Girl power

Women take charge on farm

Great Southern Herald - - Front Page - Tony Bar­rass

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.

Pic­tures: Justin Ben­son-Cooper

Lucy Bleech­more at her farm in Boyup Brook.

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