More than 120 delegates gathered in Shepparton last month for a two-day conference to celebrate 25 years of Australian Women in Agriculture (AWiA), including a couple of AUSVEG staff members who were eager to gain an insight into other key Australian industries.

To mark the occasion, the conference theme was Looking back, looking forward and it featured speaker sessions that focused on the past, present and future of AWiA.

The conference commenced on Friday 17 August with a cocktail dinner at the Shepparton Motor Museum and continued the next day at the Eastbank Centre. Independent MP for the District of Shepparton Suzanna Sheed provided the official welcome and she was joined by a number of engaging speakers, who covered a whole range of topics from the history of AWiA and female entrepreneurs in agriculture to other current day projects such as the Invisible Farmer Project and ‘What Does a Farmer Look Like?’, a book recently released by New South Wales photographer Kim Storey. Technology also took centre stage with Queensland photographer Fiona Lake providing a presentation entitled The Women’s Guide to putting drones to work on farms while Tim Gentle from Think. Digital spoke about immersive technologies in agriculture using ‘virtual tours’ and 360-degree photography.

There was also discussion around what were the current and emerging issues facing agriculture, particularly those affecting women, and what can be done to address these. This activity involved delegates breaking into smaller groups to brainstorm ideas that can shape future AWiA advocacy activities.

The capstone event of the conference was the 2018 Australian Women in Agriculture Conference Gala Dinner, held at the Olive Grove Event and Function Venue. Headlining the speakers was ABC Back Roads’ host Heather Ewart who reflected on her childhood in the country, how the concept of Back Roads came about and what she has learnt from her travels around rural and regional Australia. Following Heather was an “On the Couch” session led by Victoria’s 2010 Rural Women of the Year award winner Alana Johnson with AWiA founding members: Victorian Independent MP Cathy McGowan, former dairy and beef industry member Elaine Patton AO and western Victorian farmer Val Lang AM on stage to chat further about women in agriculture. The panel reflected on the improvement of women’s representation over the past 25 years, however it was stated that more work needed to be done to bridge the equality gap.

Rounding out the conference was a field trip on Sunday 19 August. In keeping with the theme, delegates had the choice of attending one of three tours – past, present and future.

This involved many aspects of the region, including the heritage-listed Port of Echuca and the surrounding historic shopping precinct; the diverse agricultural Strathbogie Shire visiting farmers and businesses specialising in the ‘paddock to plate’ concept; and Dookie College, the University of Melbourne’s Agricultural Campus where some of Australia’s leading technology and research is being conducted.

Overall, it was an enjoyable three days with powerful messages including a call to action that encouraged friendship, support, courage and action for women in agriculture. For more information on Australian Women in Agriculture, please visit its website.

This post appeared in the AUSVEG Weekly Update published 04 September 2018. Subscribe to the Update using our online form to receive the latest industry news in your inbox every week!