Michelle Ninness made a tree change to the Northern Rivers region of NSW eight years ago, and we mean that literally!
She spent 20 years working in mental health and disability support across Australia, before she decided she was ready to start a new chapter. To follow her long held passion for agriculture, she completed a Certificate 4 in Agriculture at a local TAFE. After she moved to the Northern Rivers in 2014, she took a day per week job at Dalwood Tropical Fruits in Alstonville. With 4000 macadamia trees to look after Michelle says she “sort of fell into the macadamia industry”.
As the number of days working on the farm increased she took over managing the property for Brisbane-based owners Bryan and Elizabeth Shea. Michelle now manages all operations on site including bug scouting, spraying, mowing, harvesting and de-husking. Planning and support are key for Michelle who fits her role as farm manager around her responsibilities as a single mother of teenagers as well as studying for a Bachelor in Agricultural Science through the University of Queensland.
Bryan and Elizabeth also support Michelle around the farm. They share a desire to do the best they can for biological systems in the orchard, focussing on building carbon in the soil and fostering an environment suitable for insect predators. This includes inter-row plantings to support bees and beneficial bugs, as well as releasing Trichogrammatoidea wasps for nut borer, Anastatus and lacewings.
While Michelle said it was daunting coming into a male-dominated industry when she started, in general she has had a “fantastic” experience. “I have found people are more than happy to share knowledge and experience, if you are willing to listen.”
But is there anything she wished she knew when starting off? Just that growers are at the mercy of mother nature. “You can be super prepared and do everything right for the trees, but if the weather is against you, then sometimes the returns aren’t there. You just have to look forward to the next year.”