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Leadership program fuels farmer’s wool passion

Wheatbelt farmer Karen Smith has her sights set on driving WA’s wool sector forward.

The Cunderdin grain-sheep producer has made headway in achieving her five-year goal to become a leader in the State’s wool industry after emerging as one of five participants in a development course.

Mrs Smith will fly to Sydney this Sunday for WoolProducers Australia’s week-long Raising the Baa Program to complete a company directors course with Australian Institute of Company Directors.

The heavily invested Wheatbelt resident who was raised in Northam, is juggling a variety of roles alongside daily farming operations.

However, Mrs Smith said the five-day course was a positive step towards realising her boardroom target once she could fit the duties into her busy schedule.

“I do have ambitions to be on an industry board in the future … but at the moment, I’m probably at the peak of my commitments,” Mrs Smith said.

“In the next five years my goal is definitely looking to get onto the wool and meat sub-committees which represent us in WA.

“As those opportunities arise, and if the timing is right for me, I’ll definitely be keen to step up into those roles when spots become available.”

Mrs Smith has been farming with husband Stephen for more than 20 years.

The couple started in Northam and then ventured east to Meckering before opting to move further along Great Eastern Highway to Cunderdin, where they have been based for the past decade.

The Smiths ran SAMMs until last year but now co-ordinate a crossbred Merino-Poll Dorset flock after deciding to “just keep it simple”.

Mrs Smith said her board ambitions were spurred by a love for the sheep and wool industry amid the State’s declining flock numbers.

The passionate producer said she was motivated to promote the sector in an effort to keep people on-farm and working within rural WA communitites.

“For small producers like myself, once that level starts getting down it puts pressure on secondary services which farmers rely on like transport and shearing,” Mrs Smith said.

“It leads to people dropping out of the industry and makes it really hard for people to access labour.

“We are nearing that point and I’d rather see people stay in the industry than leave — we have to encourage people to stay in sheep.”

The Raising the Baa Program also includes a youth ambassador workshop for people aged between 18 and 35.

WoolProducers president Ed Storey said the youth ambassadors, which includes Gnowangerup’s Shelby Garnett, would help develop policy briefs and strategies to address industry issues.

“(It) gives them the opportunity to learn and understand the policy cycle and how a board works so they understand how many decisions that affect the wool industry are handled by WoolProducers,” he said.

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