Cindy leads from the front on agricultural innovation

September 21, 2015

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Out of the paddock, Cindy Cassidy is building partnerships to value add to FarmLink’s existing relationships.

As a young girl Cindy Cassidy would beg her parents to attend the Henty field days but now in her capacity as NSW/ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award winner, she will officially open them.

Cindy, of Ariah Park, will open the 2015 field days at 11am on Tuesday, September 22.

She was announced as the Rural Women’s winner award by Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair at NSW Parliament House in May.

Cindy received a $10,000 bursary and the opportunity to participate in the RIRDC Australian Institute of Company Director’s course.

“Cindy’s ambitions to improve agricultural extension and help farmers maximise the use of research and development will stand her in good stead to take out the national competition later this year in Canberra,’’ Mr Blair said.

The NSW/ACT Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Rural Women’s Award is co-ordinated by the Department of Primary Industries’ Rural Women’s Network with financial support from NSW Farmers, Office of Environment & Heritage and the Country Women’s Association of NSW.

Cindy grew up on a sheep and grain farm at Ariah Park before moving to Melbourne to work in the agribusiness sector for more than 20 years.

She returned to the Riverina region in 2013 to settle on the family farm with her young daughter and take up the chief executive officer’s role with FarmLink.

Based at Temora Agricultural Innovation Centre, FarmLink is a not for profit agricultural research and extension organisation in southern NSW made up of 320 growers, collaborators, advisers and researchers.

FarmLink’s main objective is to co-ordinate and communicate private, public and grower group funded research and development activities within the region.

Before joining FarmLink, Cindy worked with a number of large agribusinesses including the Australian Barley Board, AWB Ltd, and co-established Wheat Quality Australia.

Wheat Quality Australia took over responsibility for variety classification following the demise of the single desk.

She has been involved in stakeholder and industry committees and presented at conferences, both nationally and internationally.

Cindy believes agricultural research and development is critical to the ongoing competitiveness of Australian agriculture.

She sees farming systems groups, with their committed member base, local focus and emphasis on farmer-to-farmer learning, to be integral to the successful adoption of research outcomes on farm.

Cindy intends to use the award to explore national and international approaches to modern agricultural extension in order to improve the effectiveness of locally delivered programs.

The knowledge and tools created through the project will be transferred to other farming systems groups through the network of collaborations and partnerships.

Cindy admits to finding changing or challenging environments exciting and positive.

“Those sorts of experiences have stood me in good stead for this role where FarmLink is primarily about enabling people to embrace change,’’ she said.

“We identify the issues farmers are struggling with, then access information or data or technology to address the problem, and support them to resolve it.’’

Cindy joined FarmLink in 2013, and was impressed by how the organisation could demonstrate value at an industry and grass roots level.

“We have recently relaunched our membership prospectus to embrace a broader cross section of the farmers in our region,’’ she said.

FarmLink has targeted all people directly and indirectly involved in decision-making within the farm business.

“We are also creating strong partnerships with farming systems groups across the country so the projects we are doing here are also available to them,’’ Cindy said.

“We are sharing our knowledge and understanding with them – the real strength of FarmLink is that it is local and regional.’’

FarmLink has had a presence at the Henty Machinery Field Days for the past two years.

“Personally I have been going to Henty since I was a young girl and it was the big day out – I remember being very excited about going,’’ Cindy said.

“Our interest in being at Henty was to spread our message. Initially I wasn’t sure whether we could get any cut-through at such a big event with a broad cross-section of people.

“But last year we were overwhelmed and ran out of materials on the first day.

“Henty is a great platform to reach farmers –an event like Henty where everyone you know is there, you can see what other people are doing and be comfortable in the knowledge that the choice you make is not going against the tide.’’

At Henty this year, FarmLink will showcase data from a network of moisture probes across NSW.

The data is coupled with Yield Prophet forecasting to deliver members a monthly snapshot of crops and soil moisture across the region.

“This is a tool farmers can use to assist with their input decisions such as nitrogen applications, and other aspects of crop management,’’ Cindy said.

She said strong grower groups like FarmLink encouraged grower levies to return to the local area for investment in research and development.

“As funds for research, development and extension become tighter, and government policy and strategy in relation to agriculture is evolving, we need to show a stronger presence in order to get a fair share,’’ Cindy said.

FarmLink is expanding in another direction by providing the practical component of the Year 9 and 10 agricultural curriculum for Temora’s St Anne’s Central School.

Students are exposed to all aspects of the Temora Agricultural Innovation Centre, from livestock, soils, crops, weeds and farm safety.

“The St Anne’s students have a field trial to experiment with different inputs and treatments, soil sampling and cores, and application of management strategies,’’ Cindy said.

“This fits with the changing approach to who it is we are targeting.

“We have a strategy for future farmers and we are offering two inaugural $2500 scholarships at Charles Sturt University for fourth year agricultural or veterinary students in 2016.

“FarmLink has also sent two young farmers to the Innovation Generation conference this year.’’

A strategy to engage with women resulted in two members attending the International Women’s Conference in Adelaide in March.

Cindy said FarmLink had benefitted from the profile afforded by the NSW/ACT RIRDC Rural Women’s Award.

“The award creates enormous opportunity to deliver on some of the priorities we have at FarmLink, to raise our profile, grow our member base and provide leadership in agricultural extension,’’ she said.

“The RIRDC award is a wonderful investment in women in rural areas. For a small investment, the long term benefits to the industry are huge.’’