The secret to women’s empowerment in agriculture: combining career and community
November 22, 2021 All Regions
At just 21-years-old with a degree to her name and an unparalleled determination in her stride, Liz Munn moved almost nine hours from home to begin a career in a male dominated industry, rising above the challenges and contributing to the trajectory of successful Australian women in agriculture.
From a childhood love of farming to a dream career in agriculture
Liz’s passion for agriculture developed at a young age, spending time on her grandfather and uncle’s mixed cropping and grazing farms at Moree in northern NSW and being involved with the local show.
“In my first holidays at university I got a job as a cotton bud checker and it was hard work, but I fell in love with it and after the four months doing that, I decided to be an agronomist when I finished uni,” Liz said.
With her home ground in drought when she completed her degree, Liz left the life she knew so well for a job 800 kilometres away at Leeton in the Riverina region. Determined to make friends and make a difference, Liz threw herself into the community and became – unofficially – the youngest person in the state, at just 22-years-old, to be the show society president.
Liz admits it was tough at first, being a young female in the role, but with the support of her dad, the Moree Show Society president, she got a handle on the position she held for three years before stepping down to vice president.
Platform to promote Australian agriculture
An impactful contributor, in 2017 Liz was named the Leeton Showgirl winner and the Royal Agricultural Society’s Rural Achiever, an experience taking her to Sydney and Adelaide. Liz’s contribution didn’t stop there, she was also a steward in a number of show competitions, and introduced the ASC Dryland Wheat Competition to the show as well as the Young Farmers Challenge.
“I try to bring as much agriculture into the shows as I can; towns are built on agriculture and it’s so important that everyone understands how agriculture impacts their livelihood and shows can get the message across in a fun way,” she said, highlighting how women’s empowerment in agriculture can come from a number of platforms, including shows.
With Leeton being the heart of rice country and home to SunRice headquarters, Liz also took on the challenge to be an entrant in the biennial SunRice Ambassador event, raising money for the Country Women’s Association (CWA) and choosing her local football club, Leeton Phantoms Rugby Union Club as her supporting organisation. Her determination paid off. At the end of the four-month campaign, Liz was named the winner.
Overcoming judgement to lay the foundation for Australian agricultural women
While these achievements are testament to her character, in a professional space, Liz has been met with far more challenges from working in a male-dominated sector she estimates comprises 90 percent of men.
Liz’s background is impressive. Prior to starting her role at S&W Seed Company as Territory Manager – Riverina and South Western NSW, she had gained extensive experience as an agronomist for cotton, rice, maize, cereals, pastures, and “pretty much anything a farmer wanted to grow”.
“It was really busy all year round as there’s irrigation for summer crops too, but I am really glad I started my career down here as it has given me access to so many different crops and expanded my knowledge.”
Liz admits to being met with prejudice, being a young woman agronomist, some had doubted her knowledge and advice, but she draws on the leadership and communication skills from her community involvement to overcome these moments of hesitation, building trusting relationships with a long list of farmers and ag companies.
“When I first moved here, I knew no one and I was the youngest person in the show society by about 20 years, but I joined to meet people and see the different aspects of the community and it’s given me so many opportunities.”
“I have spoken in front of the local Rotary club and been their honoury guest at meetings and they put me on a leadership course. If people can see you having a go and putting your hand up, they want to give you every opportunity they can.”
“Taking on these different leadership roles and doing these leadership courses not only gives me confidence, but it puts my name and face out there.”
“Being a woman in ag a lot of people do doubt you at the start, especially being young, but doing all these things makes it easier for them to accept you and respect you faster, especially as an agronomist where they have to believe you and take your advice.”
Changing landscape for Australian women in agriculture
Liz can see the shift in her industry, noticing the newer generation of farmers being more accepting and responsive to change and she hopes to see more Australian women in agriculture in the future as it’s a viable and rewarding employment option.
While Liz enjoys learning about trailblazers in her industry, naming Jo Palmer and Catherine Marriott as two who inspire her, Liz herself is no doubt contributing to laying the foundation for Australian agricultural women herself with what they can achieve in their careers and communities.