2015 Winners

2015 National and South Australia Winner - Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell is part of a family-run mixed-farming business at Wharminda on the Eyre Peninsula. In her early career Sarah gained experience in business advisory and economic development, but soon discovered a passion for arming the next generation of leaders with skills to continue to drive and recognise the evolving needs of industry.

As an Executive Officer on the board of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, Sarah chaired the Young Chamber program which invested in the development of a new generation of business leaders in far north Queensland. From there she assisted in the development of this program in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Following a move to the Eyre Peninsular in South Australia, Sarah rediscovered her passion for regional communities. Shortly after arriving she established new relationships through social groups, including local sporting clubs. These groups helped Sarah realise the potential of local sporting clubs as a mechanism to build future leaders, which she believes is core to keeping regions sustainable.

In particular, she believes these community groups are an important vehicle for young people and women to gain essential skills and confidence and ultimately increase their community participation. She also believes that the culture of mentoring in sporting clubs empowers young ambassadors and gives them confidence and motivation to step up in their club and community.

Sarah will use the $10,000 Award bursary to establish and manage the pilot program ‘Champions Academy’. The Academy aims to foster personal development through sport and mentoring, teach aspiring leaders how to lead by example, act with integrity, think selflessly and demonstrate commitment. It will be delivered through a culture of mentoring that engages, empowers and builds confidence and motivation for participants to take on change-agent roles. The grant will also be used to develop a community leadership succession plan to continue to build strength and resilience in her local community.

2015 National runner-up and Tasmania Winner – Carol Bracken

Carol Bracken is a hazelnut grower from Glengarry and has established Tamar Valley Hazelnuts with her family five years ago. The family’s hazelnut business has now grown to over 5,000 trees. Both Carol and her husband are actively involved in the hazelnut industry and are members of the peak industry body—Hazelnut Growers of Australia. Carol is also a leader in her community, having been a councillor on the West Tamar Council since 2011, and is strongly supportive of women, being a member of Tasmanian Women in Agriculture and the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (Tasmania).

She is passionate about supporting emerging industries, particularly in Tasmania, believing they boost local jobs and the diversity of industries in her state. Carol believes there is greater potential for hazelnuts to play a more prominent role in her local economy, for instance as an agricultural crop or processed into kernel, as a future tourism venture opportunity or through the development of value added hazelnut products.

Carol will use her $10,000 Award bursary to study hazelnut production in Oregon in the United States, a heartland for hazelnuts and one of the world’s most competitive markets. She hopes to gain insights from the study tour to help develop and evaluate a number of business models to market hazelnut products in a competitive environment in Australia.

Carol is also passionate about increasing the representation of women in senior positions and in politics. She believes that increasing women’s participation in local government is a way to increase the skills and experiences of rural women.  Carol will also use her bursary to run a series of workshops and tutorials for women starting up businesses. Four regional courses will be held and will support women to develop rural women’s project management skills, including information on scheduling, budgeting, stakeholder and risk management.

2015 Northern Territory Winner – Dr Sally Isberg

Dr Sally Isberg runs her own company, the Centre for Crocodile Research, which conducts research and development programs to increase the efficiency and productivity of the Australian crocodile industry. Sally’s passion for crocodiles was realised while undertaking work experience during her studies at the University of Sydney.

After graduating, Sally moved to the Northern Territory as a young researcher committed to work with the species. In 2000 Sally completed her PhD in crocodile genetics and since then has developed skills in running her own business and working collaboratively with industry leaders.

Sally’s ambition is to encourage more women scientists to diversify into primary industry research. Over the years, Dr Isberg has recruited both honours and PhD students for her own business and has developed a female team that is now leading crocodile research, specifically in ‘in skin’ research.

She has a strong research focus, having co-authored 27 peer reviewed scientific papers and is an honorary associate of the University of Sydney, Charles Sturt University and Charles Darwin University. She has a personal ambition to see Charles Darwin University become a major hub for crocodile research.

Sally’s project, funded through the Award, aims to educate non-agriculture science students on how their skills can be translated to primary industries and can lead to a lucrative career path. To support her project aim, three Charles Darwin University female students will be offered six-week scholarships to undertake mini-research projects focused on outcomes in the crocodile industry.

In addition to broadening students’ understanding of primary industries, this project will also provide opportunities for women to develop their own research areas and capacity, generate knowledge for the crocodile industry, perpetuate interest in primary industry research and advocate Charles Darwin University as a viable learning hub for crocodile research.

2015 New South Wales Winner – Cindy Cassidy

Cindy Cassidy grew up on a sheep and grain farm in Ariah Park, New South Wales before moving to Melbourne to work in the agribusiness sector. After a 20 year career, she returned to the Riverina region in 2013 to settle on the family farm with her young daughter and take up a role as Chief Executive Officer of FarmLink Research, a non-profit farming systems group based at Temora servicing farmers and agribusiness across the region.

Prior to joining FarmLink, Cindy worked with a number of large agribusinesses including the Australian Barley Board, AWB Ltd and co-established Wheat Quality Australia. She has been involved in stakeholder and industry committees and presented at conferences, both nationally and internationally.

Cindy’s ambition is to improve the relevance and effectiveness of local agricultural extension in order to support farmers in the adoption of innovation and to maximise returns from investment in agricultural research and development.

She believes agricultural research and development is critical to the ongoing competitiveness of Australian agriculture. She sees farming systems groups, with their committed member base, local focus and emphasis on farmer-to-farmer learning, to be integral to the successful adoption of research outcomes on farm.

Cindy will use the $10,000 Award bursary to explore national and international approaches to modern agricultural extension in order to improve the effectiveness of locally delivered programs. The knowledge and tools created through the project will be transferred to other farming systems groups through the current network of collaborations and partnerships.

She would also like to establish a network of contacts in national and international agricultural organisations in order to influence the policy framework and investment strategy for agricultural extension.

2015 Queensland Winner – Sherrill Stivano

Sherrill Stivano grew up in a cattle-farming family in the small south-western Queensland town of Injune and has gone on to be a partner in a family beef cattle feedlot operation and hay growing business near Roma. Following the 2011 live export ban, Sherrill realised that there was little understanding of Australian agriculture in both the political space and by the general public. As a result Sherrill was a founding member of the ‘Ask an Aussie Farmer’ social media campaign, bringing consumers and farmers together to build a mutual understanding of what goes into producing Australia’s food and fibre, and to address customer concerns.

Sherrill’s passion is to increase public awareness of the fact that Australia’s agricultural commodities are amongst the most desirable in the world; being free from many diseases, have carefully monitored chemical use, animal welfare is a priority, and that environmental stewardship and sustainability is integral to this process.

She is committed to ensuring that there are not only viable and environmentally sustainable agricultural industries in her area of the Maranoa in Queensland, but is also working to improve the outlook of Australia’s agricultural industries through constructive legislation and policies.

Sherrill is also passionate about seeing more rural women in the political spheres to assist with decision making with grass root level experience and is a member of the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network which aims to help rural women find their voices and become a driving force and leaders throughout rural industries.

Sherrill has identified the need for farmers to showcase their practices and high standards and will use her $10,000 Award bursary to bring a UK-based Red Tractor program Director or Board member to Australia to discuss brand and country of origin labelling (CoOL). This will introduce Australian farmers, industry bodies and government to the opportunities offered by gathering behind one labelling system, the clarity of communication with consumers, and the benefit to everyone in the supply chain, for both domestic and international markets.

2015 Victoria Winner – Katie Finlay

Katie Finlay is a third-generation orchardist who owns and operates the Mt Alexander Fruit Gardens, which grows more than 90 varieties of organic fruit. She is passionate about sharing her experiences of organic and sustainable fruit production and has developed the Grow Great Fruit Program for home fruit growers. Katie has diversified her business by writing and selling a range of information products for home fruit growers, including workshops and e-books.

Creating strong and sustainable local food systems is within Katie’s sights. Not only does she aim to encourage better connections between consumers and farmers, but also hopes to raise awareness of the food that’s grown in the community, and provide better opportunities for farmers to sell direct to consumers.

To achieve this, she would like to support farmers to take greater control over their supply chain by taking part in farmers’ markets and using social media to share their stories, develop communities around their farms and ultimately drive demand.

Outside of her orchard business, Katie is also actively involved in numerous community groups and organisations, primarily seeking funding to deliver community projects aimed at improving local food security. Katie also sits on the board of Melbourne Farmers Markets, an organisation engaged in changing community perceptions about farmers’ markets, particularly around them being expensive and elitist.

Katie’s project, funded from the $10,000 Award bursary, aims to encourage more farmers’ markets, holding them weekly and using Facebook as the tool to build “strong communities” around farmers and each market. Ultimately her project aims to give farmers better control of their markets by fostering strong relationships between farmers and consumers.

2015 Western Australia Winner – Tress Walmsley

Tress Walmsley is Chief Executive Officer of InterGrain and has built a successful career in the grains industry, starting out as an agronomist at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA) before moving into grains commercialisation. Tress grew up as part of a farming community in Northam and is passionate about connecting rural and city communities through food. She believes that the Australian grains industry can continue to grow by fostering a stronger link between production commodities and the food it produces.

Tress is also passionate about involving women in the grains industry and her previous work with the TOPCROP family’s program facilitated young female growers to undertake study tours on the east coast of Australia. The program evolved into the Partners in Grain program which assists women to participate in the decision making of their farming businesses. Tress was awarded the Telstra Young Business Women for Western Australian for her work in building these programs and is now a role model for women both within InterGrain and through her roles in industry organisations. In 2014 Tress was listed in the Fairfax top 100 Women in Australian Agribusiness.

Tress recognises the exclusive global advantage Western Australian farmers have to grow wheat for Udon noodles. While Western Australian wheat varieties are in high demand in Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea, there is scope to increase domestic consumption. Tress’ project, funded by the Award bursary, is aptly titled ‘Oodles of noodles’ and aims to increase the demand for noodle wheat by Australian consumers which will ultimately support local growers.

Tress will use the $10,000 bursary to develop six Western Australian grain growers into ‘Udon noodle master chefs’ and industry ambassadors. She hopes that these growers will market the product to their local communities and increase the local demand for the Udon grain.