Meet the Agrifutures WA Rural Womens Awards finalists for 2022

Debbie Dowden, Southern Rangelands

Debbie Dowden is a pastoralist based in the Southern Rangelands, where she resides with her husband. They are 5th generation station owners running cattle.

Debbie’s motivation behind her project is succession, an ongoing and familiar conversation around many farming kitchen tables. “My husband and I are retiring in 10 years, and we don’t have anyone to take over our property”. With their four children having found passions outside of the station. Debbie and her husband’s property has been in the family for five generations. They want to allow the next owner to succeed, providing them with the information Debbie says is “stuck inside my husband’s head”. Looking towards the global trends, Debbie has seen the market demanding environmentally sustainable produce.

Living in the Southern Rangelands, they meet a lot of the requirements for product sustainability. “Our area has been disadvantaged in research and development for at least the last 20 years”. Debbie’s project will look at the whole farming enterprise to look at the different aspects of the natural capital and determine what needs to be focused on to improve and support their agricultural production in the region. This will then allow a level of data collection that can be collated together to provide the future station owner with all the information they require to run the property successfully, leading to long-term sustainability to produce high-quality red meat. She is going to be using the new Global Farm Metric as a framework for understanding the sustainability of her property. “You don’t have to be the expert in land management. You will have data and science to back your decisions”. Debbie is excited to change the narrative about the Southern Rangelands and fast track the environmental reparation of the rangelands.

For Debbie, the bursary will give her the ability to collaborate and develop best practise when it comes to data collection on their property. She plans to use the bursary to install satellite tracking tags on some of her young heifers. Excited about the prospect of the research, she looks forward to collaborating with various organisations, including NRM, to make her project come to life.

Dr Bronwyn Blake, South West

Bronwyn has been in the hemp industry for 7 years, having just harvested her 7th crop with husband and business partner Chris. Their business, Vasse Valley Hemp Farm, was born in 2017 the same year hemp seed was legalised for human consumption.

Having heard a lot of concerns over the last few years of people questioning the legitimacy and safety of hemp, Bronwyn’s project is to run a national consumer awareness campaign to provide the everyday consumer with information on why they should include hemp seed in their daily diet. “Hemp seed does not contain THC and is perfectly safe to eat. In fact, its omega profile brings significant health benefits if consumed regularly. Just one tablespoon of hemp seeds per day provides all of your omega 3 requirements.”   For Bronwyn, she hopes to use the bursary to leverage additional funds throughout the hemp industry and beyond to raise $400,000 to bring the campaign to life and make hemp seed a pantry staple.

Hemp farming was not something that has always been in the long term plan. “It was an exit strategy to get Chris out of the FIFO lifestyle”. They purchased some acreage in the Southwest and wanted to farm the land choosing a crop that didn’t have too much competition plus plenty of potential to value-add, and hemp ticked all the boxes. “There was a small hemp movement at the time, which we joined and set about igniting a new industry for WA””. Having some experience in Agriculture between Bronwyn and Chris, they invested a fair bit of their savings, made plenty of sacrifices, and put in extra working hours. After seven years of hard work, their business continues to grow is making a profit.  With Chris home full-time to help with the kids, farm and business, Bronwyn continues to focus on building this budding new industry so all Australians can benefit.

Louise O’Neill, Denmark

Louise O’Neill is originally from England and is now farming with her Husband based in Denmark. She started Farm Life Fitness after having two boys; she started to assess the culture of agriculture, not having much presence when it comes to work-life balance. “I don’t want them thinking farming is a 24 hours a day, seven days a week concept”.  

Farm Life is about bringing time back for yourself, improving your mental wellbeing through movement, and providing opportunities for regional people to create an online live community for women in Farming. Farm life has several live workouts available during the week for women to tune in live or watch back when they have time later in their day. The other aspect of Farm Life is to provide people, not just women, the opportunity to have conversations around mental and emotional wellbeing, time management, goal setting, and self-care. “I am so grateful every day that this is what I do for a job”. There is a missing element between working on the farm and taking time for yourself and a break and seeing the opportunity for your growth and how this can increase productivity in your farming business in the long run.

Louise said the prospect of speaking to more people and opening up these conversations is what motivates her. the bursary will help set her up with a business consultant to develop Farm Life and take it to the next level with stakeholders and investments. “I would love to talk more to local governments and to be able to promote a healthier community ultimately”.

The WA Agrifutures Award Winner will be announced on the 5th of May, 2022