• Sonia Ghiggioli

Australian Women in Agriculture in 2019 - Changing Times

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Sunset Ballina, NSW

This year's annual Australian Women in Agriculture was held at the Ramada Hotel & Suites in Ballina, Northern NSW. Women attended from all corners of Australia, from coast to coast and everywhere in between. An international delegation of women came from Papua New Guinea, and I watch with delight as their numbers swell each year.

The AWiA conference committee team chose an apt theme this year, with drought impacting most farms at some stage recently. The theme was Review. Renew. Regenerate. AWiA stated "There will be a strong focus on building skills, knowledge and resilience in women and business in Australian Agriculture."

To me, the women in the room were already skilled, knowledgeable and resilient in their respectful fields. This was an opportunity to support each other, share anecdotes and stories to help uplift one another and make important connections with the view of collaborating in the future. We all know hard times. This conference was about looking ahead to the future, and making plans on how to adapt to change while keeping our support networks flourishing.

I had not planned on attending this year, but a gap in my responsibilities (last uni research paper submitted) and with a scholarship awarded to me by AWiA, I could not refuse. Fortunately I did, as this last minute decision proved to be extremely worthwhile. Along with conference fees and a travel reimbursement I gratefully accepted from our sponsor SUNSHINE SUGAR, I had the opportunity to participate on the panel to talk on Regenerative Agriculture. I could never fill Tammi Jonas' shoes, so took a very different approach in my impromptu speech. I had no computer, data or prior powerpoints to rustle up a presentation so I spoke from the heart, with the aim of connecting with the farmers in the audience and instilling hope for a better future in this changing environment.

Mary Retallack Sonia Ghiggioli Verity Morgan-Schmidt

It is an exciting time for Regenerative Ag (which can also be known by many terms such as biological ag, ecological ag, conservation ag etc, and draws on tools from organics, permaculture, natural sequence farming, holistic land management, cell grazing, agroforestry, silviculture and on and on. There are a raft of tools that are available for all different types of farming systems from broadacre cropping and large grazing systems to urban farms and market gardens.

The key to regenerating the landscape is soil health. Increasing soil organic matter which in turns increases microbial populations and begins the process of growing biodiversity. We look at farming ecosystems as a whole, and aim to mimic nature to increase profitability by reducing inputs, increase biodiversity by using land management principles suitable for the microclimate, soil and rainfall, and boosting resilience in farming communities. These may seem like insurmountable tasks whilst in drought, but form the basis of strengthening rural Australia for the future.

Lorraine Gordon announcing the Degree in Regenerative Agriculture - starting in 2020 at Southern Cross University in Lismore, NSW

I had the good fortune of being asked to join the panel by Lorraine Gordon, the founder of the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (amongst many other titles she holds) through Southern Cross University. The wonderfully supportive Sarah Parker, President of AWiA and Skye Douglas, Treasurer of AWiA and farmer at HighBrit Beef shared the news with me halfway through our evening Cocktail event and I immediately accepted the challenge. The following night during our Gala Dinner event, Lorraine made an announcement that Southern Cross University in Lismore will be offering the first ever throughout the world Degree in Regenerative Agriculture. More information can be found by following the Regen Ag Alliance Facebook Page. It was a monumental announcement!

Mary Retallack & Sonia Ghiggioli - Women of the Vine Global Symposium in Napa, California 2015

Every time I attend an Australian Women in Agriculture event I come away feeling a deeper connection with other women who share my passion and values. It was a great feeling spending time with Mary Retallack again, having met at a global symposium for women in wine in Napa in California in 2015. It was an instrumental moment in my life that led me to move out of winemaking and vineyard consultancy back into broader agriculture, and namely soil microbiology. Mary's love of bugs was apparent back then as we strolled vineyards together and her presentation on increasing habitat for beneficial insects using native plant species in the vineyard was thoroughly enjoyable and educational. Verity Morgan-Schmidt, Stakeholder Relations Director at Farmers for Climate Action sent a strong and informative message about where we are heading, and why we need definitive climate action. We all know it is happening, it is our ability to collaborate to help each other through this that will matter most.

One of my favourite parts of the conference was being offered a home to be billeted in through the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance throughout the course of the conference. It was here that I made true connections with my Evans Head family and I cannot wait to see how this friendship grows.

Thank you to all the wonderful women working behind the scenes to make this an enlightening and eventful conference. I know most are having hard times at home on farms and it was so good to get away with you all. We are a strong and committed group of women, highly skilled and qualified, and have opportunities to make real change in these trying times. Keep looking out for one another!

Have a wonderful day,

Sonia Ghiggioli

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