Saturday, December 2, 2023

Another beacon for women in agriculture

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This month Emma Poole became the first woman to be named Young Farmer of the Year.
‘These last three days have been really tough,’ Emma Poole said as she and her fellow contestants awaited the results.
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If you can dream it, you can become it, or so the saying goes.

But surely if you can actually see it, the goal becomes even more attainable?

This week, about half of the young people who aspire to making a life in the food production sector saw that it’s possible.

That’s because for the first time in its 55-year history, the Young Farmer of the Year is a woman.

Emma Poole may be the first woman to win the title, but she knows her path was paved by many before her.

“There’s a long chain of women that have worked really hard to display the important role we play in agriculture,” she said. 

“All those women have given me the confidence to stand up and give it a go. I’m just a product of what they’ve all achieved.”  

The annual contest encompasses all of the skills a farmer needs to succeed, so in some ways it’s surprising that it has taken a woman more than 50 years to win it.

But as we know, although New Zealand boasts a few firsts in the advancement of human rights, there’s still work to do.

We were first to give women the vote, in 1893.

In 1999, Georgina Beyer became the first openly transsexual mayor and Member of Parliament. 

We’ve had women in positions of power at various times over the past few years and women make up almost half of parliament.

Trailblazers like Cath Tizard, Theresa Gattung, Jenny Shipley and Jacinda Ardern, Eliza McCartney, Lisa Carrington and Lorde all provide the younger generation with a light to guide their way.

Māori farming is thriving, as the Ahuwhenua Trophy shows, and our indigenous farmers are now influencing the direction of travel for all of us. 

These are all positive signs.

But there’s a lot more to do and that’s why organisations like Rural women NZ, the Agri-women’s Development Trust and the Dairy Women’s Network are so important.

They identify and nurture talented women who may once have been overlooked, or confined to the boundary fences of the farms they help build.

The alumni of these great programmes are proof that we’re better off as an industry when our leadership group is diverse and dynamic. 

If we’re to thrive as an industry we need to call on all of the skills within it.

Some people like to point out our social and business structures have always been merit-based.

But it’s hard to look back through the years at the boards of directors and senior leaderships teams of our agribusinesses and come to that conclusion.

Poole’s success shows the young women and girls who live in the farming world that their skills and strengths are enough.

It’s not about winning at a man’s game, it’s about winning the game in your own way.

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