Doing it her way – Jemma McDougall
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Doing it her way – Jemma McDougall

Category Leadership

Jemma-McDougall

She’s a young woman with a keen interest in her family’s western Victorian sheep and grain property, and Jemma McDougall is used to bracing for the inevitable question – “when is your brother coming back to take over the farm?”

While well-meaning, she said it was an assumption she found frustrating, and hoped agriculture could get to a stage when a woman’s role on the farm was no longer questioned.

However, she believed the tides may finally be turning.

Certainly within her own family’s intergenerational farming operation, of which she is the sixth generation, the trajectory of farm ownership had followed a very traditional path – the farm steadfastly passed on to the eldest son.

But with Jemma currently having a more direct involvement in the prime lamb, wool and grain operation compared to her Melbourne-based brother – for now at least – she’s grateful her parents are encouraging of her taking a role on the farm.

“Mum and dad have started including me in decision making, and I now go with them to ram sales and they ask for my input – it’s nice knowing that I’m contributing to the long-term decision making on the farm.”

“Succession, of course, is a difficult topic – there’s no getting around that – but even a couple of generations ago you wouldn’t fathom that a sister, rather than a brother, would continue running the family farm, but we’re seeing it more and more.”

As a rural manager for Rabobank, based in Hamilton, Victoria, Jemma considers herself privileged to work first-hand with some of Australia’s most progressive female farmers.

“Increasingly I’m seeing daughters stepping up to take over the family farm, quietly getting things done without gender being an issue.”

“Certainly in the Ag research and development space women are extremely well represented - and respected – it would never be questioned that their work would be any less than that of a man.”

“Every day I see strong, capable women doing a marvellous job running agribusinesses’ across the region, and it’s hugely refreshing, and inspiring.”

With such deep-rooted family ties to the property “Craig Park” in the Tatyoon area – her family has owned the land since stepping off the ship from Scotland over 100 years ago – Jemma envisages farming as part of her future.

However a bout of youthful rebellion almost placed her on a different path entirely.

“Having grown up so involved in the farm, I think I caught everyone by surprise when I decided to study Arts at University – I tried to veer towards something else but the pull of ag was too strong!” she laughed.

“I enjoyed my Arts degree, but eventually I completed a Master in Agribusiness at the University of Melbourne – and from the first day of this course I felt engaged, excited and right at home. I discovered my passion for agribusiness and my fascination of Australian rural industries has continued to grow.”

Armed with two goals, one to work in corporate agribusiness and one to work rurally, the banking sector was an obvious career pathway.

“The ability to talk to a wide variety of farmers really appealed to me, and the ability to live and work close to my family, in a rural community, is an aspect of my life that I am very grateful for.”

Having worked in the agri-banking sector for a number of years, initially in Shepparton and later in Sale, Jemma joined Rabobank’s Hamilton branch five months ago.

“I really do feel like I can enjoy the best of both worlds – on weekends I’m home drenching, checking lambing ewes and contributing to the farm, and during the week I have a career I genuinely enjoy where I can still live and breathe agriculture.”

“My farming background has also been extremely beneficial when meeting with clients, the ability to discuss seasonal conditions, compare what we’re doing on our farm – it’s a wonderful way to build rapport.”

While her family’s rich legacy in the region is extremely important to her, and the source of great pride, Jemma warned she would never let it rule business decisions.

“I’m proud of the fact that our family has managed to ride out every low, and enjoy every high of Australian agriculture’s history - success achieved thanks largely to a succession of progressive business and agricultural practices.”

And Jemma has her own legacy she would like to leave.

“I have a particular interest in animal welfare and sustainability, and thankfully my parents share this vision,” she said. “Next year we’ll stop mulesing, we’ve lowered our chemical usage and are increasingly achieving more sustainable land usage.”

While it’s been a little trickier to cease mulesing on the superfine wool the family run, Jemma is excited for this new direction, particularly after such a lengthy mulesing debate.

“The future of agriculture will be consumer focused, and we have to meet the market – the consumer will dictate how food and fibre is grown and produced and the practices of the past won’t necessarily be appropriate for the future – and it’s a future I’m excited to be a part of.”

 

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