Leader focused on new frontiers for wool

Being ‘on the front foot’ is how Stacey Lugsdin and her family have to be, running their sheep property, Toyota dealership and newly acquired rural service station in the Riverina town of Hay.

In uncertain times, Stacey says her experience on Course 24 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program is a constant as she prepares and responds to challenges – from prolonged drought, to a global pandemic.

“It’s about longevity of businesses in the local community and the future for our children and the next generation,” she says.

Just days after acquiring the service station (part of the family’s diversification strategy) Covid 19 started to change the way all businesses provide services. The Lugsdins swung into action, introducing sanitisation and disinfection measures ahead of government advice, “keeping a calm head” and prioritising staff and customer welfare.

“Our farm’s currently affected by the second drought in 20 years, while this new business isn’t. You have to look at the bigger picture, not just your little patch. No one expected COVID 19, but at the end of the day, that’s where all that rural leadership training is starting to show. It’s there in the background to draw on, and help you act fast and communicate well.” Stacey says.

“The ARLP was very confronting, because I thought I did communicate well,” she admits.

“But as it turned out, I was very authoritarian, and people in my cohort gave me feedback about this. Possibly it doesn’t help that I have 6 children,” she laughs.

“I used to say, ‘ok, this is it, we’re doing this’, and you just assume people will follow you. It taught me that consultation is a big thing.”

Using a truly consultative approach is one of the ways that Stacey, an independent director on peak national body, Wool Producers Australia, has been working to create positive impact for her industry.

Market growth for Aussie wool

“This current pandemic highlights our over-reliance on certain trade partners. 75 per cent of our wool is sold to China, and we need to work to recognise where there are emerging markets,” she says.

Just prior to the implementation of social isolation, Stacey and WoolProducers policy manager, Ashley Cooper, were looking at the prospect of selling wool into Indonesia – which is where the overseas component of Stacey’s ARLP experience took place.

“When the virus breaks, we’ll be exploring how to get wool into other parts of the world and find new wool processors and designers. The next part is about how to get consumers back to our natural fibres – making wool user friendly and affordable are the biggest challenges for our industry. Wool is such a sustainable, natural fibre.”

Representing grass roots growers on the WoolProducers board is a leadership role Stacey, who was sponsored on the ARLP by Australian Wool Innovation, is proud to have.

“The Foundation helped me obtain a scholarship from Wool Producers Australia to do a company director’s course, which I completed in June 2018, four months prior to completing the ARLP. WoolProducers has a female CEO, which is great, and I’m the only current female director to sit on the national board.

“This experience has given me the confidence to make my opinions known and to actually have a go, and believe in what I do,” she says.

Supporting women to thrive in agriculture

While Stacey’s six children are 6th generation farmers, she herself has had to ‘learn her craft’ from scratch. When her youngest child was just four, and husband Ian was busy with their Toyota dealership, Stacey took on the running of the farm as the millennium drought took hold.

Stacey studied hard to secure a diploma in agriculture (wool production) and a certificate IV in wool classing, which she has taught to TAFE students. She currently welcomes high school students to the farm for work experience.

“I have young girls come out and actually work with me for two weeks. It’s great for them to be in an environment where a farm is run by a woman.”

The Lugsdins use electronic tagging and breeding records to ensure maximum control over traits in their flock. This means the Lugsdins gain repeat buyers for their wool on the back of consistent quality.

Things have come a long way since Stacey first started running the farm.

“When I took over the farm, I wanted to sell some sheep, and the agent rang Ian and his dad to check with them first if that was ok,” Stacey says.

“Every time I’ve been knocked back, it makes me stronger, but when you’re a woman in ag, you can also become hard as nails,” she says.

“One of the best aspects of the ARLP was how it developed my understanding of who I was through looking at our personality traits … The Program taught me: Have confidence in yourself and trust yourself. Show strong leadership through empathy and communication.

“The Foundation selects you on the Program for a reason. They see something in you that you might not see. Trust their instincts. They see the potential, and it’s up to you to bring that potential to the surface.”

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