LIVING THE DREAM: Jessica Collins and her brother Mitch Mountfort harvesting geranial oil from their palmarosa grass crop in central Isis.
LIVING THE DREAM: Jessica Collins and her brother Mitch Mountfort harvesting geranial oil from their palmarosa grass crop in central Isis. Mike Knott BUN230119GER1

Palmarosa farmer tackling gender bias in industry

SOME may think watching grass grow would be uneventful, but for Jessica Collins it's a means to pursue her passion for farming and dreams of providing opportunities for women in agriculture.

Mrs Collins said she was the first person to grow palmarosa in Australia, a lemon grass plant that has a rosy aroma and can be used to extract geranial oil, which is used products such as soaps and shampoos.

After three years experimenting with methods on how to plant and grow it, Mrs Collins has her first big commercial harvest coming up soon.

But it's been a roller-coaster ride to get to this point, with Mrs Collins relying on a single "how to grow palmarosa” book, and turning to other farmers for advice.

She said she'd been in contact with lemon grass farmers to find out what they were doing, what fertilisers they used and then try to see if the same ones worked for palmarosa.

"I enjoy doing something new, it's a bit of an adventure,” she said.

"I've got my first big extraction happening in two weeks so that's really exciting, I've put a lot of time into this.”

With her father's background in oil extractions from pine trees (see Page 14) Mrs Collins said growing up around the process sparked her interest.

"Dad went to India and someone said the word palmarosa,” she said.

"I was moving to Australia (from New Zealand) and it was going to be my first commitment I had ever really made.

"Dad said 'grow palmarosa for two years' ... I just kept doing it because I really enjoy it.

"I love farming and this is like girly farming - it's a lovely fragrance - I have a real big passion for it, I like to grow it and I'm the first one to grow it in Australia so I'm having to experiment.

"I enjoy growing my palmarosa more than being on holiday.

"I don't like holidays, when I was told I was having two weeks off for work I was not looking forward to it, I was like really because I would rather sit on my tractor.

"I love what I do, it's like a hobby.”

Having figured out the best conditions to grow palmarosa, Ms Collins said the plan was to sell the oil in bulk overseas, while also dabbling in her own products, like soaps and shampoos.

But for Mrs Collins it's about more than farming.

"What I love most about this and what I want to do is, ... when it gets bigger and I need workers ... I want to employ young women who are interested in the industry,” she said.

"Because I have been farming for four years and men push you down and shut you down.

"I want women to come into a nice working environment where the guys here will build them up and they can learn everything in an environment where they are encouraged...”

Mrs Collins said providing employment opportunities for women was one of her main priorities.

"I want to provide these jobs for these young women,” she said.

"Because for me I felt like I wasn't ever going to get to be a farmer because I know it's hard for women, but my dad said 'no you can do it'.”



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