SHELLY-ANN DINNALL — A young woman committed to agriculture


SHELLY-ANN DINNALL — A young woman committed to agriculture

Says to get young people into farming, more access to start-up capital needed

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

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It's never been just about farming for Shelly-Ann Dinnall. Ever since the 34-year-old made her first dollar as a teenager selling mangoes, her focus has been on how to evolve to the next level.

With the money she made selling mangoes, Shelly-Ann bought 1,500 chicks, and with the money she made from the latter investment, she bought 3,000 chicks, which led to her flipping cars for profit.

A third-generation farmer, Dinnall is co-principal of the 35-acre Claudette and Shelly-Ann Farm, named after her mother Claudette Williams and herself.

From two tunnel houses, producing 50,000 birds, under her stewardship the farm now has six houses, producing 100,000 birds.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the farm with my grandparents and my mother, but I really wasn't interested in farming. I worked during the summers on the farm, but I studied business at University of Technology and was thinking about accounting,” says Dinnall.

When Shelly-Ann mother was diagnosed with cancer those plans were taken off the table, with Dinnall stepping in to manage the farm while Claudette went through her treatment protocol.

“Family is everything for me, so it was no second thought about me stepping up for my mother,” she said.

“I'll stand in front of a train to protect her. It was rough going, but I knew what I had to do. I would be up sorting out the farm at 4:00 am, so I could be at the hospital at 5:00 am to take care of her.”

Even as she was supporting her mother to navigate multiple surgeries and recovery procedures, Dinnall was also exploring ways to improve operations and profitability on the farm.

One early move was to invest in a solar system to cut energy costs.

“It was a necessity. Our electricity bills were out of control, but beyond that, solar energy has a positive effect on the economy and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels,” Shelly- Ann quickly pointed out.

Another innovation was a hydroponic shade house to grow ginger. Although that part of the farm's production is on pause, Dinnall believes that the future of Jamaican agriculture depends on technology and something else.

“It's not just technology, precision farming also needs educated people. Young people don't see agriculture as a career option. There is an image that farming is for old people or poor people. The global population will increase by 25 per cent in 2050, so if we don't get more young people involved in agriculture, we can expect food shortages,” Dinnall stated with firmness in her voice.

While her journey has not been without challenges, Dinnall admits that being part of a generational business served to clear some obstacles.

“There needs to be more financing for young people who are interested in agriculture. I was able to go to the bank with my mother for financing. Our bankers could see a track record for responsibly managing debt. But most young people don't have that advantage,” she shared with the Business Observer.

Dinnall also says that support provided by Jamaica Broilers was a great help to improve her technical knowledge.

“When we started thinking about tunnel houses, we had easy access to a host of information. There was a solid structure to learn the best practices from the team at Jamaica Broilers. “With the ginger house, I was literally living on Google trying to find information. So strong technical support makes a huge difference,” Dinnall said.

She credits her mother for teaching her the power of resilience long before COVID-19 came around to test the world.

“There was a period when I wasn't doing well. It was depressing, and I retreated to my room for some days. My mother said to me… “so, is just so you going to act because a couple of flocks don't do well? That's how life is. Failure is not the opposite of success; it's part of it'.”

Armed with that philosophy, Dinnall has been working to make sure that the farm holds its own during the pandemic, with strict financial management.

“Our financial institutions have given us moratoriums, we've cut spending, and we remain optimistic.”

Quizzed on the policy changes, she would like to see for the industry Dinnall quickly responded.

“Farming today and farming 30 years ago is totally different, but people are still holding on to the image of the old man in the jumpsuit and the fork.

“If we revolutionise farming with greater use of technology, there is another problem, that of access to financing. To get young people into agriculture, we have to increase investment and access to start-up capital,” Dinnall said.

With her relentless pursuit of levelling up, Dinnall has set her sights on increasing the farm's solar capacity and diversifying operations with hydroponics.

To other young people Dinnall has a strong message.

“Stay focused! If you want to accomplish whatever it is —sometimes you have to ignore the negativity and go into tunnel vision. Be yourself. It's okay to be different, it's okay to want to do something different from what your peers are doing.”

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