As we gear up to harvest wheat, I remembered that it is about three years since I received communication from a young Australian woman named Katrina Sasse. She is a 2017 Nuffield Scholar and her topic is “Raising Women to Farm, A study of daughter succession in a changing family farm environment.” I was happy to be a small part of her study, which has just been published. Katrina stayed with us and rode with me in the combine while we discussed farming – the joys and challenges.
“The Nuffield Canada Scholarship is a prestigious rural leadership program available to anyone mid-career who is involved in agriculture in any capacity of primary production, industry or governance. This $15,000 scholarship provides individuals with a unique opportunity to:
• Access the world’s most extensive network in food and farming,
• Achieve personal development through travel and study,
• Deliver long-term benefits to Canadian farmers and growers, and to the industry as a whole.”
More information can be found at https://www.nuffield.ca/
Katrina spent two months travelling through various countries including the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark. She conducted over 50 interviews with farmers’ daughters, agribusiness consultants, and academics, as well as private and public sector agriculture industry managers.
Having returned to her family farm herself, Katrina is passionate about learning why there is still a gender bias in agriculture, especially when it comes to farm succession. “This report is aimed at showing how multi-generational family farm businesses are changing, albeit slowly, and farms are now being passed down to daughters, often for the first time in history. While there is a greater collective consciousness in the agricultural community than ever before that fosters women, progress on gender equality can often feel too slow, as rigid structures in succession are well ingrained.”
Katrina’s report includes case studies on nine different farmers, four of whom are from Ontario – Mary-Ann Dore, Jenn Doelman, Kelsey Banks, and Katelyn Moore. Other case studies are from the U.S., Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark. She noted that “daughters have the ability to manage all different types of farm operations and strongly believe themselves to be the custodians of their family land.”
One of the main conclusions from her study is that often there is a gender bias that is present from a very young age, and this different treatment affects the outcomes. “The concept of ‘Women in Agriculture’ must not be associated with the concept of being a farmer’s wife, mother, or daughter-in-law. The pigeonholing of women into these categories shuns the daughter farmer scenario and perpetuates gender bias,” she writes. “Both men and women are needed to lead us forward into the future to be sustainable for many generations.”
Katrina makes several recommendations – for parents, daughters, and agricultural leaders. Being encouraged to learn by making mistakes is crucial for anyone learning a new skill, but boys are often given more learning opportunities than girls. All farm businesses can benefit from recognizing diverse skills and capitalizing on different strengths. “Siblings can work in a harmonious business partnership where daughters and sons do not have to work side-by-side on daily tasks, but their strengths complement the other.”
She encourages daughters to be proactive and have open communication directly with family members. All succession plans go smoother when family members feel open to communicate honestly about their wishes with regard to the future of the farm business. Having a female mentor can help young women take on more of a leadership role in the largely male-dominated sector. “Not every farm needs to be managed the same way. Be bold and different.”
All farmers, regardless of gender, benefit from recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses. Hiring help for jobs that are outside of that area of expertise allows people to focus on the areas of the business that they are good at. “Employing people with differing skills and building a good team ensures a strong business.”
Katrina also noted that gender biases are often perpetuated through language used by succession planners and other agribusiness consultants. “Successful stories of women successors need to be shared as widely as possible, online and through other forms of media. More incentives and campaigns to encourage youth, particularly women, to view agriculture and related fields as a viable career is vital.”
Through her international study, Katrina noted that many challenges faced by daughter successors were similar, regardless of the country. “While there are many initiatives to encourage women in agriculture, without access to farm land and farm opportunity through succession, women will never be treated equal to men. Parenting is key and suggests a paradigm shift is necessary. It is not enough for parents to say “our daughters can farm if they want to’ as this study indicates farmers actually need to be doing something to manage this and encourage daughters to farm from as early as childhood.”
Katrina’s full report can be accessed through Nuffield International at https://nuffield international.org/live/Reports. ◊