USUALLY advocating for other rural women to receive recognition, Mid North farmer Natalie Sommerville said spending time in the awards spotlight recently had been a different but rewarding experience and one she continues to build upon.
The recent SA AgriFutures Rural Women's Award finalist said she had never been part of an award process before.
She was planning to use the scholarship to investigate the production of native foods in Australia as a diverse, economically-viable and sustainable opportunity for rural communities, including Indigenous communities, and strengthening the industry in SA.
"I have been observing the industry for years and it does not compare to our more established, modern ag markets," she said.
"Those that are doing it well in SA have had to work really hard to get there, but the native food industry has remained a bit stagnant on growth particularly extension and research for the state.
"There is so much potential in the industry, but when it comes to providing markets, if the bulk isn't there, we are losing out, particularly internationally, because we just don't have the supply when we need it.
"If we can get that balance right, this industry could really take off and be big for SA, it just needs a little more investment to get it up off the ground."
Natalie wanted to use the experience to also increase engagement in the SA native food industry.
"I wanted to get the community and relevant bodies together and come up with a plan for SA as this has not been done recently to include all relevant bodies" she said.
"Even though I didn't win the scholarship, I will persist and find other avenues to try and get my project up and running."
My commitment and contribution to community and industry boards and committees is my way of giving back and assisting to strengthen pathways for a stronger future farming and hence our rural areas.
Increasing engagement has long been a part of Natalie's modus operandi, starting with a coordinator role at her local Partners in Grain branch - now called Women Together Learning which she has now stepped off after 10 years - Landcare Association SA as Aboriginal Engagement committee chair for the conference steering committee; Ag Excellence Alliance as vice chair and PPSA nominee on the Native Vegetation Council, not to name all her volunteer roles.
"The Emerging Leaders Program has refreshed my leadership learnings in many ways but also develop further my advocacy skills for primary producers in the SA political system," she said.
"As a GPSA committee member for several years this has opened my eyes to how GPSA advocates for us and has been the highlight to date. I am also looking forward to an overseas study tour with the program.
"While the NFF Diversity in Agriculture course aims to increase the number of women in management and on boards and focused at advocacy at a national level. The networking opportunity with other very successful women and men has been invaluable."
Natalie already sits on many committees and boards, but these programs will help further her knowledge in governance and advocacy.
"My commitment and contribution to community and industry boards and committees is my way of giving back and assisting to strengthen pathways for a stronger future farming and hence our rural areas," she said.
"It helps those who are already in business to build on those skills, or for those that want to step into leadership within the ag industry, it help participants to have more of an impact and influence in the industry that you're in."
A good mentor is there to encourage you, help grow your ideas and tackle any concerns you may have.
Natalie says discussing and workshopping state-based issues with other participants from across the country has made her think more on a national scale, while she has also benefited greatly the five-month mentor component of the NFF program.
"The mentor program has been really helpful for board and business development," she said.
"My mentor is Belinda Turner, commercial manager at 40,000ha national broadacre business Daybreak Cropping, who has given me many insights and a lot of advice on challenges I have faced along the way as a woman and in leadership.
"She often gives a different perspective, not only by being a bit younger than myself, but also someone that lives outside the state.
"A good mentor is there to encourage you, help grow your ideas and tackle any concerns you may have, we have worked together really well on that."
Natalie graduates from the program in October, after which she hopes to stay connected with the other graduates and continue her leadership journey with the aim to step up to a national position in the future.
SUSTAINABILITY FOCUS ON-FARM
ALONG with all the leadership courses, committees and community groups she is involved in, Natalie also runs their farming businesses Windjara Ag and Euromina Holdings alongside husband Dane and two children Jessica, 10, and Mitchell, 7.
Their aim is to manage their farming properties in a way that will benefit their long term sustainability, increase their soil health and improved landscape function while still remaining profitable.
The proud Torres Strait Islander grew up in central Qld before moving to the top end of the NT where she spent most of her time on her grandparent's cattle station.
She said her childhood piqued an interest in sustainable farming.
"I've always felt a strong connection between the environment and production so I was really interested in learning more about sustainable agriculture," she said.
So in 1999, Natalie moved to SA to became a "nat rat" - studying natural resource management at university of Adelaide Roseworthy Agricultural College.
"But back then, Roseworthy didn't have a course for that, so I had to develop my own," she said.
"I included a selection of ag subjects as part of my degree, which was unique at the time."
Natalie said the intent was to always return to the north, "where it was warmer", and work in primary industry.
But not only did she meet her future husband Dane, a Spalding local, at university, she was also offered a full-time agronomy position with Bayer CropScience at Horsham, Vic, after she graduated.
"I enjoyed the challenge of growing and observing plants - I thought the plant breeding industry was fascinating and I loved my four years there," she said.
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But in 2004, the Sommerville family farm beckoned and a permanent move back to SA followed.
"My father in law was keen to reduce his workload and retire so with Dane and my skills we were able to accept the challenge," she said.
"We were not however equipped in business management at the time and needed to very quickly learn about BAS, budgets and business planning.
"We had just come from millennium drought conditions in the Vic Wimmera - thankfully it wasn't as bad in the Mid North.
"But what we learned in Vic really helped us to prepare ourselves for farming and especially the challenging aspects."
In a succession transition, the couple decided to start their own farming business, Euromina Holdings, to run alongside the family farm.
"The farm wasn't big enough (1934 hectares) to support three families, so through Euromina Holdings, we collaborated with another farming couple and took on financial partners to lease more land and buy our own machinery," Natalie said.
"Then over the years, Euromina Holdings bought out the other two parties including the financial partners and eventually took over the family farming business now trading as Windjara Ag.
"Starting a farming business from scratch (Euromina Holdings) was risky way to manage our future in farming, but it has worked for us."
Women have always played a vital role in farming, but often it is not recognised. Thankfully we are recognising this more.
Today, the combined businesses crops nearly 2200ha of canola, barley, wheat and vetch at Spalding and North Bungaree.
Other legumes are used in their rotations as needed including beans but is dependent on their risk mitigation strategy as frost is a big challenge in their area.
They also cut a lot of export hay and do some small seed production with lucerne and clover.
Utilising their non-arable parts of the farm, they also run 2000 ewes - numbers that have dropped significantly (normally 3000-4000) because of the dry conditions.
Natalie said when she started farming, it was a unique prospect being a female farm manager, with only a handful in the district that called themselves farmers.
"But now it's a different story with the industry booming with females in visible leadership positions," she said.
"Women have always played a vital role in farming, but often it is not recognised. Thankfully we are recognising this more.
"We need this diversity more in our advocacy positions as boards function best with different perspectives and experiences brought to the table."
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