Young farmer up for challenge

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Jessie Dixon doesn't mind a challenge.

At just 24, she is back on the family farm and facing the hurdles of farming in the eastern Wheatbelt.

While many of her friends have careers in the city, Ms Dixon can be found driving a tractor, marketing her grain, or fixing a fence on her family farm.

"I'm loving the challenge of farming. I love being part of a business like this," she said.

Defying the trend of young people leaving rural communities, Ms Dixon and her partner Trent Davis, who is a plumber, have happily moved back to the Narembeen community.

And despite being a female in a male-dominated industry, Ms Dixon is not afraid to tackle the hard issues head on.

"One of the reasons I came back to the farm was to be part of the solution to the challenges facing the eastern Wheatbelt right now," she said.

"I've only been back on the farm a short time so my priority is to gain an understanding of the way our business works; however, I would love to get more involved in finding ways for our area to be sustainable in the longer term.

"How can we impact the overall profitability of our region from our daily business? That's the challenge."

Ms Dixon, with parents Murray and Vicki, farms more than 4000 ha in Narembeen, predominantly grains with the recent introduction of sheep.

"We purchased a mob of sheep in October, and that's been a fun adventure since in the last 12 years we haven't run livestock and have removed a lot of fences as a result," she said.

"We've now been doing a lot of fencing and have aligned new fences with our cropping program and guidance systems which minimises long-term complications, allowing livestock to bring diversification into our business."

The farm received 18mm in mid-May to top up the 61mm received in March and April.

The Dixons plant wheat, oats, canola and lupins, and this year's start has been better than most in the past decade.

With only two girls, both at boarding school, the Dixons put their farm on the market about seven years ago, but a string of poor seasons meant the farm didn't sell.

"I think the person most pleased about our decision was my pop, who had spent countless hours clearing the land and I know it upset him that we might have had to sell," Ms Dixon said.

"Primary production is not a business you can step into at any stage, and if our farm had sold in previous years I doubt I would have ever had the opportunity to be a farmer."

But Ms Dixon played down the issue of being a young woman in a male-dominated industry.

"Lots of women have paved the way in that regard," she said.

"I know six female peers who have also taken up farming in the past 12 months and we talk often. At Muresk, 60 per cent of my university group were females.

"I am so lucky my parents encouraged me into the chaser bin from an early age. The confidence of knowing I could handle a tractor with 330 horsepower and a 20t-full chaser bin made driving a car easy.

"Its very much about balancing your life, because as a female you not only farm all day, sometimes up to 16 hours a day during seeding and harvest, but you still go home to do the cooking and cleaning and washing."

"It just a little bit different learning to build all that into your day."

Ms Dixon said in contrast to other careers, farming never stopped when you lived on the property.

"At what point do you decide that work is over for the week? You don't, there is always something you can be doing, whether that's business development in the office, or fencing outside," she said.

But despite being committed to the business and working hard during the busy times, Ms Dixon believes it's important, especially for young people, to remain connected with friends.

"It easy to become isolated, but I go into town at least twice a week and I think that's important, to play sport and to catch up with everyone," she said.

Ms Dixon said young people offered important skills to a farm, such as an understanding of technology and strong business skills.

"Having four years working off farm in sales and business development has been really important and I'm using this business background every day," she said.

According to Agricultural Women Wheatbelt East board member and Byfields accountant Olivia Grigson, women have a lot to offer a farm business.

"Aside from an additional labour unit in a business operation, women provide a different and valuable perspective to business decision making," Ms Dixon said.

_"While the Eastern Wheatbelt has received negative press over the years in regards to viability and continuous poor seasons, there are still opportunities present for the next generation, male or female, to provide innovation to the industry and realise a rewarding career." _

_But Ms Dixon knows she has still a lot to learn about practical farming. _

_"I'm learning more, but down the track maybe the business will at look at employing someone with mechanical skills," she said. _

_ "It's about farming smarter not harder and I have found leverage is the key. I may not have the upper body strength of a 90kg male when changing tyres, but I have the brains to find tools to give me more leverage." _

_But regardless of her obvious passion for farming, and her love of the land, she admits to hating some parts of the job. _

_"Grease is an evil necessity. I have to use it nearly everyday and I look ridiculous in my full-body overalls, handed down from Dad, but if it gets in my hair it takes four washes to get it out," she said. _

_"Perhaps that's my biggest challenge." _

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