Inspired to keep striving and improving

Inspired to keep striving and improving

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InterGrain chief executive officer Tress Walmsley.

InterGrain chief executive officer Tress Walmsley.

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International Day of Rural Women - Tress Walmsley

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A CAREER in agriculture that started when her parents, concerned she would be a party animal, enrolled her at university - it sounds like the beginning of a cliché coming-of-age movie, but it's the start of Tress Walmsley's success story.

Upon finishing high school, Tress was enrolled in mining engineering but during a gap year in Brazil, she decided that wasn't for her.

"I couldn't think of what to study and my parents were very concerned that I'd return home from Brazil and just continue partying, so they enrolled me in Environmental Science at Murdoch," Tress said.

"It sounded OK, so I went along to give it a try and at the end of my third year, I decided to do honours and undertook the first macro-invertebrate study of the Avon River.

"At the conclusion of my honours, I was keen to do a PhD but my plan was changed by a casual job at Three Springs."

Tress was on holidays at the time and the Department of Agriculture needed a tractor driver to plant a pasture trial.

It was only meant to be one day but it was the start of her career in agriculture and she spent the next three years in Three Springs, working as a development officer.

Tress went on to manage TopCrop based in Northam and then had an interesting career shift into managing the department's grain commercialisation.

It was there that she contributed to industry impact, firstly by establishing farmer-to-farmer trading, establishing the end point royalty (EPR) system and finally setting up InterGrain.

Tress signed on as InterGrain's first employee in November 2007 and has been the chief executive officer of the grain breeder since 2012.

"I love the diversity of my role and knowing that InterGrain varieties contribute to ensuring the Australian grains industry is competitive," Tress said.

"Every day is so different, it may involve science (that I often only half understand), marketing, grain quality, finances, research collaborations or visiting growers or flour millers and brewers.

"At InterGrain we now have a team of 45 staff and our vibrant culture that we have built makes working at InterGrain a very engaging and awesome place to work."

Tress' career is one filled with success, the highlight reel includes Telstra Young Business Women for WA in 1999, WA Rural Woman of the Year in 2015 and Telstra Medium and Large Business Award finalist in 2020.

However, her personal biggest achievement is one with a far greater significance to farmers - helping to set up the EPR system.

"The EPR system has enabled cereal breeding in Australia to shift from public funding to a commercial model," Tress said.

"This has meant that the level of investment in grain breeding has significantly increased in the past 20 years, the increased funds are being used to rapidly deploy new technology and science.

"From a grain breeding perspective, Australia is world-class and it's been made possible from having a reliable value capture model that rewards investment."

Being a woman within agriculture brings Tress an immense sense of pride, saying being part of a great industry was a wonderful opportunity.

"I've never really felt constrained by a glass ceiling, in fact I think being female has actually made it easy for me to shine and be seen," she said.

"I think two other important factors have impacted on my success - firstly my mum was a great role model and held many leadership positions, secondly my husband and I have jointly shared the child-raising responsibilities.

"We have both had periods of part-time work to care for the kids and this has meant that we've both been able to continue building our careers."

Tress said it was her family that inspired her to keep striving, achieving and improving - her son is 10 weeks away from finishing his Bachelor of Dance degree and her daughter is heading to the WA College of Agriculture, Narrogin, next year.

With all the opportunities she's earned in agriculture over the years, Tress is passionate about making sure other young women don't miss out, simply because they don't know the opportunities exist.

"If I can share my passion and have more women choose agriculture then as an industry we will be building our skills capacity," she said.

"I strongly believe that if people have the right attitude, they will find a way to succeed.

"One of the great things about agriculture is that we are friendly folks and we like to build supportive environments around people, so I'm always very pleased to help someone who has expressed some interest in our sector."

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