Forum ‘amazing experience’

Agri-Women’s Development Trust Escalator graduate Anne-Marie Wells (left) with (from left) Otago...
Agri-Women’s Development Trust Escalator graduate Anne-Marie Wells (left) with (from left) Otago-Southland Escalator alumni members Loshni Manikam, Kim Kelly, Dawn Sangster and Fiona Hancox. Photo: Mark Coote
Taking part in the recent Dairy Environment Leaders’ Forum followed on nicely from another leadership programme for Outram dairy farmer Anne-Marie Wells.

Last month, Mrs Wells was one of 14 women involved in the primary industries who graduated from Escalator, the Agri-Women’s Development Trust’s national leadership and governance programme.

Created as a result of  the AWDT’s research into the role of women in agriculture and low participation at leadership and governance levels, the programme included five Wellington-based modules over 10 months, distance learning, coaching and mentoring.

Meanwhile, the Dairy Environment Leaders’ Programme aimed to provide stewardship for the future and develop leaders in responsible dairying.

An annual farmer-led forum held since 2013, the Dairy Environment Leaders’ Forum was an opportunity for  farmer leaders to be inspired, motivated and empowered, evaluate their progress and set goals for regional and national initiatives.

Taking part in the forum in Wellington this month was an "absolutely amazing" and positive experience, Mrs Wells said. This year’s focus was leadership and influence and there was much to learn about how to do that.

She enjoyed such speakers as Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne, Australian science communicator Julian Cribb and AWDT patron Mavis Mullins.

Mrs Wells and her husband, Duncan, won the Dairy Business of the Year Award in 2015 and, as a result, hosted a group of accountants on their farm.

One of those accountants was Charmaine O’Shea, owner of a Northland accountancy practice, who is an equity partner in a dairy farm and  chairwoman of  the AWDT as well as a graduate of the Escalator programme.

It was Ms O’Shea who mentioned Escalator as something she thought Mrs Wells might be interested in. Now in its seventh year, the programme has so far produced 98 graduates. This year’s graduates hailed from Northland to Otago, and worked in dairy, sheep and beef farming, science, marketing, animal health, health and safety, Maori agribusiness, and central and local government.

It was an "incredible" year and Mrs Wells said she learnt to focus on her strengths rather than her weaknesses.

"I feel like a different person coming out at the end of the year. It’s been such a good learning journey, personally and professionally."

It was also a busy year for the mother-of-three but she was grateful for the  "amazing" support of her husband.

Originally from Bath, in England, she joked how she did not even have a garden and was scared of animals before she met her future husband on a high-altitude trek in India.

After 10 years in New Zealand, she loved the rural lifestyle and had asked lots of questions because she did not know anything, she said.

But she did have a strong business background and had been able to utilise those skills in their business and put more processes in place and streamline it.

She was also involved with setting up a rural women’s group on the Taieri, trying to connect rural women and build networks.

After a busy year, Mrs Wells said she had "so much to process" from everything she had done and she needed to regroup and work out how to go forward in the most positive way.

In early March, a meeting was planned on the Taieri to discuss the new water plan. She was also keen on the idea of working with people to save some time and frustration in the office side of their businesses.

Before the forum, she did not realise how much support there was going on in the background for the dairy industry.

There was a lot of investment and science going on to help farmers to do things better. It was an exciting time as people were ready to listen to that science, she said.

Over the next few years, there would be some very impressive changes happening and so much had happened already.

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