Australia’s rural women leading the way

1st June 2021 | Eativity editors

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award has gained a significant profile, and is recognised as a program of influence among parliamentarians, industry, media and award alumni. Each state and territory winner receives a $10,000 bursary for their project, business or program, access to professional development opportunities and alumni networks.

Due to COVID, the national Rural Women’s Award ceremony was postponed last year. Instead, the 2020 winner will be announced at a special ceremony in Canberra this August.

The event provides a platform to inspire and support Australian women living in rural and regional areas to use and develop their skills to benefit their industries and communities.

“This award acknowledges the essential role women play in rural businesses, industries and communities,” says AgriFutures Managing Director, John Harvey. “The night is a celebration of their hard work, and we’re looking forward to showcasing their achievements.”

There are seven Rural Women’s Award state and territory winners vying for the national title.

Amy Kirke, NT

Kirke’s goal is to be a positive role model in her community by inspiring women and girls around Australia to seek careers in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM).

Due to the remoteness of some communities in the Northern Territory, there’s limited specific outreach about STEM. This is something Kirke aims to change through her Rural Woman’s Award research project, which will see the creation of a program to bring sustainable fisheries and science education to schools in these areas. The workshop Kirke has developed, called the Totally Territory Science Roadshow, will be ready to be rolled out to schools in Darwin in time for Science Week (August 14-22).

Cara Peek, WA

Proud Yawuru/Bunubu woman Peek is focused on conscious business actions through her co-founded brainchild, The Cultural Intelligence Project. One of the project’s platforms is Saltwater Country, a not-for-profit organisation that builds on the strength and resilience of Aboriginal stockmen and women in remote Australia.

The academy develops evidence-based programs delivered with cultural integrity, allowing students to train in the safety of their own communities across the disciplines of horsemanship, equine therapy, agribusiness, marketing and event management.

Cressida Cains, NSW/ACT

Cressida Cains of NSW’s Pecora Dairy is alarmed by the rapid decline in small dairy operations in Australia, with the current model of selling commodity milk to processors having a devastating impact, especially on smaller family-owned businesses.

Cains believes there are profitable alternatives for family-run dairies, specifically by producing their own branded products such as cheese, yoghurt and gelato. She’s providing a pathway for farmers to do this through her not-for-profit digital platform, Dairy Cocoon.

Dairy Cocoon provides family operators with the tools to create their own niche dairy products, tapping into a growing consumer demand for Aussie-owned dairy. Cain’s vision is to help Dairy Cocoon members transform their operations to become “price setters” rather than “price takers”, thereby securing an enduring legacy for future generations.

Elisha Parker, Qld

Parker aims to benefit the livestock industry by solving the issue of limited geographic market reach and the absence of a specialised online advertising platform and search tool for sale cattle. As the winner of the Qld Rural Woman’s Award, Parker has delivered a new online catalogue tool to help livestock agents and buyers. is a marketing and advertising website that provides a time-saving, easy-access online platform for producers, studs and livestock agents seeking to sell or buy cattle. The website makes it possible to list cattle for sale via any sale point and incorporates smart tools that makes the searching process more convenient. The website increases market reach and has revolutionised the way the cattle industry connects.

Karen Brock, Tas

Brock is changing the face of the plant supply chain through her specialisation in plant tissue culture. Working from her lab in the Tamar Valley hinterlands, she uses plant tissue culture science to produce genetically-improved plants – such as blueberries, apple rootstocks, cherry rootstocks, avocado rootstocks, raspberries, strawberries, ginger and garlic – with a focus on disease resistance, climate tolerance and high yields.

Alongside her wholesale horticulture nursery, Brock has created a process which drastically accelerates traditional propagation methods, creating faster harvesting timeframes for farmers and providing future food security to the agri-business sector.

Brock’s work could be a powerful aid for Australian apple orchards, which were significantly affected in the 2020 bushfires. Using the new plant tissue production technology, Brock and her team hope to supply pathogen-resistant apple rootstock to the orchardists, which could potentially slash growers’ first harvest timeframe from eight years to four.

Kelly Barnes, Vic

Barnes’ project aims to combat social isolation while raising the resilience and wellbeing of farmers through the implementation of working dog training programs in rural communities. She’s designing a pilot working dog training school in her local area as a way of helping farmers engage and work with their dogs at a deeper level, enhancing their wellbeing.

One of the biggest issues in any rural area is isolation. This isolation may not always be geographical in nature; it can also include working alone on-farm all day. With many environmental challenges beyond farmers’ control, Brock says the constant stress can take its toll. With access to mental health resources often difficult to access in rural areas, along with the evidence of enormous benefits of therapy dogs in other settings, the connection between farmers and their dogs can prove an invaluable tool.

Stephane Schmidt, SA

As a psychologist and farmer, Schmidt understands first-hand the difficulties faced by those on the land when it comes to accessing mental health services. She aims to help farmers looking for psychological resources which offer skills to thrive in the face of adversity.

Thanks to the SA Rural Woman’s Award research bursary, Schmidt has been able to launch her pilot program, ACTFORAG. The program offers practical strength and resilience building strategies for farmers, businesses and families via the online conferencing platform Zoom.

Strategies that ACTFORAG teaches include focusing on building skills in psychological flexibility. Originally slated to include face-to-face sessions, the program’s use of Zoom means there’s now the opportunity for the program to reach wider geographical areas.

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award national winner will be announced on August 25 at a special black-tie event attended by alumni, government, industry and private sector representatives. The event is open to the public, with tickets available at EventsAIR.