Emma Germano is a household name in Australian agriculture. Her involvement in industry is as diverse as the road to how she got here, she’s the current president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, owner of the family farm and even has a startup AgTech company!
A little lesser known side of Emma is the journey and learnings along the way, from a restaurant on Bridge Road, buying out the family farm on the brink of losing it all, she’s lived on the edge and sometimes it’s found her a little too close for comfort!
Last year Emma Germano was announced as the new President of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF), the first woman in 30 years to hold the position.
It’s a leadership role that Emma never expected to have, in an industry she never expected to end up in.
Growing up, all her plans revolved around making it to the city, getting away from the Gippsland mixed-farming operation that her father was running at the time.
“I was actually accepted into medicine at Monash University under their rural program and the deal was that you could get in with a slightly reduced entry score if you were going to commit to going back to work in the regions,” Emma said, “but I was like, ‘there is no way I am going back to the country.’”
But things in the city weren’t all they were cracked up to be for Emma – she bought a restaurant and was promptly plunged into debt during the global financial crisis.
“I was totally naive as to what I was doing, it was a business baptism of fire, the restaurant started to lose quite a bit of money and the farm had to chip in to help, it kind of got it to recover to some level.”
With her new business hemorrhaging money, Emma made the decision to start studying business to help her to sell the restaurant and it was while she was studying that she was approached for a small-scale consultancy role.
With her hard-learned lessons and new skills she sold the restaurant and took the consultancy job but, back at home, the farm was struggling.
“A lot of money had come out of the farm [into the restaurant] and then we had a drought and then we had a bad debtor who didn’t pay for an entire season’s worth of crop and all of a sudden the farm was under really serious financial pressure.”
One day Emma remembers her Dad told her that he was being underpaid for his recent cauliflower harvest, to which she replied that he was mad if he was investing money into the crop without being able to assert its worth at the other end of the supply chain.
“And he literally said, ‘oh, you’re off right now helping another business, I think you probably need to come back if you think you can do a better job, love.’”
“He said, ‘come and have a crack.’”
So she did, but it wasn’t easy.
“It culminated in me standing at the top of the hill on our farm in the drizzle with all these people there as our farm was being auctioned,” she said, “I had to buy our back our farm.”
A few years later Emma was elected as the president of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) alongside another female vice president and it’s her point of difference that she sees as her advantage in the role.
“If you’ve been endorsed by the old style boys club, sometimes it’s difficult for you to go out and make changes because I think people get the sense that representing them is done by being the same as them,” she said.
“Whereas for me, I never was endorsed in that manner, right? Like I just came in, I was different from the very outset.”
“It’s meant that now when we’re trying to drive change at the VFF I’m probably less held back by the sense that I’m being disrespectful to the people who supported me to get to this role.”
“Instead I feel like I was given the mandate to make the change, because everybody knew that I was different right from the outset.”