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Ingrain in the Grains: Caroline Rhodes

11 July 2019

Only 14 months as CEO of Grain Producers South Australia (GPSA) and Caroline Rhodes is fuelling the industry with leadership initiatives to enhance productivity and sustainability. A chief advocate for enabling people to succeed within the grain industry, Caroline has established the GPSA Emerging Leaders Program.

 “I want to ensure that we’ve got a group of people coming through the ranks at GPSA that are passionate about their industry, motivated to make a difference and have the appropriate skills and networks to effectively contribute to the future of Australian agriculture.”

As part of the program, GPSA will provide opportunities for the participants to develop professional skills and networks, while gaining experience in advocacy through engaging in policy forums and consultation with GPSA members. 

The GPSA Emerging Leaders Program will be based on the socially responsible leadership theory Caroline learnt on the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), while developing skills in advocacy, effective communication, industry networking, and knowledge of grains research and innovation and the Australian political landscape.

“Fostering socially responsible leadership is important because GPSA needs people in decision making roles that will represent the grain industry with both integrity and credibility, in communicating to a much broader audience than ever before.”

The program initiates structured pathways for future leadership opportunities, through giving young growers a chance to work with established industry leaders and other peak bodies, helping GPSA to deliver its mandate to be the voice of South Australian grain growers for years to come.   

Participants will also gain a global perspective of agricultural leadership with an international study tour to the United States and Canada which will focus on international trade, advocacy in the US farm sector, biotechnology and other emerging technologies.

“To deliver our mission, we need skilled and capable individuals involved in setting policy and to manage and anticipate emerging issues relevant to grain producers and the wider industry,” she said.

“That’s why GPSA wants to inspire and motivate the next generation of industry leaders.”

Caroline’s commitment to industry development and the broader agricultural movement, stemmed from her experiences on Course 16 of the ARLP almost a decade ago.

“ARLP gave me perspective. It challenged me to face my ideal future at a critical point in my career. Sitting in the Kimberly, we had to write a letter to our future selves about what makes us feel truly happy and fulfilled. For me it was working in the rural industry I loved, and to return home to be with family and friends again, after six years living in Canberra.”

Whilst on program, an opportunity came up for Caroline to move back to South Australia, where her family lived, and assume the position of Government Relations Manager at Viterra Australia – and be part of a rapidly expanding global agribusiness.

“At the time, I was effectively promoted beyond my immediate ability and experience, within an industry going through deregulation at a time that coincided with the Global Financial Crisis. However, the beliefs, values and networks I developed on ARLP really positioned me to not only cope but prosper in my new role at a time of incredible industry disruption.”

“From my personal experience, I believe that the ARLP creates a network of industry leaders that continually support one another and help each other succeed in our chosen field.  I have made some lifelong friendships with many graduates and we remain in contact today.   

“My cohort were all at different stages of their leadership journey, and I have no doubt that the ARLP has helped to accelerate our collective leadership potential.  It is incredible looking at where the alumni are today, with many holding leadership roles in community, industry and government bodies, and all with a strong desire to improve rural and regional Australia.”

Since completing the ARLP in 2010, Caroline has always been conscious of demonstrating a “return on investment” to her sponsor Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).   During this time, she has served on a number of industry boards, including Wheat Quality Australia, Pulse Australia and the Australian Grains Exporters Association, and is now on the not-for-profit boards of Foodbank SA and Rural Business Support in South Australia.

“The ARLP gave me the confidence and drive to make the significant transition from management to company director, gradually becoming a decision maker within industry forums rather than simply asking for decisions to be made.  I draw upon my ARLP experience in facing the many challenges which arise in the boardroom. 

“On behalf of growers, GRDC invested a considerable amount in me and I’ve always made sure that I saw that investment in the context of industry development, not for my personal and professional development alone.   The ARLP has essentially guided by leadership journey back to working with GRDC – both at GPSA and my broader contribution and involvement in the grain industry.”

South Australia currently exports 85% of its grain to over 60 countries and Caroline has big plans to safeguard the export value of South Australian grain. Leaning on the most up-to-date research and collaborating with local farmers and industry stakeholders, GPSA will be leading the development of the South Australian Grain Industry Blueprint. 

“The Blueprint will ensure South Australian grain growers continue to have access to a large range of export markets across the world and will unlock the full economic potential of South Australia’s significant grain industry, driving economic growth, creating jobs and building stronger regional communities that rely on the success and sustainability of the industry.”

 “We need to ensure profitability and sustainability for farm businesses over a longer period. Productivity is very much dependent on rainfall during the growing season and will be impacted by climate change, so we need to make sure that farm businesses can build resilience and maintain international competitiveness as an export industry.  The Blueprint will position South Australian grain growers with the largest possible range of opportunities.” 

In June, Caroline is set to be a speaker at the International Grains Conference in London, through the support of GRDC, presenting to a global audience about the challenges facing Australian grain producers in a changing climate and strategies to assist farmers to adapt.  

“When discussing the impact of climate change in agriculture, it’s important that we have the most relevant and innovative research to manage increased production risk.  GRDC’s investment in climate research means that we can have more productive and worthwhile conversations with farmers about the future of their farm operations.”

“The opportunities that the ARLP create are incredible. I believe it is important for graduates to be advocates for their industry – as well as for the people and organisations that have supported them along the way.  I am proud to support the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and remain grateful to GRDC for this career defining opportunity.”