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Rural women winners

12 October 2020

Women in rural Australia help whole communities thrive and prosper. They’re work - often unsung and unacknowledged – is celebrated by AgriFutures Australia with its annual AgriFutures Rural Women’s Awards. We catch up with this year’s State winners.

Cressida Cains Pecora Dairy Lean Timms HR23

Cressida Cains (above), a NSW Southern Highlands farmer and cheesemaker, remembers a time when small-scale dairy farms dominated the lush countryside around her.

“Those family businesses have become something of an endangered species,” says the winner of the 2020 NSW-ACT AgriFutures Rural Women's Award. Cains is using her $10,000 Westpac bursary to launch Dairy Cocoon – a non-profit platform and support hub for small dairy farms to connect and get educated about how to thrive in an ever-changing market.

She hopes to share their stories and encourage more dairy farmers to produce branded cheeses, yoghurts, milk and gelato. “I also want to educate consumers on the benefits of high-quality dairy products,” she says, “and preserve this unique industry for generations of dairy farmers to come.”

The innovators of Rural Women’s Day

Cains is one of many rural and regional women being celebrated in the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, which gives women a platform and supports their contribution to primary industries and rural communities by providing resources, support, mentoring – and a $10,000 bursary for each winner.

The Award coincides with International Rural Women’s Day on October 15, an event which shines a light on the contribution women make in rural and regional areas. And it’s particularly poignant in Australia this year, when those small towns and communities beyond the big smoke have been doing it tough due to severe drought, devastating bushfires and floods – and now the Covid-19 pandemic.

So it’s all the more amazing to have so many inspiring Aussie women innovating and making a difference in their communities.

Working dogs and relationship building

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Kelly Barnes (above), winner of 2020 Victorian Rural Women’s Award, also has big plans for her $10,000 Westpac bursary. She’s embarked on an initiative that aims to combat social isolation, while raising the resilience and wellbeing of farmers – all through a working dog training program.

“By educating farmers on how to handle, manage and bond with their dogs, we’ll hopefully we able to reduce the stress and improve the mental wellbeing of those on the land, much in the same way as therapy dogs and assistance dogs [do],” says Kelly.

Resilience skills for rural folk

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SA’s Rural Women’s Award winner Stephanie Schmidt (above) is also focussed on helping help those on the land access mental health resources. The clinical psychologist, farmer, wife and mother has used her $10,000 Westpac bursary to launch her pilot program, ACTFORAG, in the hopes of teaching rural folk useful coping skills they can use in the face of adversity – something on the rise with climate change.

“The ACTFORAG program offers practical strength and resilience building strategies for farmers, businesses and families via Zoom,” says Stephanie, who hopes to develop a ‘Train the Trainer’ program so other mental health workers and community workers can run the program within their own communities.

Livestock selling solutions

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Elisha Parker (above), QLD’s 2020 Rural Women’s Award winner, has used her passion for agriculture and livestock to create a new online marketing and advertising site, It’s a tool she developed with friend and business partner Anabelle Spann, and one she hopes will assist livestock agents with marketing stud stock sales, and assist buyers with undertaking pre-sales preparation.

“ offers a free alert system that allows buyers to receive notifications based on their cattle requirement specifications, as well as the use of social media tools for sharing,” says Parker. In this way, the website can increase market reach and revolutionise the way the Australian cattle industry connects.

There are others we’re cheering on – Karen Brock in TAS, Cara Peek in WA and Amy Kirke in NT, who are all innovating for their respective States. Read more about all the winners here.

Supporting our rural and regional women

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is a great step towards supporting the women who work tirelessly to make a difference in their local communities. Sharing their stories on social media is a great way to highlight the amazing contributions they’ve made to rural and regional Australia.

If you’re wondering what you can do to further support people in these areas, look into the government’s #BuyRegional campaign, travel to the small towns and communities in need of your tourism dollar and donate to not-for-profits such as The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

Congratulations again to all the State and Territory winners!

Want to know more about the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award and the emerging industries being highlighted? Maybe you’d like to apply for 2021? Visit the website and criteria here.