The president of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Fiona Simson has taken out the 2023 Rabobank Leadership Award, recognising the “vitally important” role she has played advocating on behalf of Australia’s agricultural sector.
Ms Simson, who became the first female leader in the NFF’s 40-year history when she was elected president of the organisation in 2016 – after a career in local government and leadership of the NSW Farmers’ Federation – was announced as recipient of this year’s award at the Rabobank Farm2Fork summit in Sydney yesterday.
Kate Scott, executive director of New Zealand’s Landpro – a company which provides aerial surveying, resource management, environmental and technical services for primary producers – took out the 2023 Rabobank Emerging Leader award, recognising outstanding up-and-coming industry talent.
And two new awards, honouring outstanding rural community initiatives, the Rabobank Community Leadership Awards, were presented in both countries – to Australia’s Albury-based Boys to the Bush, a not-for-profit community organisation providing preventative and early intervention strategies for disengaged young males, and to New Zealand’s Growing Future Farmers, a national training and development program providing career pathways for future farmers.
This year marked the return of the annual trans-Tasman Rabobank Leadership Awards – which recognise the contribution of leaders from across Australia and New Zealand’s food and agribusiness sector and have been held since 1999 – after a three-year hiatus due to Covid.
Rabobank regional manager Australian and New Zealand Peter Knoblanche paid tribute to Fiona Simson, saying her work leading the NFF – the peak national body representing farmers and agriculture across Australia – was “making one of the most fundamentally important contributions to leadership in the food and agribusiness sector”.
“Through her leadership of the National Farmers’ Federation, Fiona has played, and continues to play, an instrumental role in the future growth and prosperity of Australia’s agricultural sector,” he said. “She is passionate about the power of a unified voice for agriculture and the role agriculture advocacy plays in a strong and vibrant future for regional Australia.
“Fiona is a powerful advocate and passionate rural and regional leader who has been a trail blazer in driving a number of key major initiatives for the sector and for NFF. These include the National Agricultural Leadership Program, the Young Farmers Council, the Australia-China Agricultural Youth Program and the Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program.”
Mr Knoblanche said Ms Simson was the driving force behind NFF’s Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program – which focuses on the development and engagement of the talented women in agricultural and agribusiness industries.
“This is now in its sixth year – and boasts an alumnus of 52 graduates, who have gone on to pursue high profile and impactful leadership positions and to be change-makers within their community,” he said.
Mr Knoblanche said, in making their decision, the award judges – an independent panel of former award recipients – also acknowledged Ms Simson’s role as a key collaborator for the 2030 Roadmap, a national plan with a bold vision to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.
Ms Simson also holds multiple community and industry roles – chairing the recently-established Future Food Systems CRC, a Commissioner and Chair of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and a director on the boards of Australian Made Australian Grown, Australian Farmers Fighting Fund and is the patron of the National Rural Press Club and the Gunnedah Gatepost Community Support Centre.
In addition to her many industry and community roles, Ms Simson is also a farmer from New South Wales’s Liverpool Plains – where she and her family run a mixed farming enterprise including broad acre farming and breeding commercial Poll Hereford cattle.
“As a prominent innovator and influencer in the Australian food and agribusiness sector with a wealth of leadership and governance expertise – Rabobank is pleased to be able to recognise Fiona’s dedication and contribution,” Mr Knoblanche said.
The peer-nominated and judged Rabobank Leadership Award is presented to individuals who create sustainable growth and prosperity at both a corporate and industry level in the food and agribusiness industries, while demonstrating wider commitment to society. Previous recipients of the Rabobank Leadership Award include Australian and New Zealand food and agri corporate leaders Volker Kuntzsch, David Crombie, Sir Graeme Harrison, John Watson, Max Ould, John McLean, Nick Burton-Taylor, Robert Hill-Smith, Barry Irvin, as well as leading food scientists Dr Bruce Lee and Dr Jim Peacock, and Australian industry representatives Mick Keogh and Jim Geltch.
Ms Simson’s son Tom accepted the award on her behalf, as she is currently travelling in Europe connecting with farmers – looking at challenges and opportunities for farmers to work together collectively at a global level.
Rabobank Community Leadership Award
Mr Knoblanche said the bank was pleased to mark the return of the Rabobank Leadership Awards in 2023 with the introduction of a new Rabobank Community Leadership Award, with the Boys to the Bush program a fitting inaugural award recipient.
“The Boys to the Bush program is an outstanding initiative, providing tangible, meaningful benefit to the rural community,” he said.
Boys to the Bush is a grassroots, not-for-profit program, offering preventive interventions for regional NSW and north east Victorian males aged between nine and 22.
Mr Knoblanche said the initiative had been established by three New South Wales-based high school teachers who had “watched too many boys from disadvantaged backgrounds slipping through society’s cracks”.
The program works closely with local businesses and grower groups to organise group and individual ‘MENtor’ youth visits, working bees and guided work experience opportunities to assist young men join the workforce and contribute to their local economy.
“This new award category aims to highlight community initiatives that align with one or more of the key themes at the centre of work being undertaken by the Rabo Client Councils – groups of the bank’s clients in Australia and New Zealand, who work with Rabobank to address industry and community challenges in farming and agribusiness – and the Rabo Community Fund, launched in 2021 to invest in the sustainability and vitality of rural communities,” he said.
A grant of $25,000 will be gifted to Boys to the Bush – with the organisation planning to invest the funds in a barbeque trailer, allowing them to participate in more rural and regional community events. Funds will also be directed to a new initiative developed by the organisation – a bush camp for deaf or hearing-impaired youth.
The 2023 Rabobank Leadership presentation was held at the White Bay Cruise Terminal, Sydney Harbour, as part of the Rabobank Farm2Fork summit.