As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.
2017 Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women’s Award (RWA) winner, Sandra Ireson, runs a beef and sheep operation near Booligal with her husband and their three children. She has a keen interest in developing pathways for young people to gain a start in agriculture.
Sandra says she has seen first-hand the lack of opportunities available to young people to access hands-on training to make them employable in the rural sector.
‘I saw a trend where smaller numbers of young people were entering or staying in agriculturally dependent communities and townships like Hay and I decided I wanted to do something to shift the trend.’
In 2014 Sandra co-developed the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program to give young people the skills, education and experience they need to pursue a career in agriculture.
Alongside members of the Hay Inc. Rural Education team, Sandra develop a tailored program that provides hands-on training modules that cover the necessary skills of stockmanship in sheep and cattle and farming.
The program, which is taught by local landholders or retired farmers, also provides mentoring support and access to rural networks, which young people can use as a spring board to their career in agriculture.
‘Farmers in this region have hundreds of years of knowledge between them. It’s been great for the students to learn tips and skills you don’t get through a traditional training program.’
The Hay Inc. Program has delivered substantial benefits to Hay including: raising the profile of the local ag industry, enhancing tourism, providing greater understanding of the importance of food and fibre production, and it has enriched the social fabric of the community and surrounding district.
Using her bursary from the RIRDC Rural Women’s Award, Sandra plans to build on the success of the program by developing an adaptable model that can be used by other communities and industries across Australia.
‘The model will provide a pathway for young people wanting a career in agriculture, and will support the establishment of networks between district landholders, employers and trainees who can provide ongoing mentoring of trainees. It will be great for other rural communities and industries to realise the benefits we have already seen in our region.’
As a member of the National Rural Women’s Coalition Communication Reference Group Sandra has access to a wide support network across rural Australia and says she’s fortunate to be surrounded by a fantastic community who share common values and interest and who are passionate about rural Australia.
‘People young and old are happy to roll up their sleeves and help out. It’s this local community that has helped bring ideas to life—from 20 years of organising sheep racing at Booligal to the Hay Inc. Rural Education Program.’
Sandra embraced technology with open arms. She recalls developing a website with volunteers for the Booligal Sheep Races in 2001 when internet first became available in her remote community. From there she joined webinars and learnt how to use social media as an effective marketing/communications tool.
While the tyranny of distance, and the constant juggle to balance the farm, business and family responsibilities, means she often doesn’t have time to meet up with people in person, Sandra says her online presence mean she can stay in touch and still feel connected.
‘I regularly use online platforms to stay connected and involved with the community, sharing stories of life on the land. I hope we will see better infrastructure and more affordable technology in rural Australia so many more women can benefit from this form of collaboration like I have.’
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