When Randall Wilksch was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, his attention shifted to the lack of women in the grain industry.
Randall’s project took him across the globe looking at the role women play in farming businesses and how increasing the number of women in the Grains industry in Australia could transform how we think, how we speak and how we progress.
Coming from a family of grain growers on South Australia’s lower peninsula, Randall Wilksh is the first to admit he fits neatly into the category of archetypal farmer.
But he in no way sits idly in his stable position within the grains industry, instead, he questions the very nature of the industry itself.
Are we as farmers doing enough to connect with our consumers? Are we doing enough to correct misinformation about our products? Are we doing enough to ensure our practices are sustainable? Are we doing enough to encourage more women into the industry?
These are all questions Randall asks himself and the Australian farming community as a whole.
An early adopter of social media, Wilksch used platforms like Twitter to shed light on some of the contradictions he saw in the marketing of grains and the consumer’s distrust of chemical spraying.
“I had a tweet there for a while that there was of my sprayer and a lentil crop and and with the wording that the market doesn’t like toxic chemicals. But I’ve got grubs in my lentils that are eating holes in them,” Wilksch said.
We’re applying these products to stop grubs eating them, the same as you do in your home garden. And just because it’s done with a bigger machine on a bigger acreage doesn’t doesn’t change it.”
In 2016, when Randall was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, his attention shifted to the lack of women in the grain industry.
“I was working on my Nuffield project and I got really interested in that advocacy role with respect to how the world was changing and how just a lot of farmers were not really listening to how the population was – to me – starting to feel that there was a bit of a disconnect.”
“And I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of boring old white guys who look exactly like me, saying, ‘I’ve just sprayed it, it’s safe, you can eat it.’”
Randall sees a potential solution to this disconnect lying with the inclusion of more female voices within the grain industry.
“If we could get more women in the grains industry, could they communicate better about what we’re doing and why we produce food in this way? And that we’re caring for our land and our soils and we are caring for our crops?”
“Can women do a better job of communicating that to consumers? That was an interesting thing to me.”
“Because, in Australia, certainly most of the purchasers of food are still women because mums buy food for families, and it’s changing certainly, but still on majority males are farmers that grow food, and women are the purchases of it.
“I was trying to see if we can change that dynamic in some way, or look at why that dynamic was what it was.”
The key, Randall believes, to encouraging more women into grain farming has nothing to do with the farming process at all, and everything to do with our language around it.
We have to speak to daughters the way we speak to sons, he said.
“If you’re a male farmer and you’ve got a son and a daughter and you say to your daughter, ‘what are you going to do at school, girls aren’t farmers’ or ‘you never see women as farmers,’ then your girls won’t become farmers.”
“But if you say to your boys ‘when you get older, you will be a farmer, this will be your land,’ then they’re more likely to stay, so just be aware of your language around how you talk to your children.”