Four of NSW finest vying for top farming gong

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NSW/ACT Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation Rural Women's award finalists Hayley Purbrick, Rebecca Barnes, Sandra Ireson and Emma Doyle.

They come from backgrounds as diverse as farming and finance but these women have one thing in common – they are passionate about promoting agriculture.

Sandra Ireson, Rebecca Barnes, Emma Doyle and Hayley Purbrick are the finalists for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) rural award, each selected for their desire to improve primary industries and rural communities.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said the finalists were chosen for their ambition and energy to lead positive change.

Applicants were asked to submit a project that would drive growth and prosperity in regional communities.

· Rebecca Barnes, Ballina: Rebecca’s project is to host a two-day Bushfood Conference to promote and educate NSW communities about the potential of bushfoods as a nutritional food source. It will provide a platform for industry leaders to present their story and provide information on the latest uses, research, markets and growing techniques in order to encourage expansion of this new and emerging industry.

· Emma Doyle, Armidale: Emma’s project is to develop a pilot mentoring network for female agricultural undergraduates to assist in reducing the gender gap and increase the retention of women in Agriculture. Ten final year undergraduates at University of New England (UNE) will be formally mentored by young women who have graduated from UNE within the past five to 10 years to encourage a path for them to aspire to. It is hoped these undergraduates may then become mentors themselves, over time increasing the community of women in leadership roles in Agriculture.

· Sandra Ireson, Booligal: Sandra’s project is to develop an adaptable model of the ‘Hay Inc. Rural Education Program’ to implement in other rural communities across Australia. The initiative was established in Hay to address the markedly reduced numbers of young people entering or staying in the agriculturally dependent community. Hay Inc. provides mentoring, knowledge, support, skills and opportunities to engage and retain young local people in Primary Industries. The program has already delivered substantial benefits to Hay and development of an adaptable model would allow for increased positive benefits to be realised across other NSW rural communities

· Hayley Purbrick, Deniliquin: Hayley’s project ‘Think Big’ is a program dedicated to supporting the entrepreneurial spirit in rural communities through the provision of tools and support conducive to creative thinking. ‘Think Big’ is aimed at encouraging and empowering smaller communities to think outside the square and adopt an innovative approach to manage the ever changing landscape of farming. A video series, which films creative people in their rural landscape with their tips and challenges will be supported by a website which hosts a range of information to assist exploration of creativity for community benefit.

The winner will receive a bursary of $10,000 while the remaining finalists will receive $1000 for skills and development. The award will be announced at Parliament House Sydney in April.