Ground-breaking rural women build capacity to ensure research is put into action


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When Jeanette Gellard began her career in agricultural extension more than 30 years ago most of the faces in the room were men. 

“Fresh out of university I went to one of my first job interviews in the agriculture sector and I was asked if I could handle driving country roads in the company ute,” Jeanette said. 

“I did have to smile as I explained my blue XD Falcon ute was parked in the car park and I’d been driving on rural roads for some time. 

“The trend that I have seen throughout my career is a shift from a very male-dominated industry, to one where women’s roles are becoming more visible, more recognised and more acknowledged.” 

Hailing from Kangaroo Island in South Australia, Jeanette is highly regarded in the environmental and agricultural sectors working in stakeholder engagement, strategic planning and public policy.  

She’s the 2001 SA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner and established her own business, Innovative Influences in 2011. 

Image: Jeanette Gellard

Jeanette said the work she does, along with others in extension, is vital in helping our agricultural industry to innovate.

“Supporting farmers to understand what research is telling us about best practice and how that can contribute to their sustainability, profitability and productivity is a key part of extension,” Jeanette said. 

Danielle England, an extension specialist with AgInnovate and 2013 WA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner, agrees. 

“As an industry, we have spent an awful lot of money on research and we know that there’s so much more that can be done to improve, not only the profitability but the environmental sustainability of our farms,” said Danielle. 

But she says good research extension seeks to understand how people change and adopt new ideas.  

“For me it is about getting to know the people who sit behind the farm businesses and behind the research,” Danielle said. 

“Often people new to the industry have a different approach and an alternative way of looking at problems. That’s exciting in extension and perhaps a really great reason to get involved.” 

Image: Danielle England

Building trust is something that’s at the heart of Sally Martin’s consultancy business,
SheepMetriX, in Young in southern New South Wales.  

She was a finalist in the NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award in 2011. 

Sally said credibility is needed to influence change and a willingness to ‘give things a go’ can go a long way towards building this trust.  

“When I first started with NSW DPI in 1999 I went along to run a wether shearing trial, the rouseabout was away sick, so I just started helping to pick up the fleeces, it’s something I was used to growing up on the family farm,” Sally said. 

“I could hear some of the blokes in the background ‘She can throw a fleece’ and there was a sense that if I could do that, then perhaps I might know what I was talking about.” 

Stronger together 

All three women are involved in fostering the success of the next generation of women working in agriculture. 

Jeanette Gellard’s been a mentor to many women through business and leadership programs. 

“I think it’s important we support each other, both men and women. Working together we can achieve a significant amount.” 

Danielle England said working as part of a team of regionally based consultants is rewarding. 

“It tends to be people who are involved in farming as well, and this is a way they can keep their professional skills up in research, extension, project management,” she said.   

“I feel really blessed that we are able to provide a career path for other women based in regional Australia, to be able to work with those women, and support each other.” 

In her business, Sally Martin works with an all-female team and is excited to see more women take on new roles in the livestock industry. 

“I like to give people new to the industry a project to work on because the more they can see the whole process from collecting the data, to building the message, to then extending it to the producers, it gives them a lot of confidence. 

“It does not matter if you have grown up on a farm, rural town or city, there is always a job for you in agriculture. Often because you have not grown up on a farm means you ask different questions and you don’t take things for granted, and that is invaluable.” 

But she admits there’s still some practicalities that need to be addressed in sending young women out to the shearing shed.  

“Having the conversation with the owners about the facilities, you know running water and having a toilet,” Sally said. 

“They are all common things that sometimes aren’t available and while it might not be an issue for men – I think we need to step it up now we have a lot more women in the industry.” 

Image: Sally Martin

Networks vital 

Danielle England said being named the 2013 WA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner provided the impetus to start her own business. 

“It actually gave me the confidence to step out, to recognise that I could build a business around the people in agriculture and to know that there was enough work and enough projects,” she said. 

“Since then, I’ve created networks and contacts with other AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Alumni and ‘superwomen’ right across Australia and internationally. 

“It does give you a great network of people who share the common goals of seeing your industry and its people develop.” 

“For me, I am using the network more now than I had in the past,” said Sally Martin. 

“I was able to go to the NSW/ACT AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award announcement event in Sydney recently and connect with people and a couple of leads came up in terms of opportunities.” 

2001 SA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Winner, Jeanette Gellard agrees the network is enduring. 

“Having access to those women who were involved in the Award, not just in the year that I was involved, but in the Alumni as well, has been quite incredible.  

“Many of those connections I have maintained over the years, and it has provided me with lots of support and avenues to pursue my own interest areas as well,” Jeanette said. 

Find out more about the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award program at  

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