Saturday, April 13, 2024

Wāhine toa lead the way in food and fibre

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Agriculture’s young warrior women are an inspiration, says Cheyenne Wilson.
ydia O’Dowd was named 2023 Young Plant Producer, highlighting her commitment to sustainability and the development of alternatives to agrichemicals.
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As the sun rises over the horizon, casting a golden glow on the rolling hills surrounding the sheepyards, a picturesque scene unfolds, a symphony of bleating sheep, barking dogs and the scattering of hooves across pebbles. 

What sets this sight apart is that most of the staff working in the yards are women. 

Reflecting on my teenage years, when I accompanied my dad to work as a yard manager at Mount Linton Station, I didn’t think much of the gender distribution back then; it was simply the norm. 

But these strong, determined women would become inspiration in the industry, teaching me invaluable skills and guiding me on how to take care of myself during long hours on hot summer days.

Growing up in the primary industries, I was fortunate to have my mum as my first role model in the shearing sheds, along with other strong female figures in my life. 

It is heartening to witness the increasing prominence of women in the food and fibre sector. These women generously share their experiences and knowledge with others, passing on their wisdom and actively supporting and championing their fellow women.

Organizations such as Rural Women New Zealand have played a pivotal role in supporting young mothers in rural communities and early-career farm staff, providing essential life skills and fostering community cohesion. 

Witnessing the compassion and support shown by these groups to regions affected by natural disasters and adverse weather events has been truly inspiring.

Initiatives such as Agri-Women’s Development Trust (AWDT) and Dairy Women’s Network have emerged thanks to the recognition of specific needs in the industry. 

I’ve personally benefited from AWDT courses and had the privilege of speaking at the Generation Changes courses, where I had the opportunity to formally mentor early-career women in the sector.

Incredibly humbled to be among the 11 female finalists in the 12-year history of the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Grower/Farmer of the Year, I take immense pride in being part of a legacy that has seen four women claim this prestigious title. 

This year marked another milestone, with three inspirational wāhine toa named finalists for the Young Māori Grower of the Year: Grace Rehu, Alix Te Kere and Erica Henare, all passionate and accomplished individuals. 

Grace was bestowed with the award, humbly accepting it on behalf of all three wāhine, recognising their collective success.

The efforts of women in the food and fibre industry have been remarkable, shattering the grass ceiling while actively nurturing and guiding others to follow in their footsteps. 

Emma Poole’s recent victory as the first woman and mother to claim the FMG Young Farmer of the Year title was a historic moment in the contest’s 55-season history, and it exemplifies the impact women are making in the industry.

Adding to this, Louise Hennessy’s victory in the Young Emerging Leader Award 2023 at the Primary Industries Summit is testament to her dedication to supporting rangatahi and early-career researchers in science through the Māori Summer Internship programme, Te Puāwaitanga, at AgResearch. 

Likewise, Laura Koot’s nomination for the award this year, alongside her work at Real Country and the Fairlight Foundation, which fosters and supports career advancement for women in agriculture, exemplifies the visionary leadership of women in the sector.

The contributions of many other exceptional women have been acknowledged in this award category, including Kristy McGregor, founder of Shepherdess, a quarterly magazine that seeks to connect, empower and inspire individuals in the industry.

As the year progressed, accolades continued to pour in, with Jessica Bills claiming the Rural Contractors’ NZ Trainee of the Year Award, transitioning from an accountancy office to a tractor seat in pursuit of her passion. 

Lydia O’Dowd’s recognition as the 2023 Young Plant Producer highlights her commitment to sustainability and the development of alternatives to agrichemicals.

Notably, the Regional Young Grower of the Year 2023 titles were dominated by women, demonstrating their unwavering enthusiasm to compete and encourage others in the sector.

It is genuinely encouraging to witness these young women leading the way in the food and fibre industry. Their dedication, resilience and passion serve as beacons, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps and strive for excellence in the dynamic world of agriculture. With wāhine toa like these paving the way, the future of the food and fibre sector looks promising and inclusive for all.

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