Stories: On the Farm
Renee Anderson - Central Highlands, Queensland

Women in cotton: industry helped build farmer’s skills, leadership

Behind every cotton t-shirt, jumper and sock is a hard-working farmer spending countless hours in the paddock caring for their crop.

From operating tractors to starting watering systems, managing invasive pests or nurturing the crops, our farmers are busy at work.

While agriculture is traditionally a man’s field, in the cotton industry, women are doing these exact tasks.

In Australia one in four farmers are women, and that statistic is likely higher as many women who do the accounting, provide business advice and carry out other behind-the-scenes tasks often don’t classify themselves as farmers.

Central Highlands cotton farmer Renee Anderson is one of the women who takes a front seat to ensure her farm is sustainable and environmentally friendly.

She was also involved in a project with fashion designer Emma Hakansson, who highlighted the need for natural, environmentally produced fibres in the fashion industry, with a multiple award winning video called Willow and Claude.

Not only does Renee run her own mixed-cropping operation in Central Queensland, but she is also a Regional Manager with Cotton Australia, where she works with farmers to implement the industry’s sustainability standard, myBMP (Best Management Practices).

“I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some very knowledgeable women who were always willing to share their expertise and experiences,” Renee said.

“The industry has also been supportive in developing not just my career, but leadership and communication skills and providing me opportunities for growth and development.

“I love working with our community and as farmers, we really immerse ourselves in our local communities and value those connections.”

Renee says women have an important position in the cotton industry, across a variety industry roles, and that everyone should have a fair and equal voice.

“When we hear only the male perspective, a lot of issues aren’t considered and we can miss valuable alternative perspectives. The more we can make it fair and equitable for everyone the quicker we can overcome challenges together.”

At the grassroots level, women have a strong connection to the land, but there’s always opportunity for improvement, Renee said.

“At the operating level there’s a lot of women who have very active roles in cotton – agricultural pilots, researchers and agronomists – in comparison to some agricultural sectors where those roles can be quite male-orientated,” Renee said.
“But we still have female agronomists who are not paid as much as the men despite working for the same company doing the same roles.”

Thanks to Emma’s video Willow and Claude, Renee’s cotton farm has been viewed by thousands in the fashion industry across the globe.

“I’m really lucky that Emma’s video showcased Australian cotton and the role women play in the industry, and how Australian farmers are growing sustainable cotton,” Renee said.

“I learned a lot from Emma about the fashion industry, and I believe she learned a lot from her visit to my farm also,” she said.

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