AGRICULTURE is constantly searching for young, fresh minds to give a new perspective on old problems - and has found someone with new ideas in Melanie Dixon.
Originally set on becoming a veterinarian, and born far from Dandaragan, a taste of the industry has managed to make Ms Dixon's heart set on agriculture.
After graduating from her Animal Sciences degree, she started a job at West Midlands Group as the mixed farming systems officer - a job she talks about with passion and enthusiasm.
When she began the role a few years ago, she was completely new to the world of agriculture, but talk to her now and she would have you convinced.
West Midlands Group, which Ms Dixon describes as a fun and innovative workplace, is a non-for-profit organisation which facilitates agricultural research in the Dandaragan region and communicates findings to the community.
It works to connect farmers to the latest agricultural research and information, and distil the data to give them exactly what they need.
"We give timely and relevant information, but we're moving a lot more into extension as well, rather than focusing on adoption," Ms Dixon said.
Often agricultural research comes with a wide range of data that isn't communicated to farmers, which began to irritate Ms Dixon, who spent countless hours collecting data in a hot paddock.
This inspired her to undertake a Masters in Data Science, which she admitted she never thought she would study, to bridge the gap between researcher and farmer.
When asked what she was most proud of in her work, Ms Dixon said it was her pasture events - where farmers got together to delve into the best practices for establishing and managing perennial pastures.
Extremely passionate about making conferences and events engaging - and with her West Midlands Group work partner Erin O'Brien, are applying new-generation techniques to the conference framework.
"We really don't like events where you sit down and just listen, with one person for 40 minutes and someone else for 40 minutes - I think that there is another way to do it," Ms Dixon said.
In her most recent pasture event, farmer Grant Bain took fellow farmers on a tour - sharing his valuable knowledge on seeding perennials.
Afterwards attendees were invited to a roundtable, where they discussed what they liked or disliked from the farm tour, different ideas and techniques, or concerns and comments.
"It sounds really simple, but I really think that farmers have all the knowledge already," Ms Dixon said.
"I'm tired of the traditional approach to events, where we're expected to sit quietly and pay attention to long presentations without any engagement.
"There is no point a researcher coming in and saying 'you're doing all this wrong' and then they leave again - you learn more from each other, perhaps more than from a researcher."
Ms Dixon realises its near impossible to pay attention talk after talk, and has decided to encourage participants to occupy their hands while a presenter is onstage.
In a recent seminar, Ms Dixon and Ms O'Brien gave farmers objects to play with, and have plans on encouraging drawing in upcoming seminars.
Research has shown that drawing helps improve memory, with a study taken in 2010 showing that while listening to a 2.5 minute monotonous voicemail, the ones who doodled while listening recalled 29 per cent more information.
"We want people to be engaged and have some fun," she said.
"We brought chocolate frogs for motivation, pipe cleaners to replace the crops that the farmer usually plays with, and even a seating plan to keep everyone on their toes," Ms Dixon said.
"We wanted to ensure that the farmers got the most out of the workshop, and we were thrilled to see how engaged and enthusiastic they were."
West Midlands Group is a prime example of a company trialling the best in workplace research to enable their employees to thrive.
Ms Dixon said she enjoyed going to work to catch up with her workmates, who she can easily talk to with an open floor-plan office, and commented multiple times on West Midlands Group executive officer Nathan Craig's efforts to maximise productivity.
She said this includes a stand-up desk and working from her home in Mandurah multiple days a week.
Through West Midlands Group, she hoped to motivate more people to consider the world of agriculture, just like she had.
In September, she was helping to host the West Midlands Group Student Crop Walk - where university students had the opportunity to experience and ask questions about the agricultural industry.
"We really want people who haven't done an animal or agriculture degree to attend - maybe they have done a data or engineering degree - and they're probably not thinking about ag," Ms Dixon said.
With many companies focusing on how to get youth into agriculture, it's exciting to see West Midlands Group and Ms Dixon making leaps and bounds for the upcoming generation.
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