Finding balance is a work in progress – Nicole Batten
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Finding balance is a work in progress – Nicole Batten

Category Leadership

Nicole Batten

It’s fair to say that anyone in the farming game is up for a challenge, and as a grain and livestock producer on a sprawling family-run Western Australian operation, Nicole Batten is well-versed in the highs and lows of agriculture.

But as one of Australia’s most dedicated, and selfless contributors to the rural industry and community, it’s this challenge that drives her.

“It’s important to recognise challenge as opportunity, and to grab it when it comes your way,” she believes.

“I was raised by my parents to realise that you can’t just sit back and think that someone else is going to step up, if you want to see improvements and to make a difference, it’s not someone else’s role, it’s yours.”

And Nicole – mother of two, wife, farmer, business owner and leader within her community, and the grains industry – isn’t afraid to grab the bull by the horns, figuratively – and no doubt literally.

Nicole Batten

Nicole was a finalist in the 2016 WA Rural Woman of the Year, former National and WA Chair of Partners in Grain, a former board member of RRR (Rural, Remote & Regional) Network, and previously covered a farmer advisory role with the National Centre for Farmer Health.

A current Grain Grower Alliance board member and member of the WA Biosecurity Council, Nicole also volunteers her time on local committees including the Yuna Farm Improvement Group Secretary, sporting and health organisations, and as a local Shire Councillor for the Shire of Chapman Valley. 

It’s a heady schedule, but Nicole’s meaningful contribution has paved the way for thousands of fellow producers, particularly women.

Through Partners in Grain WA – now rebranded to Rural Edge – Nicole was instrumental in launching a host of popular farm business workshops aimed to educate and inspire, and the uptake of training was overwhelming.

As a director of the family’s intergenerational 8,000 hectare broadacre operation in the Yuna district, ‘Batten Farms’, the concept of a comprehensive farm business skills and education platform was borne out of her own curiosity.

“As a female on the farm you’re thrown into many roles by default – accounting, HR, OH&S – and I really couldn’t find an effective platform for training and information.”

“Women are communicators, and so we really wanted to create something to connect women, connect rural communities, learn from each other and try to fill the knowledge gaps together.”

With a passion for community development and health – both in business and personally – she said business training was crucial for the modern farmer.

“There’s been such a shift in agriculture – land has been consolidated, there are fewer people on the ground and bigger decisions to be made -  and farms need to be viewed as legitimate businesses, not just a lifestyle choice.”

Business training, she said, would have been unheard of in a budget ten years ago, but thanks to Nicole’s strong advocacy, change is underway.

“We need to view business courses the same way we view a chemical course or truck licence courses – you shouldn’t need to think twice about it.”

While the workshops are open to men and women, she said it was the females who tended to take the lead on self-education – upskilling for more efficient and sustainable decision making.

Nicole is also the chair of the Rural Edge WA Inspire Summit, a two-day conference held every two years and supported by Rabobank, specifically for women in agriculture.

“The Inspire Summit is another opportunity for women in grain growing businesses to reach their potential by, not only increasing their networks, but gaining the tools, knowledge and confidence to go to the next level in either their business, community or industry. We are not just small business operators, but part of the world economy and the Inspire Summit helps to grow the potential of the people behind it.”

The health of small rural communities was also a cause close to Nicole’s heart, the diminishing population an ongoing concern.

“We have a really thriving local community here in the Yuna district, and like many small, remote communities we face challenges together – it’s so important for rural people to have that sense of community.”

She said whilst small, the local school and community facilities provide Yuna locals with a beautiful meeting spot.

“It doesn’t matter what it is, every town needs a centralised place to meet face to face – be it for sport, book club or just a social catch up – we can never underestimate the importance of investing in this type of infrastructure – contributing to the social fabric of our towns should be a priority for government, industry and individuals.”

 

“We need healthy people, healthy businesses and healthy communities to have a healthy industry that can meet the targets necessary for sustainable global food production.”

 

“We can’t sustain the health of the world if our farmers aren’t supported, we have so many challenges already when it comes to succession and growth, our social and environmental responsibility and sustainable food production, and so putting farmers’ health first – physically, mentally and in business – is a challenge that drives me.”

Nicole Batten 

Personally, Nicole maintains her own physical and mental health through exercise, as well as recognising when it’s time to reset.

“Every one of us works hard to juggle the work/life/family balance - and making time for myself and family is an area of constant improvement – it doesn’t take much for things to get wildly out of balance very quickly, and I think COVID has given us all a chance to stop and catch our breath.”

And with two daughters of her own, Nicole hopes the work she does now will contribute to creating opportunities and better pathways to attract young women – and men – with a range of occupations and skill sets back to the bush.

“Last year we had one of our worst seasons on record, but we managed to harvest some grain and there is still enormous optimism in the community – agriculture represents a fantastic business, and lifestyle, opportunity,” she said. “Unfortunately, however, we’re going to see more and more extreme weather events, but my hope is that through technology improvements, education and building healthy rural communities and farms, we can mitigate some of these future challenges.”

 

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