Family farming in focus

Ashley and Tracy Jones with children Darcy, Cameron and Lewis.
Camera IconAshley and Tracy Jones with children Darcy, Cameron and Lewis. Credit: Countryman

Farming families are in the international spotlight this year, after the United Nations declaration that 2014 would be the International Year of Family Farming.

The UN declaration aims to promote the development of new policies, particularly at national but also regional levels, that will help small landholders and family farmers eradicate hunger, reduce rural poverty and continue to play a major role in global food security through small-scale sustainable agriculture production.

Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days chairman Ashley Jones said the field days were a perfect example of recognising the importance of farming families and ensuring they played a part in the future of sustainable farming.

"The Dowerin field days bring together the whole spectre of farming," Mr Jones said.

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"They are about people, ideas and innovation, and long may that continue into the future."

Mr Jones said when the Dowerin field days began 50 years ago, men did the majority of farmwork.

However, the role of women on the family farm is now recognised as being equally as important.

He said reflecting this cultural change was the development of the field days into more than machinery.

"The field days are not just about machinery, although this is still a major focus. There is something for everyone," he said.

"The majority of innovations and ideas that go into the success of family farming come from attending field days like Dowerin."

Mr Jones said the Dowerin field days had been a major event for his family for nearly half of the time he had farmed in the district.

First settling in Dowerin in 1904, the Jones family has farmed in the district for 110 years.

Mr Jones is the fourth generation to take up the challenge.

He said farming was all that he had wanted to do from a very young age.

Mr Jones took over running the family farm in 1996 when he married his wife, Tracy.

While his parents, Wallace and Lesley Jones, moved to the Dowerin township, Mr Jones' father is still active on the farm every chance he gets.

"He is 78 going on 45, I think," Mr Jones said.

"He still drives the header during harvest."

The Jones' farm is a 6000ha mixed wheat and sheep operation.

With four sons of his own, Mr Jones said it was up to them if they wished to follow in his footsteps after school.

"There is no pressure on them to farm, it is too hard a job if you don't have a passion for farming," he said.

Like many areas of Australia, the number of farming families in the Dowerin district has decreased, reflecting the need for large-scale farming to remain profitable.

Mr Jones said one of the downsides of this development was that high school options for children in the district were limited and this meant sending children to boarding school in Perth to ensure they received a good education.

While he did not advocate governments subsidising farming, he would like to see something done to alleviate the financial stress associated with providing country children with a good education.

"One of the biggest stresses on family farms is the cost of sending your children away for a good education," Mr Jones said.

"Not only for the family who owns the farm but also those families working on the farm - there are not many choices other than to send your children away for an education and many cannot afford the $40,000-plus it costs."

Mr Jones said education would be the key to the future sustainability of Australian family farms.

While many have left the industry because of rising input costs and static commodity prices, Mr Jones believes those families who continue to farm in the Dowerin district are in it for the long haul. He said farming was "in his blood" and it was not the type of industry you could remain in just based on a business decision alone.

"I like the fact that we are doing something that is good for the world," Mr Jones said.

"It also helps that I get an amazing amount of support from my wife and two staff as well."

Ms Jones said finding the right balance was everything when it came to making a success of family farming.

Growing up on her own family farm in the Dowerin district, Ms Jones knew what farming was all about before joining Mr Jones on his farm.

She said as well as raising four boys and doing all the bookwork for the farm, she felt it was important to be active in the community, both in sporting pursuits and other local projects.

Local sporting activities take up a big amount of the family's time.

Ms Jones is a junior hockey coach and is very involved in junior cricket.

Adding to her community involvement, Ms Jones is on the Shire council, works with the youth endeavour program and is taking part in an initiative to open up tourism and accommodation opportunities in Dowerin.

"We are very active in the community and love being involved, but it comes down to having the right balance and making sure you have time for everything," Ms Jones said.

Above all, Ms Jones said the best part of being in a farming family was the lifestyle.

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