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Rural women's awards - increasing gender diversity

08 October 2021

Like a great many other industries in Australia, agriculture has its fair share of work to do if it is to realise gender diversity in all its ranks and the benefits that flow from that.

Statistics from the National Farmers’ Federation in 2019 found that women comprise 41 percent of the agricultural workforce but only 18 percent of management roles and 2.3 percent of CEO positions.

Slowly, that is changing.

Women in agriculture

In 2020 the number of women on agriculture, fisheries and forestry related government boards rose to 50 percent and women have assumed 60 percent of all positions recruited by the Consolidated Pastoral Company.

Agrifutures Australia, set up by the Australian Government in 1990 to help fund research and development in Australian rural industries, is making its own inroads by building diversity in rural Australia through its Rural Women’s Awards program.

The awards promote, enhance, and showcase the achievements of women in an industry where they have for generations forged careers in all agriculture-related fields from agronomy and education to finance and marketing but remain conspicuously missing at the senior executive and board levels.

Ruby and rural women's awards

Ruby has been covering the awards for almost 10 years. The amazing state and territory winners are all part of a rich tapestry of post colonisation women in agriculture, which started with the likes of Mary Reibey, the ex-convict on our $20 note. Her land and agricultural trading holdings strengthened the economic backbone of the early colony. She’s accompanied by Elizabeth Macarthur, whose merino sheep breeding success - mostly attributed to her husband, John – is the stuff of textile legend.

Back in 2010 Ruby spoke with Sue Middleton from WA, whose ambition to pursue the commercialisation of biogas as a business opportunity saw her snag the national award. In 2016 Sophie Hansen’s focus on providing communities with the skills needed to take advantage of social media channels to share their primary producing stories, connect with peers and new customers and invite the world into their rural lives received the top gong. Choosing a winner from this year’s crop of exceptional women will be difficult.

The award winner will be announced on 20 October, 2021. You can watch as it happens from 12.30pm – 2.00pm.

The state and territory rural women nominees

Cressida Cains NSW ACT

Cressida Cains, NSW/ACT

Cressida is a Southern Highlands dairy farmer who is passionate about promoting a profitable and secure future for Australian dairy farmers.

Her project involves creating an online platform and support hub that includes business tools, information and education called Dairy Cocoon that will assist dairy farmers to develop and produce their own unique branded products.

Elisha Parker QLD

Elisha Parker, QLD

Elisha is the Co-Founder of, a marketing and advertising site with an interactive catalogue for sales and auctions.

Her project is based around broadening the scope and reach of, which includes developing her website’s functionality to allow agents to catalogue lots at bull sales, complete with videos and supplementary data.

Kellybarnes VIC

Kelly Barnes, VIC

Kelly is a farmer from Dunkeld who is passionate about boosting the resilience of her local community by building connections through animals.

Her project involves building a Working Dog Training School in Dunkeld with the aim of bringing people together, not only to improve their dog handling skills but also to break down social barriers and aid mental health.

Stephanieschmidt SA

Stephanie Schmidt, SA

Stephanie is a Clinical Psychologist and farmer, who is passionate about building resilience in regional Australia to support communities.

Her project is centred around developing a resilience program made specifically for farming couples, families, and individuals, with the aim of see psychological flexibility grow throughout the rural sector.

Carapeek WA

Cara Peek, WA

Cara is a Broome-based lawyer, entrepreneur and social innovator who is passionate about driving opportunities for rural and remote people to empower the Aboriginal community.

Her project aims to progress the Saltwater Academy, which celebrates the heritage of the Kimberley Aboriginal pastoral industry and provides related emotional, economic, and cultural initiatives, including training and employment opportunities.

Amy Kirke NT

Amy Kirke, NT

Amy is a Darwin-based Marine Biologist who is passionate about sustainable industries and education with emphasis on supporting and uplifting women in her community.

Her project aims to provide rural communities with much needed STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) engagement through science workshops, particularly focussing on the remote areas of the Northern Territory.

Karen Brock TAS

Karen Brock, TAS

Karen is a Winkleigh-based specialist in plant tissue culture who is passionate about plant tissue culture and food security production systems.

Her project focusses on her work to reduce plant input costs as well as producing disease-resistant and climate tolerant plants, and crops that produce higher yields per hectare.