Women take charge on farm
It was just the way things were.
When it came to splitting up the family farm, the boys would inevitably become the farmer while the girls would aim to marry one.
Sons were first in line when it came to who got what.
The daughters came a very distant second. Not any more.
Confident, well-educated young women are positioning themselves to take over the reins of the family operation. Partners in Grain WA says 27.4 per cent of WA farms are now run by women.
With young men continuing to turn their backs on the family farm, and the average age of an Australian farmer 56 and rising, opportunity abounds for women.
It’s about time, says Jessie Davis, a bubbly 27-year-old from the central Wheatbelt community of Narembeen, 286km east of Perth.
The younger of two daughters to Vicki and Murray Dixon — sister Sophie is a Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps nurse deployed in Iraq — Jessie has her parents’ firm handshake and easygoing nature.
Married to Trent, who is building up a plumbing business, Jessie is now busy preparing for harvest.
Having finished a Bachelor of Agribusiness degree at Northam’s Muresk Institute, Jessie worked at Agworld, an ag-tech business, before heading bush again and getting a job with Katanning Shire. “Then Trent said to me, ‘Why don’t you have a go at farming?’.
“I love it,” she says.
“Dad still holds the chequebook and makes the final decisions, but I have done 14 to 15 harvests, which is more than most of my male peers,” Jessie says. “I have been on the farm full-time for over four years now.”
They run 1500 merino ewes across 1200ha and crop about 2800ha with wheat, oats and lupins.
About 300km to the south-west at Kojonup, Sophie Forrester is working ewes in the yards at her family’s 1800ha holding, Glenkeith.
Sophie did an online agribusiness degree with Charles Sturt University. She then decided to “have a crack” at farming.
Her timing is impeccable. With record wool and lamb prices, things are looking up.
In a couple of weeks, a team of Maori and Australian shearers arrive to shear 18,000 sheep.
Sophie’s dad, David, has always been a farmer, as was his dad and his dad before that. In other words, there has always been a boy in the Forrester family to take over. But not this time. Sophie’s younger sibling, Kate, is a schoolteacher.
That makes David Forrester a very proud dad. Leaning on the tray of his ute while watching Sophie work the sheep with her dogs Billy and Josie, the pride in his eyes is visible. “She’s a ripper,” he says. “She’s always been really good on the farm, especially when it came to the animals. Just because you haven’t had a son, doesn’t mean that’s the end of the road. It’s just the beginning.”
Over at Boyup Brook, 80km to the west, Lucy Bleechmore is trying to gently round her “girls” towards the paddock fence so the photographer can get a better shot at the family property, Tara.
Lucy is showing us some of the 1700 plump, happy shorthorn breeders and young bulls that are part of the family’s expanding cattle and stud operations.
With mum Kylie, dad Tim, brother Benjamin and younger sister Nicki, who is still at university, Tara is a family operation.
At 20, Benjamin is yet to decide whether a career on the land beckons. Lucy has already made up her mind. “I just love it here,” she says.
“The lifestyle is great, and when you’re busy, you’re really flat out.”
Lucy also knows nothing comes quickly or easily.
Her brother Benjamin can do some tasks quite easily while she may need a tractor to tackle the same project.
“But that’s OK,” she smiles. “We’re all different and we all have our different strengths and weaknesses.”
Jessie Davis with her dog Nikki at the farm in Narembeen.
Sophia Forrester at her farm in Kojonup.
Lucy Bleechmore at her farm in Boyup Brook.