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From the paddock to the podium, Claire champions rural Australia

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

20/09/2023

Wife, mother, grain grower and tireless contributor to her local Balaklava community, like many rural women, South Australia’s Claire Catford wears a myriad of hats.

And when it comes to rural advocacy, she deserves a crown.

Claire is the current Rabo Client Council chair for South Australia and North West Victoria, and has leveraged the opportunity with gusto, wholeheartedly contributing to the community, and industry by helping deliver practical, upskilling initiatives.

“I was invited to join the local Rabo Client Council in 2016, and it came at point in my life when I was looking to fill a certain void – it perfectly filled my desire to contribute in a meaningful way that aligned with our business and also supports the ag industry and community.”

What she wasn’t quite expecting, however, was the enormous personal growth the opportunity would afford.

“In addition to the obvious benefits of the Rabo Client Council initiatives gained across the community and on-farm, what I hadn’t fully appreciated was the leadership skills and confidence I’d develop over the past three years as a Rabo Client Council chair.”

From formal media training with the ABC’s Martin Corbin, to public speaking across Australia and New Zealand, Claire has taken advantage of a range of personal upskilling opportunities thanks to the Rabo Client Council, and believes these are the skills pivotal for championing rural Australia.

“Whether we’re talking to consumers, educators, potential employees or even our children, we need to be able to tell agriculture’s story with confidence – through storytelling we have a really valuable opportunity to break down the rural/urban divide and help attract people into ag.”

Claire’s own opportunity to share her Rabo Client Council story culminated at this year’s Rabobank Grow2gether event, where she participated in a live panel discussion before 1,500 Rabobank staff.

While she’s adamant public speaking doesn’t come naturally, her impassioned conversations around attracting and retaining a skilled agricultural workforce, suggest otherwise.

Likewise, her eloquent and considered discussions around maintaining the vibrancy of our rural communities were thought-provoking, engaging and delivered like a true professional.

“It really was an incredible opportunity – to go from a paddock in South Australia to speaking at an event of that calibre on the Sydney Harbour is something I would never have envisioned, and it was just so fun, I loved it.”

“Despite some initial nerves, I was excited to share the message of the Rabo Client Council and initiatives we’re delivering, something that everyone in the bank should be very proud of.”

Embracing a world of opportunity

Despite growing up on farms just 30 kilometres from each other, Claire and her husband Dillon didn’t know each other at all growing up. Rather, theirs was a chance meeting in Canada during a rural exchange.

“Our families knew each other, but it took a trip around the world for us to meet!” Claire laughs.

Fresh out of university after completing a Bachelor of Ag. Science, Claire threw herself into working a cropping season in Canada.

“I’ve always enjoyed taking opportunities where I can learn and implement ideas back into our own business, and Canada was one of these initial experiences, providing me with invaluable exposure to the global industry, and an abundance of inspiration.”

And of course, a future husband.

Today, the couple, together with Dillon’s father Grant are running a cropping operation underpinned by defined core values and goals.

“To leave our land and business in a sustainable, and profitable position requires growth, adaptability to change and calculated risks.”

“We need a bank that supports us with this, and Rabobank has been part of our journey, offering knowledge and insights as well as investing in and championing the industry. ”

The family has been strategic in its expansion, with business growth largely aimed to help mitigate climate and soil variability.

“We have high variation in soil types, from non-wetting sands to low pH red clays and technology plays a large role in managing this.”

Claire said tools such as pH mapping, variable rate lime and gypsum application, clay spreading and delving allowed for continual improvement of their land, and increased production.

“We also identified a need to retain soil moisture through stubble cover and summer weed control, and over the past ten years have moved away from mixed farming and into a continuous cropping enterprise.”

With a focus on maintaining a progressive farm enterprise, Claire utilises her skills within all aspects of the business – a contribution that’s further complimented by the knowledge she’s gained from the Rabo Client Council.

And now, off the back of her Rabo Client Council chair position, she’s encouraged to take on more leadership roles that will help strengthen the industry, and their business.

“I’m looking forward to exploring further opportunities in the ag industry – I certainly have an appetite to learn, and thanks to the Rabo Client Council I have much greater confidence putting my hand up.”

Rabo Client Council delivering across rural and regional Australia

The Rabo Client Council network consists of seven volunteer, client-led councils, working hand-in-hand with the bank to develop and deliver meaningful grass roots initiatives, and prioritise where funding can make the greatest impact.

Support is directed around key themes, including agri education and building industry capacity, rural health, sustainability, and help bridge the rural/urban divide.

For Claire, building industry capacity is a theme close to her heart.

“Our industry is being left behind in regards to attracting and keeping personnel and also upskilling,” she believes.

“We need to attract people to jobs and inspire a new generation into all aspects of the industry - having the right people in the right role strengthens the industry, which in turn assists with other challenges in our communities such as addressing rural health and the rural/urban divide.”

“If we have the right people with the right skills in rural and regional jobs, the industry is sustainable, communities thrive and rural health improves as a consequence.”

From financial skills training to mental health workshops with Mary O’Brien of ‘Are you bogged mate?’ the Rabo Client Council delivers initiatives across Australia, directly to the door of regional and rural communities.

“I’ve personally gained so much knowledge, insight and practical learnings thanks to Rabo Client Council initiatives,” Claire explained. “I’ve attended Financial Skills workshops tailored specifically to rural enterprises, and developed additional tools to open up conversations around mental health with my own family and friends thanks to Mary’s interactive and engaging program.”

In addition to providing rural communities with unique learning experiences, Claire said being part of the Rabo Client Council had been extremely fulfilling personally.

“Within our South Australia and North West Victoria Client Council I’ve met a group of people who will be my friends forever,” she says. “We have great dialogue, both socially and during our meetings, and these are producers from across a range of regions and sectors that I probably wouldn’t have a chance to meet otherwise.”

“We’re all like-minded, yet because we’re all from different sectors we’re not pigeon-holed, and there’s a range of fresh perspectives, which is always exciting.”

For any clients considering joining the Rabo Client Council, Claire said the commitment was not onerous, and the contribution, rewarding.

“The bank is so well structured and there are people in place to support our Rabo Client Council ideas and initiatives, and there are so many opportunities to network, knowledge share and see how other producers do business – you also get a real understanding of the bank, its people and the genuine benefit it brings to our business.”   

“Being on the Rabo Client Council also gives you confidence knowing that you’re banking with an organisation that has shared values, and that – as a dedicated rural bank – understands the variability of the industry and the unique needs of agriculture.”  

Ensuring agriculture as a career path

Claire and Dillon involve their three children Harley, 12, Bill, 10 and Annie, eight, in many aspects of their farm, and she’s passionate about ensuring the next generation is equally enthused by the prospect of careers in agriculture.

Claire taking the stage with Mark Chrystall of the New Zealand Rabo Client Council at Rabobank’s Grow2gether event.

And it’s education, she believes, will prove key to this campaign.

“I want to make sure that our ag industry is showcased and celebrated through the Australian education system so that our children, regardless of whether they’re from the city or the country, are genuinely excited by careers in agriculture, it’s not just a last resort option.”

The Rabo Client Council is helping strengthen ag education in Australia, through its unique Teacher Farm Experience Program.

“Essentially we leverage our local farmers and industry network to ‘teach the teacher’ about ag in a really genuine and grassroots manner,” Claire explained.

Recently, a group of 20 ag teachers from across Australia participated in the program, where they visited a range of producers across the Riverland.

“We went to citrus and almond orchards, a lavender estate, wineries, research centres and even visited the Loxton High School which has a really impressive ag program.”

“It was extremely inspiring, the energy was incredible, and the program really hit the mark in regards to providing teachers with such a genuine experience.”

“The interaction between teachers and producers, and the opportunity for them to get their feet on the ground will be so valuable not only in regards to content for the classroom, but will help these teachers promote career options they may not have otherwise even known existed.”

“Across Australia we need to make sure our teachers are given accurate, relevant information so they have the tools to inspire the next generation, and I’m really proud that our Teacher Farm Experience Program is making such a practical contribution to this cause.”

RaboTruck supports community and Yorke Peninsula Field Days

And it seems community contribution runs in the family, with Claire and Dillon’s children this month embracing the opportunity to raise funds for their local school, thanks to the RaboTruck.

Their local school, Horizon Christian School in Balaklava, will be managing the barista service on the truck at the Yorke Peninsula Field Days (YPFD), with all funds raised going back to the school.

Claire is excited for the opportunity this collaboration affords, particularly the chance it provides students to be involved in a commercial setting outside of school running catering and barista services, and providing real-life experience.

“It’s also such a great opportunity for students to gain further exposure to our ag industry and showcase the incredible opportunities there are to become involved in,” she says. “Then of course there’s the fundraising opportunity to contribute funds to the school, I'd love to see this money used to bolster ag, food and technology learning for students and continue strengthening ag education within the local school.”

She predicts the students would gain a real sense of pride being involved in something that truly impacts their school, and said she was heartened by Rabobank’s considered generosity.

“This is another example of how the bank places value on community and the ag industry, finding opportunities to support both.”