Fiona Mann, Eradu, embraces GrainGrowers Onboard leadership program

By Shannon Beattie
March 29 2022 - 5:00am
Eradu farmer Fiona Mann is one of two Western Australians taking part in this years GrainGrowers Limited OnBoard program.

A DESIRE to gain a further understanding of what exactly a role on a board involved and learn the rules around governance was what prompted Eradu farmer Fiona Mann to apply for the GrainGrowers Limited OnBoard program.

OnBoard provides a unique opportunity for growers to take their onfarm expertise to the boardroom.

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It was launched in 2021 by GrainGrowers after recognising the depth of talented growers capable of making significant contributions to the sector, yet lack of grower applicants for industry boards and committees.

The program comprises hard and soft skills training by expert facilitators as well as funding participants to complete the Australian Institute of Company Directors course.

This year, two growers from WA will be taking part in the program - Ms Mann and Kendenup farmer Shannon Slade.

For her part, Ms Mann grew up on the family farm at Pindar, east of Mullewa and after a university degree in Perth, she worked as an agronomist and branch manager with Elders at Merredin and then Mullewa.

She married her Scottish husband Liam, and while he worked for a local farmer, they extended their family with three boys.

In 2015, they decided to take the plunge and leased a farm from her parents to start their farming adventure.

Located at Eradu, Midoxgate is only very small at 678 hectares, so they also operate an agricultural contracting business.

In late 2020, they also launched BLOCK 275, a value-added extension of their farming enterprise, producing cold pressed canola oil from the GM-free canola they grow onfarm.

Ms Mann said like a lot of people from country towns, she had been involved in numerous committees over the years.

"It's not uncommon for committee positions in a small community to be accepted because 'it's your turn', or 'there is no one else'," Ms Mann said.

"However, I think most of us try to do the best we can, even if we aren't 100 per cent passionate about the cause."

While she had done a couple of workshops on leadership and basic governance, a couple of recent roles - particularly where significant funding had been received by the group - prompted her to gain a further understanding of exactly what her role on a board was.

"I wouldn't say I have aspired to be on a committee or board, but over the years I have been approached or nominated to be an active committee member in various groups because of the network connections I have," Ms Mann said.

"Our farm is located between two communities that I have been active in and that puts me in a unique position, particularly in the agriculture industry, to be able to connect with different groups and farmers.

The chairwoman roles Ms Mann has accepted are ones she's had a personal interest and passion for - Yuna Primary School Council and the Mid West Food Industries Alliance.

"Our amazing, but tiny school at Yuna is down to nine students and I want to ensure I can do everything to support the school and the principal to continue providing the unique opportunities our students receive," she said.

"For the alliance, we are the first food cluster to be recognised in WA - our BLOCK 275 business is still at startup phase and I want to be a founding member to help grow our Mid West food and the opportunities that exist throughout the supply chain."

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Over the years, Ms Mann as also served as vice-president of the Isolated Children's Parents Association's Mid West branch, board member and deputy chairwoman of the Northern Biosecurity Group, treasurer and secretary of Creating A Better Yuna and secretary of the Mullewa District Agricultural Society.

With three school-aged boys, Ms Mann doesn't have her sights set on any boards she'd like to join in the short-term.

However, once they get some independence, she'd certainly be open to applying for board positions that were aligned with her level of ability and passion.

"In addition to the hard and soft skills that will be the focus of the two modules in Sydney, I am looking forward to completing the Australian Institute of Company Directors course," Ms Mann said.

"It will hone my governance skills with a recognised training facility to ensure best practice outcomes can be applied in my roles.

"I am also looking forward to meeting the other growers that have been selected to participate from around Australia and building new networks."

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