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Bank on a lady’s knowledge with farm finances

FEMININE AFFAIRS: Queensland agribusiness bank specialist Rod Kelly has long realised the importance of women in agriculture.
FEMININE AFFAIRS: Queensland agribusiness bank specialist Rod Kelly has long realised the importance of women in agriculture. Contributed

WHEN Rod Kelly pulls up a chair to talk farm finances with rural families, he likes to make sure there is a woman sitting at the table.

As Westpac's state manager for agribusiness banking, he explains succinctly: "If I need information about agriculture, I'll always ask a woman.

"When I visit a farm or pastoral property, I always make sure the woman of the family is at the table, as she is usually the one who provides the information.

"Women are instrumental in every single role in agriculture: they are the co-decision makers, mothers, partners, industry leaders, counsellors, bookkeepers, hard workers on the ground and the ones who hold it all together."

It is this Warwick-based financial manager's attitude to feminine influence that has earnt him accolades beyond the Southern Downs.

This month he has been awarded honorary membership of the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women's Network.

I have had incredible opportunities in my life as a result of my work with the bank, but you should never lose sight of the place you come from.

QRRRWN president Georgie Somerset said the honorary award recognised Mr Kelly's long-running support of the organisation.

"Rod has supported the work of our organisation for the past 15 years and this honorary membership recognises the way he's gone above and beyond the call of duty," she said.

"As the state manager of agribusiness Queensland, his personal involvement with QRRRWN is an important way of validating and celebrating women in agriculture."

In accepting the honorary membership, Mr Kelly said women played an essential role in Australian agriculture.

"Women in agriculture understand how important it is to network and be there for each other and their communities, through tough times as well as good ones," he said.

"It's been a pleasure to support QRRRWN over the past 15 years.

"It's an extraordinary and progressive organisation, with a diverse membership of all ages.

"It's really helping Queensland agriculture prosper and grow."

Mr Kelly said he was keen to make sure women in agriculture - no matter what their role - were encouraged to continue their work.

And he good humouredly admitted his appreciation of the capabilities of rural women had started at home.

"I grew up in Warwick, went to the Christian Brothers and joined the bank out of school," Mr Kelly said.

"Then I married a country girl. Debbie's family were dairy and beef farmers from Sandy Creek and she had a strong connection with agriculture.

"We've been married 35 years now and she has taught me a thing or two since then."

These days his wife runs their beef operation on several properties they own throughout the Southern Downs.

"We started buying country around here 20 years ago," Mr Kelly said.

"These days we own several blocks and run predominately cattle and some sheep; we turn off about 100 lambs a year.

"And we run between 300-350 head of cattle, generally composite sort of breeds.

"Debbie does the work and I go home on weekends and follow orders."

But before they resettled back near the Rose City, the job with Westpac had taken them from Texas, to Bundaberg, Brisbane, Goondiwindi and Toowoomba.

He has covered agribusiness for Queensland and the Northern Territory in a finance career that has spanned almost four decades.

"I have definitely seen a changing place for women in the rural landscape.

"They have always been the fabric that holds farming families together and now they are emerging with confidence and taking on leadership roles in agriculture."

He laughingly adds: "And I am happy for that to happen; I don't mind going home to the farm and doing what I am told on weekends, because it is my wife who runs our rural operation."

On a broader scale, he explained he understands the challenges facing those earning an income from agriculture.

"Your ducks never line up in the rural industry.

"You never get perfect weather, or perfect commodity prices.

"Although the beef industry has had the perfect storm in the live export cattle ban, which sent northern cattle flooding onto southern markets and sent prices down substantially, and was then followed by a widespread drought."

Yet despite the hurdles he remains unswervingly committed to the rural sector and has faith in its future.

"It is changing; the number of family farms has decreased substantially and there are now bigger family corporates, who have increased the scale of their operation.

"But there will always be people, who are involved with smaller operations, like us, because they are interested in the rural sector."

And with his hands-on approach to his role as Westpac's state agribusiness manager he will continue to sit at kitchen tables throughout Queensland helping farming families work through their finances.

"Yet you have to ground yourself somewhere and Warwick's the place for me.

"I have had incredible opportunities in my life as a result of my work with the bank, but you should never lose sight of the place you come from."

Topics:  agribusines farm finance