AN innovative trial into GPS locations and well-being monitoring of sheep has seen Esperance farmer Belinda Lay win the 2019 WA AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.
From a grain and sheep farming enterprise at Esperance, her project, which is based around the Internet of Things, was inspired by tragedies on her own farm.
She began a project to introduce what she effectively describes as ‘Fitbit for sheep’.
In the project, sheep are fitted with collars - imported from overseas - which monitor the heart rate, temperature and GPS location of the animal.
The project started earlier this year and currently has 100 collars implemented across the farm, focusing on monitoring ewe difficulties at lambing time.
Ms Lay said the technology allowed her to better monitor animal welfare and allowed her to know where a distressed sheep was at any given time.
Her aspirations are to change the way livestock and technology is viewed, which has mainly concentrated around manual handling.
“Another benefit to this system is a farmer can see where the flock prefers to graze and try to replicate that environment,” Ms Lay said.
“This technology can also let you observe the sheep’s location, therefore a broken fence or open gate can be easier to identify.”
Ms Lay said she would continue to grow this technology and hoped it would expand its way into the live export market where sheep can be monitored on board the boats.
“These collars also have the ability to offer important information on animal welfare concerns and ensure due diligence is met within the export industry,” she said.
Last Thursday Ms Lay was awarded a $10,000 business development award to help develop her project further and will compete in the national awards in October.
Regional Development and Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan presented Ms Lay with the prestigious award last week.
Ms MacTiernan said all four Rural Women’s Award finalists were to be congratulated for their contribution and commitment to agribusiness and rural and regional communities in Western Australia.
“Belinda’s project shows the innovation that our farmers are driving in regional WA, applying new technologies to produce better outcomes for both productivity and animal welfare,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“Recognition as a recipient of the 2019 WA Rural Women’s Award celebrates and empowers Belinda as one of WA’s brightest, most innovative women involved in agriculture.
“It’s important to celebrate the social, economic and community achievements of women, and the Rural Women’s Award provides a unique opportunity to promote women in leadership positions and build their capacity.”
RRR Network member, 2010 WA and Australian Rural Woman of the year and strong believer in women in ag, Sue Middleton, hosted the awards night at Optus Stadium.
Ms Middleton said all women were worthy of the award and had already started to make a big difference in rural, regional and remote WA.
“The award is a life changing opportunity for women who are passionate, courageous and inspire to lead positive rural industry and community change,” she said.
“For more than two decades the award has championed women from diverse Australian rural industries and communities.”
Ms Middleton praised the award and said it was the highest recognition for rural women in Australia.
“This award allows women to play a pivotal leadership role across business and industry to bring about change and build resilient rural communities,” she said.
“Leah, Juliet, Belinda and Tanya, we applaud you.
“Your courage, your passion, and your leadership is impeccable.”
Ms Lay, along with the other finalists, will have access to professional development opportunities including the Curtin University’s Ignition Program which was introduced to the finalist for the first time this year.
This year Curtin University became a new State sponsor of the awards.
Ms Middleton said Curtin was not only supporting this event, but also taking the four finalists through their very highly regarded Ignition Program.
“Not only is it an entrepreneurial learning program but it’s also going to take participants right through to the point where they can pitch to angel investors,” Ms Middleton said.
“That means all four projects have a real shot at happening.”
Other WA finalists for the prestigious AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award included Leah Boucher, Juliet Grist and Tanya Kitto.
Ms Boucher is based in the Goldfields and her passion for equity and 20 years’ experience in information technology and project management birthed Data Divas’ innovative business model.
Data Divas offers primary carers, remote and young people a sustainable work/life balance, career continuity and development, and a pathway into the information and communications technology industry.
Ms Boucher is passionate about providing employment opportunities and ongoing career development for those who are traditionally marginalised from full-time employment.
Ms Grist, located at Denmark, works across rural and regional WA through professional roles including executive officer of Regional Development Australia (RDA) Wheatbelt, business consultant to the agricultural sector and various banking and finance roles.
Her aspiration is for rural and regional communities to be enabled to be co-creators and co-investors in solutions that work for them, rather than relying on government assistant and funding to make communities work.
Through her work as an economist in regional development, Ms Grist has noticed a distinct lack of focus on the people and personal connection within a community when interventions were developed.
The third finalist, Tanya Kitto, is a passionate lupin grower based in the Mid West.
Ms Kitto wants to make incorporating lupins into people’s everyday eating easier.
Her love for food, farming and family led to a family business selling lupin flour and products.
She’s on a journey to change people’s perceptions of lupins as a food source and create opportunities for regional women by learning how to seize on value-adding opportunities.