Women bring their skills to drive hay business

Women bring their skills to drive hay business

Agribusiness
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Firm but fair - two women are helping drive a growing hay export business.

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Two women with different, but complimentary skill sets, play key roles at Avoca-based Pyrenees Hay Australia (PHA).

The export-hay business purchase, process and market around 23,000 tonnes of oaten hay bound for livestock in China, Japan and the Middle East.

The current direction and success of the business is in no small part due to the skills and calm of site manager, Julie Bartlett, and Erin Harvey, who is in charge of hay and grain procurement and is the company agronomist.

Julie Bartlett is a calm, steady, but firm influence on a workplace that comprises 15 men and just three women.

She started as one of the factory staff in the print industry in nearby Maryborough before moving into the office where she worked to arrange and co-ordinate outside contractors. With no formal training, she describes herself as "self taught". After ten years "at home with kids" she began work as a book keeper at what is now Pyrenees Hay Australia.

She started as a general office person doing export documentation and operating the weighbridge before stepping up into the role as site manager 18 months-ago.

She brought with her an ability to remain calm when the pressure increased, using one of her key attributes - the ability to organise and schedule work. Mrs Bartlett said there was no typical day in the business with tasks including organising hay deliveries in and out, office tasks and co-ordinating staff.

Staff numbers had increased from around 10 when she started to 18, with extra shifts and growth in the business. Her calmness enabled her to deal with the expansion of the business as well as staff management.

"Organising staff is just part of the job. I'll talk to staff one-on-one, as a shift or with the two shifts," she said.

The processing plant currently has two shifts operating and also weekend work when hay supplies are plentiful.

Mrs Bartlett said it was important the business was seen as being a good employer that looked after staff.

"But you have to be firm as well and do things right by the business," she said.

During recent harvests impacted by drought, hay supplies for the Avoca plant declined. To keep staff gainfully employed, various members worked with associated businesses to retain their connection for when things improved.

Her organisational skills were honed in the livestock transport business she operates with husband Andrew. There she organises all the pickups and times.

"Organisation is my forte. When we started we wanted to be known as being on time or early," she said.

"We don't mind waiting if we're early but we don't want to get the reputation of being late."

Both women cite attention to detail and knowledge to work across all areas as key attributes they brought to the business.

At PHA there are containers of processed hay leaving the plant every day.

Mrs Bartlett said they matched buy orders with supplies to ensure there was the right quantity of the right product available to fill the orders.

Erin Harvey said there had to be a balance between firm and fair when it came to scheduling, particularly so when sourcing specific grades of hay for certain orders with the co-operation of the farmer suppliers who might have other farm tasks as well - such as sowing.

Ms Harvey's role liaising with growers all year round is critical.

Her role included organising "area" contracts and then tonnage or purchase contracts once the quality of the product was determined. Prices were based on quality.

Both say women wanting to enter the farming industry needed to be tough and "have a go".

Ms Harvey said it wasn't for everyone.

"You have to know when to be tough," she said.

"You have to respect them and they will respect you."

She said she had always been a people person and interested in customer service.

"I love that part. You have to have a good relationship and trust with growers," she said.

Producing export quality hay to match moisture content and quality requirements was difficult, Ms Harvey said.

She completed a degree at Longerenong College and spent some time as a crop consultant and then pasture agronomist in the Goulburn Valley.

The work in irrigated pastures was good grounding for when she moved to her role at PHA. It was quite a change to move to Avoca where it was dryland-based crop production on a larger scale.

"I am still learning but having that core background of understanding soil and plants and management of those crops has helped me build a rapport with the growers," she said.

"Having me is more eyes on the ground to help those growers create the best crops that they can.

"It's suites them and us - the cleaner it is the healthier it is. It helps to be able to address any issues as soon as possible."

Ms Harvey said it was particularly important to meet exacting standards needed for markets like Japan.

There was also a level of accountability for growers to meet the quality needed.

There had been an increase in the number of people wanting to grow hay for export.

"We don't contract those new growers but we help them and maybe buy hay from them," Ms Harvey said.

A strong domestic market last season had placed more pressure on PHA to access hay for export orders.

"Being in a growing phase of the company, we had to meet match prices. It was tough," Ms Harvey said.

"There was a lot more hay we could have brought but we couldn't justify the price."

Ms Harvey said she took some time to figure out what she wanted to do.

"It wasn't until a female agronomist came to the farm one day that I realised there was a place for women who are educated and who aren't just in the office or the shop," she said.

No one cares that you're a woman, they just care about what you say - Erin Harvey, Pyrenees Hay

"To go and get a degree in something agricultural was really exciting. You can use your brain and still be outdoors. I like the science."

Ms Harvey said she had learned after a few years working, that "no one cares that you're a woman, they just care about what you say".

She said young people wanting to enter agriculture should go and get the education and the background. "People are understanding that you're learning," she said.

This year her work with growers had lifted contracted amounts from 23,000 tonnes to 27,000 so far. "That's a modest number. Some of the crop hasn't been sown yet."

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