AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award: It’s about positively impacting rural industries and communities


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2016 Victorian Rural Women’s Award Winner, Dr Jessica Lye, is proof it doesn’t matter where you work but it does matter what you do to impact rural industries and rural and regional communities. Here she shares why she believes women from all across Australia – cities and rural areas – should continue to be eligible for the AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award.

I could not be more passionate about Australia’s rural industries, particularly horticulture. I work in a rural industry because I love it, but I happen to work and live in Melbourne.

When I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the 2016 Victorian winner of the Rural Women’s Award no one batted an eyelid that I was from Melbourne. I was recognised for my ongoing work at AUSVEG in the field biosecurity, work which safeguards the horticulture industry against pests and diseases. I might do my job from Melbourne but it has a direct and positive impact on a rural industry the prosperity of which is vital to Australian agriculture.

The AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award is about acknowledging and supporting the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities, no matter their location. So, if you’re a woman doing work that is building capacity, creating impact in rural industries or rural and regional communities, AgriFutures Australia wants to hear from you because applications for 2018 are now open.

The recognition for my industry and my work in biosecurity was only a small part of what I got out of being included in the Rural Women’s Award program; the much greater asset was the learning and professional development which allows me to influence and effect change for rural industries, now and into the future. I also get to be part of a network of more than 200 accomplished women who are contributing to Australia’s rural industries. I look forward to future collaborations with rural women who I have met through the award on projects that will further increase capacity and capability in rural Australia.

To me it’s a counterproductive idea to limit the Rural Women’s Award to any particular postcodes or locations. The more inclusive it is, the more opportunities there are for rural industries to be supported and for a spotlight to be shone on issues affecting rural and regional communities. I know only too well that you can do work that impacts a rural industry from any location, even from the middle of a big city.

For too long we’ve thought of city and country as a divide but it doesn’t have to be. To continue to promote this idea would be a retrograde step for agriculture, which has become a complex, dynamic interplay between professionals living in both country and rural areas. In a changing global economy, and on the climb to a technological high-point in agriculture, inclusion and support of non-traditional champions will aid agricultural industries achieve both growth and sustainability. If long term prosperity and innovation in rural industries is going to be a reality, we need to be positive and inclusive.

It’s time to move away from competition between city and country and the messages that tell us rural women are disadvantaged or isolated. Yes, life outside our major cities is different to life within them but it’s no better or worse. We’re all equals, each of us maximising the opportunities that come our way, overcoming challenges and working to make our industries and communities better however we can.

For my part, I have overcome significant challenges while finding both my way to, and my place in, Australian agriculture. This makes me all the more grateful for my current position in the industry.

Whether imagined or real, I do feel the unnecessary divide between myself and women who contribute to rural industries from a rural setting. However, I have not once met a rural woman who suggested that I could not live up to the values championed by the award, or that I should not be included as one of the RWA alumni. On the contrary, the many rural women who have become part of my network over the past year have been nothing but supportive and motivating. This further incentivises me to try my hardest and work my guts out for Australian agriculture – now and for many years to come. I eagerly await the day that I too can live rural, however the reality is that I can create highest impact in rural industries from my current location.

I’m also not the only Rural Women’s Award winner or finalist to work in a metropolitan area. This year’s Victorian winner is Kirsten Abernethy works in West Melbourne and is from Portarlington. She works for Seafood Industries Victoria and her project is one that has her engaging with women in the fishing industry about what they need to succeed. This is critical work because while women represent 55 per cent of the fishing industry’s workforce, they’re only five per cent of its executives.

In fact, all of the Rural Women’s Award past winners and finalists are proof that location has nothing to do with success or ability to have an impact. Unsurprisingly, when you go through their ranks you find incredible diversity – of ideas, of projects, of circumstances, of lifestyles and of location – and that’s one of the best things about the Awards. We ‘rural women’ all have important contributions to make – whether we sit at a desk, on a tractor, in a boat, behind a counter or in front of a classroom.

I look forward to encouraging many others based rurally and in city locations to apply for the award, and hope that I can energize rural women in my network to continue to strive, explore, achieve and lead as they have so often done for me.

At the end of the day, there’s no fight to be had. Whether we live in a city, in a big country town, in a small one or in a remote community, those of us working in rural industries all want the same thing – to build them up. And the Rural Women’s Award will continue to recognise and reward women who are making a positive contribution and impact in their industry or community.


Dr Jessica Lye was the 2016 Victorian Rural Women’s Award Winner. She is the National Manager – Science and Extension at AUSVEG and is project officer on the National Vegetable and Potato Biosecurity Program.

AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award program helps women secure funding for innovative ideas and projects that impact rural Australia. It supports the essential role women play in rural industries, businesses and communities.

Each state and territory winner receives a $10,000 bursary for innovative ideas and projects that will impact and make a difference to enhancing the prosperity of rural industries or rural and regional Australia.

Applications for the AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award are now open and close on Sunday, 29 October 2017 at 9pm AEDT. Apply now at

 Media enquiries: Belinda Allitt, AgriFutures Australia, General Manager Communications & Capacity Building on 0429 598 965.

AgriFutures Australia is the new trading name for Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation. ABN: 25 203 754 319.

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