Having grown up in rural NSW, Jacqui Mitchell knows a thing or two about living on the land. Despite a few years studying Agricultural Economics and working in the banking sector, its where she has spent her life and chose to bring up her children.
‘I’m passionate about giving my children an upbringing on the land. There’s nothing quite like the wide open spaces, watching the land change with the seasons, and having a few animals around’, says Jacqui.
And while there have been some stressful moments, such as when her son, as a toddler, had a temperature so high it caused a febrile convulsion, and the ambulance seemingly took forever to arrive, she says she wouldn’t change it for a moment.
Like any working mother, Jacqui often feels stretched, but she says she is grateful for the flexibility that she has working with husband Bill on their property. It means that when the kids have commitments she can work around their needs.
‘Living on a farm offers a lot of opportunity for young families to spend quality time together. It’s a shame so many younger people have moved away from rural areas. If I have one hope for the future of farming it’s that more young people and young families will come back to the land. Young families in particular tend to bring a real sense of community and some of our rural towns could really benefit from that.’
Jacqui and Bill run cattle and Merino sheep on a property near Guyra. They are renowned for their superfine wool production, having won the New England Wool Ultimate Clip competition in 2010, which resulted in a trip to Italy last year to see first hand the spinning and weaving mills that turn their raw materials into fine fabric.
‘This was an amazing opportunity and a proud moment to see NSW wool being made into material for some of the finest suits and corporate wear in the world.’
The trip to Italy was a rare break from daily demands of the farm.
‘When there’s work to be done we all pitch in. But we do get a lot of opportunities to relax together as a family at the end of the day too, and you can’t underestimate the benefit of that, especially when you are raising children.’
Jacqui’s day on the farm depends greatly on whatever project is running at the time. If Bill is mending fences, then Jacqui works with him. If there’s shearing to be done, Jacqui has often found herself supporting the team in the sheds, but she feels her greatest contribution is at the business end of the farm.
Her degree in Agricultural Economics she says has equipped her well, particularly in these current times of economic uncertainty when you need to be constantly assessing business risks and opportunities.
‘I believe strongly in formal education for farmers, so if my children show any interest in taking over the farm I will encourage them to study first.’
Despite unpredictable global economic conditions and their potential impact here in Australia, Jacqui says that when she thinks about the future she feels positive.
‘As the nation celebrates the Australian Year of the Farmer, I hope the real needs and issues facing Australian rural families are acknowledged and addressed. I know that a lot of people are doing it tough in Australia but I believe that we’re a nation always willing to learn from experience, innovate and keep moving forward.’
These are sentiments strongly echoed by Andrew Blanch, Managing Director of New England Wool.
New England Wool is an Australian-based export company, which exports only the highest quality superfine merino wool directly to Italy for two high-end fabric makers which produce predominantly men’s suiting fabric.
‘It will be Australian wool growers’ ability to innovate that will go a long way towards ensuring a positive global future for the industry,’ says Andrew.
‘Superfine wool growers have endured some tough years and the Global markets are still extremely volatile. There’s no question that we need to sustain wool prices for the long term because growers need solid financial returns that will give them the confidence to re-invest in their properties and their livestock.
‘While we can’t rely on the markets to stabilise quickly or to start delivering consistently good returns, I believe that by focusing on innovation, a commitment to quality and diversification, growers can work towards a more stable future’.
Dr Paul Swan, Manager of Market Intelligence & Trade Reporting for Australian Wool Innovation also sees a positive outlook for superfine wool growers.
‘In order to obtain more certainty around wool prices the market needs to diversify. While we have always relied on adult wear in the apparel market, we need to look at new possibilities like maternity and infants wear which research shows has a great deal of promise,’ says Dr Swan.
‘I see a bright future, but it is conditional on accepting the fact that the game is changing and we need to adapt.’