A doctor, farmer, stud dairy cattle breeder and mother, Ellen Downes, Canowindra, NSW explains how being a part of progressive initiative, AgEDGE, has been an invaluable experience for her family and their business.
The daughter of dairy farmers, Ellen and her husband Stuart run a mixed farming enterprise at Canowindra in the central west of New South Wales. A mother to three children, Ellen juggles her career as a regionally-based medical specialist, show enthusiast and stud dairy cattle breeder. She is also a 2019 NSW–ACT AgriFutures™ Rural Women’s Award finalist.
Ellen’s life was thrown into chaos after the sudden death of her father in 2010, as the family grappled with forced succession while continuing to run the business without a handover. She said the experience made her determined to lead by example and ensure the next generation of farming families had sound planning, robust business structures and inclusive collaboration processes in place, so they were spared a similar situation.
“I believe that often it is the women who raise the ‘big ticket’ family issues within a business, as they bring their unique skills and perspective to the farm table.
“This not only creates the right environment for collaboration and partnership but it also enhances the family, farm and business.”
To help navigate their own complex issues and challenges within their farming family businesses, Ellen and Stuart first became involved with AgEDGE 13 years ago.
A not-for-profit group made up of farmers and other agribusiness people, members of AgEDGE meet quarterly to review the performance of their business; set goals; and discuss current business challenges.
“Being involved with AgEDGE has been invaluable for our business and our relationship.Ellen Downes, Canowindra
“We were coming to the business from different angles and with different agricultural and life experiences.
“AgEDGE helped us pick the best of both worlds and combine that into a plan that sets out a future direction for us as individuals, as a family and from a commercial perspective.”
The unique peer-mentoring platform enables farmers to successfully navigate the many highs and lows of agriculture. It helps them to understand their business better; get clarity around decision-making; set and achieve goals, both business and personal; and discuss current business challenges.
Ellen said the support and experience of other farming families, and in particular other women, allowed for collaboration, provided peer support, and reduced professional isolation, often felt by farming families.
“AgEDGE makes you pause and reassess where you are up to in your plans.
We now schedule fortnightly meetings with each other so we reconnect with what is going on in the farm and monitor our progress towards our goals.Ellen Downes, Canowindra.
“It may sound a bit formal but it allows us to have a better sense of what is going on in our lives and business and we generally feel less disjointed given everything we juggle.
Ellen said as a woman, one of the best things about AgEDGE was the way it included the partner in the business, especially if the partner was not out in the paddock everyday physically working on the farm.
“AgEDGE provides a ‘space’ to acknowledge the valuable contribution that partners make in the business, even if they are bringing a completely different skill set to the table.
“This is empowering for everyone and allows everyone to contribute. It becomes a real team effort.”
As part of Ellen’s vision to ensure farming families have adequate processes and structures in place, she wants to see more people become involved with AgEDGE. In particular, she wants to open the door for women to become more actively involved in the farm business should they choose and for them to have a seat at the farm business table.
Ellen’s immediate goal is to offer the opportunity of AgEDGE as a key farm business tool to communities right across Australia.
“She hopes to be able to develop strategies to explain the AgEDGE concept, in conjunction with the development of webinar and social media opportunities and provide more industry networking opportunities to raise awareness of this established, successful model and its ability to enhance family farm business.
I have seen many family farming businesses thrive from the inclusion, support, and empowerment they have received through AgEdge and I am excited by the potential that women could gain from being involved.Ellen Downes, Canowindra
“Success to me is a thriving agriculture sector, supported by family farming businesses who have the knowledge, skill sets, resilience and capacity to remain viable for the generations to come, along with more rural women who feel empowered within the farm business and are confidently engaging in sophisticated business discussions.’
For more information about AgEDGE, click here.
This article first appeared in The Country Web 2019 Annual