Denise McLellan is a grower from Horsham VIC with a passion for people and rural communities.
Looking to hone her committee skills, Denise participated in GrainGrowers’ OnBoard grower director program in 2022. The program takes participants through hard and soft governance skills and covers the cost for completing the Australian Institute of Company Director’s course.
“I applied for OnBoard because I wanted to make a contribution to the grains industry and make real change happen, rather than just being a bystander,” says Denise.
“At the time, I didn’t feel like I had the governance skillset to do that effectively. I found the program to be really challenging, in a good way. It challenged the way I was thinking, especially as a farmer. Our minds often get bogged down in operational issues and focusing on the short-term problems and it helped me approach challenges holistically and to see the bigger picture.”
Post-OnBoard, Denise was elected by GrainGrowers’ Southern Region members as a representative on GrainGrowers’ National Policy Group (NPG). The NPG meets several times per year to shape GrainGrowers policy on issues impacting growers across Australia and look at proactive ways to drive change in the grains industry.
“When I started my journey in farming, I was very focused on the production side of things. I found over time that I was drawn to the business and people-side of farming,” says Denise.
“When I saw positions advertised for the NPG, I did feel a bit of imposter syndrome – I was lacking a little confidence in terms of my offering at a national level.”
However, what astounded her was the group’s tangible impact on policy shaping for the benefit of growers.
“What surprised me most about the NPG is that it’s the chance to deliver real change alongside the work that GrainGrowers is doing. Our role as grower representatives isn’t just tokenistic – I didn’t realise that the group shapes policy in the way we do – as a collective, we have final say on many things.”
“The NPG is the real deal in terms of having real conversations and making those decisions. I find that it’s been a very worthwhile experience and we’re very outcomes-oriented, rather than just a talkfest.”
With labour shortages being flagged by growers year on year, GrainGrowers has been exploring a range of solutions to rural workforce challenges. This year, GrainGrowers held a Rural and Remote Childcare Roundtable to bring together growers, decision-makers and industry leaders to look at the key issues surrounding childcare access for farming families, as an integral part of keeping grains businesses thriving.
At this Roundtable, Denise and Western Region NPG representative Tracy Lefroy appeared to discuss this issue, alongside the Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth, Dr Anne Aly, and Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education, Angie Bell.
“I was glad to be involved as the conversation really resonated with me and it highlights a whole lot of issues for women in grains that I hadn't considered before,” says Denise.
“I'm quite proud of GrainGrowers for taking the leadership on this because it’s too easy for the industry to say, ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘it’s not my problem to fix’ and it’s something that’s been overlooked for a long time. I am passionate about family farms often being the social fabric of rural communities and so any chance to be involved in that conversation has been fantastic. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation at GrainGrowers’ next strategic development session on rural and remote childcare: CareConnect.”
Drawing from her experiences, Denise extends advice to fellow growers aspiring to play a role in grains policy and drive change. Her message is simple yet profound – "It’s about backing yourself and putting your hand up to be a part of the conversation."
“In this space, we often have a lot of the same voices and so if there’s opportunities where you can contribute, your voice is valid. Diversity plays such an important role in the decision-making process for the greater good of our industry.”