By Tom Parry
AS a high school student, Jessica Knight had the ambition to work in agriculture.
But the words of a careers adviser almost shattered that dream: “Girls don’t do Ag, you can’t do that.”
Ms Knight has since proved that adviser wrong, today owning and operating her own dairy farm near Stratford, together with her husband Stephen.
It’s the culmination of a lifelong fascination with farming, forged by her childhood spent in Khancoban, located in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales near the Victorian border.
Although her parents were not farmers – they were both employed by Snowy Hydro – she spent much of her time surrounded by people who were.
“I had my Grampa on the farm and an uncle who was a dairy farmer, and I lived in a community where we were a farming community – a lot of the kids that I went to school with came from farms” Ms Knight said.
After graduating from high school, Ms Knight studied at university and obtained a law degree before entering into the industry she so adored.
She and her husband bought their farm seven years ago, which in that time has gone from strength to strength.
“When we bought it, we were milking 180 cows and now we’re milking 450,” Ms Knight said.
“It’s been very much a growth phase for us – we’ve done a lot of capital investment, we’ve just finished building a brand new dairy, and modernising the farm to, I guess, get rid of the risk factors that were involved in it.”
Ms Knight describes the roles of she and her husband on the farm as “traditional”.
“He’s up first and early and actually goes out and milks the cows, and I do the calf-rearing, which is usually the job that falls to the females,” Ms Knight explained.
“And then all of the office work and that sort of thing has naturally fallen to me … because when we bought the farm, I had two kids under two (years old), so getting out on the farm as much wasn’t as much a possibility.”
There are now three children living on the farm – aged nine, seven and five – who all enjoy the lifestyle as much as their mother does.
“They love getting out on the farm,” Ms Knight said.
“As soon as Stephen walks in the door, they’re like, ‘Dad, what job are you doing next?’
“They’re happy to come and help feed the calves with me, and getting to go and do the tractor jobs with Dad is the best thing.
“So anything that they can get out and be involved in, they want to be there.”
In addition to her work on the farm, Ms Knight is actively involved with numerous leadership and advocacy roles in the region.
She’s a member of the Young Farmers Advisory Council, East Gippsland Young Dairy Network, Women in Dairy East, and most recently was appointed to the GippsDairy Board – all groups that are passionate about supporting young people, and especially young females in the dairy industry.
And according to Ms Knight, there’s no shortage of females wanting to enter the industry.
“At the moment we’ve got a young girl from Ireland who’s a backpacker who’s working for us, and we’ve got another young girl who’s only been farming six months,” Ms Knight said.
And if being a farmhand doesn’t appeal, Ms Knight adds that “there’s a lot of other possibilities”.
“There’s research and communications (also) – it’s not just the on-the-farm jobs that make the agriculture supply chain,” she said.
But for those who are simply wanting to enter the industry, Ms Knight’s advice is above all else: “You don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”