March 11, 2024

Jo Sheppard: making waves in Australia’s first water quality market

Jo has been in and around agriculture and rural communities most of her life and she is a proud advocate for farmers and regional Queensland. She strongly believes growing up in a remote location has instilled a set of values and skills that have significantly contributed to her life’s journey.

Today, Jo is chief executive of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF), representing more than 13,000 primary producers through QFF’s peak body membership, across cane, cotton, horticulture, dairy, poultry and more. She is highly regarded across multiple sectors, including agriculture, small business, all levels of government, sustainability, education and training, for her professionalism, wealth of knowledge and experience in advocacy and stakeholder engagement – and generally for just making things happen.

She believes innovation and the management of vital resources such as water and land are crucial to making sure we have a strong agricultural sector, thriving regional communities and environmental sustainability.

It’s this belief that saw Jo become the inaugural chair of Eco-Markets Australia (EMA). EMA oversees the administration of the Reef Credit Scheme, the world’s first voluntary water quality market and an Australian innovation valuing farmers and land managers involved with improving the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.

What do you do to help improve the water quality in the Great Barrier Reef?

Water is an important resource for industry and for communities across Queensland. Farmers have been making significant advancements when it comes to water efficiency and quality on farm – they are leading the world in this regard.

Some of Queensland’s most valuable and productive agricultural producing land is located within the Great Barrier Reef catchment supplying an incredible diversity of food and produce to both domestic and export consumers.

Supporting farmers to continue to innovate in water ultimately contributes to a strong agricultural sector, a vibrant future for regional communities and environmental sustainability.

The Great Barrier Reef is an incredible natural asset that we are all proud of and taking a continuous improvement approach to water quality across the catchment will contribute to the future health of the reef.

Why is this important to you?

Water is critical for agriculture, for regional communities and for the environment. Industry and community have already achieved so much when it comes to water efficiency and quality, it is important we build on these achievements and continue to innovate.

What have been some challenges in your role?

Balancing work and family life priorities has always been a challenge. I have been fortunate to have experienced a varied and interesting career and to also be the mum of three wonderful and very active sons. There never seems to be enough time in the day and an ongoing challenge has been to be able to allocate my time to competing priorities but still manage to enjoy the special moments of life along the way.

How did you overcome that challenge?

I have fine-tuned my time management skills, remained steadfastly focused on achieving outcomes and consciously carve out time for the people who are important in my life. I have also learned to strengthen my ability to say ‘no’ so I could strengthen my ‘yes’.

What support have you received in your role?

I have received a lot of support from family, close friends and work teammates over the years. It is interesting to look back though and reflect on the number of individuals who were not necessarily within my inner circles, who have also actively supported me as well.

Who inspires you?

I am inspired by many farmers across the state who are pushing the envelope, striving to lift their businesses and communities to the next level in so many areas including efficiency, inclusivity, sustainability and best practice.

During my time as chair of Eco-Markets Australia, I have met so many farmers who are leading the way, using technology and science to position themselves to produce the best quality agricultural products and achieving world leading environmental outcomes.

These farmers are proactive and committed to continuous improvement. They play a critical role for all of us, producing food and fibre and managing landscapes, and they are doing an incredible job.

What advice would you give other women in the industry?

Know what you want, identify your priorities and allocate your time accordingly…make your ‘no’ strong to make your ‘yes’ awesome.

What else can we do to accelerate water quality improvements for the Great Barrier Reef catchments?

Accelerate the advancement of science, innovation, technology and best practice. Take a wholistic approach, do not address in silos but enable industry and community to work together to achieve meaningful outcomes that will support a viable agricultural sector, strong regional communities and environmental outcomes. Take a long-term view so that we can set up future generations for success economically, socially and environmentally.

Thank you, Jo for sharing your story.

For more information about Eco-Markets Australia and participating in the Reef Credit Scheme, please explore our website.