards, you ask? Yeah, just a few.

  • 2015 Young Farmer of the Year
  • 2016 Al Gore Climate Reality Leader
  • 2017 NSW Young Achiever Award for Environment and Sustainability
  • 2018 NSW/ACT Regional Achievement and Community Award for Agricultural Innovation

Don’t tell her we said so, but she’s a bit of an inspiration. (She’s even done a TED Talk.)

“I have an unwavering love for what I do. Rural Australia is so beautiful, yet so fragile. The people in these places are so resilient, yet so vulnerable. I have great conviction for my cause – to create truly sustainable and resilient food and farming systems. I want to see healthy landscapes supporting prosperous farm businesses and vibrant rural communities. My future depends on it, and so does the future of the next generation of farmers.”

Anika’s interest in agriculture and sustainability began after she witnessed a decade-long drought on her family’s sheep farm near Broken Hill in far western New South Wales. She later began a career seeking ways to build resilience in fragile farming systems. Ways to help rural communities stay vibrant.

“I wanted to make a positive difference to a sector I care deeply about. To do that I knew I would have to get the right skills in my tool belt.”

Anika studied both a Bachelor of Agribusiness and a Master of Sustainable Agriculture with Charles Sturt University. And it was these experiences that helped shape how she approached her career.

“My time with Charles Sturt equipped me with critical and creative perspectives. It fostered systems thinking and encouraged me to never stop exploring and questioning. I was given some fantastic abilities and a knowledge bank I’ve been able to take out into the world.”

As part of her master’s, Anika joined a project with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. She moved to the town of Savannaket in Southern Laos to develop her understanding of Southeast Asian farming systems. Her research included investigating how farms were adapting to climate change.

Anika’s interest in climate change saw her establish Climate Wise Agriculture. This is a knowledge sharing platform that helps to facilitate the transfer of information and skills regarding climate change and farming.

She also helped establish Farmers for Climate Action. The organisation is an alliance of farmers and leaders in agriculture who work to ensure Australia takes the actions necessary to address climate damage and supports the farming community. Since its launch, the group has built a tremendous network of supporters, has run climate smart masterclasses and sent delegations to Parliament House to discuss best strategies for a bright farming future.

Starting – and succeeding

While Anika is has already made a name for herself out in the industry, other women in agriculture are just starting their journey. But they are making their mark. Take Kayla Kopp and Karissa De Belle, for example.

They were part of a four-person contingent from Charles Sturt who were named top tertiary team at the 2019 National Merino Challenge (NMC).

The NMC is an initiative of Australian Wool Innovation that introduces young people to the career opportunities within the sheep and wool industries.

Over two days in Sydney, more than 160 students took part in events to test their skills in areas such as feed budgeting, condition scoring, breeding objectives, wool harvesting and commercial classing of animals and fleeces. It was a great insight into the industry for Kayla.

“This was a fantastic opportunity to showcase our knowledge of the sheep industry, talk with other university and school students, and network with people. Winning was a bonus.”

Gaining insight, building knowledge, expanding networks – Kayla and Karissa are getting things done.

The future is (more) female

When it comes to female representation in agriculture, there’s still work to be done. As the President of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), Fiona Simson, points out.

“Currently, women comprise 41 per cent of the agricultural workforce but make up only 18 per cent of management roles and 2.3 per cent of CEO positions. This is out of step with other comparable industries. It’s time that women are equally represented at the level where decisions are taken that shape the future of our industry and rural and regional Australia more broadly.”

And the NFF are actively engaged in achieving that. Their Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program aims to develop and empower aspiring female leaders to reach their potential.

Among the ten women in agriculture selected to take part in 2019 was Charles Sturt University’s very own Dr Alison Southwell.

Besides researching the eco-physiology of perennial pastures and grazing and farming systems management, and running her own flock of merino sheep, Dr Southwell is the course director for all our undergraduate courses. So if you want to study a bachelor’s with us, you know you’re in good hands.

What’s more, in the ERA 2018 National Report, Charles Sturt University received a ranking of above world standard for its research in agricultural science.

It all means that when you study agriculture with us, you know you’re learning at the cutting edge of the industry. 

So, are you ready to get to work? The future is yours.

Find out more at Open Day

Come and visit us at Open Day. You’ll be able to chat to our expert academics, who can advise you on the best path to help you take your first – or next – step in an agriculture career. You’ll also be able to check out everything else that we offer at Charles Sturt. And there’s free food!