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Survey seeks data on rising number of farm women

With the new census numbers available, the number of female farm operators is up since 1991, say industry experts.

In 2021, there were 79,795 female farm operators, up from 77,970 in 2016. In 2021, 30.4% of total farm operators were female, up from 28.7% in 2016, according to data in the 2021 Census.

With those numbers a new survey is being conducted by CentricEngine Inc. and Farm Management Canada to get better information on the role of farm women. Farm Management Canada notes,”Much has been said about the role of women on the farm, but little has been measured.”

Executive Director Heather Watson says their research on the role of farm women reveal things like the connection between mental health and farm business management. Another study they conducted suggested women were more keen to adopt business practices but faced the difficulty of getting their partner onside.

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Watson says there’s lots of information on women in agriculture inclusive of CEOs but the research is sparse on the roles of women who are directly involved on the farm.

“The Census of Agriculture goes as far as asking, “Are you a female farm operator?” And that’s it. So we don’t know what is the age demographic or what is the regional demographic?”

Things like how much farm women get paid and how many hours they work as well as other details on the roles they play on the farm relating to childcare and mental health and how is that being recognized.

Watson says their preliminary work suggests the role of women embraces concerns that go to the very future of the operation.

“In our mental health survey things came up like, I feel responsible for the health and well-being of the people on the farm. I feel responsible for making sure that the farm makes it to the next generation. I feel responsible for making sure everyone is happy and getting along and we have a great Christmas dinner together.”

Watson adds in unearthing data on the role of farm women, they hope to answer how they can then “support the needs, desires and the wants.”

“Sometimes you might be saying,”I help out on the farm but is it what I really want to do.” “Maybe not. Maybe I feel like I don’t have a choice.” “Or, maybe this is amazing and you know I’m quite happy.” That’s cool too but we really have no baseline to understand. So this is about creating that baseline of information so we understand what we are talking about and where we go from here.”

Some definitions for a farm operator include any person responsible for the management decisions in operating a farm or agricultural operation. Also known as an agricultural operator, farmer, operator or rancher, according to Farm Management Canada. The Canada Revenue Agency defines a “farm” as a unit that produces agricultural products and reports revenues or expenses for tax purposes.

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The survey aims to ultimately get at all the different ways women interact with farming from ownership to a partnership agreement with their spouse. Watson says they have a steering committee of women who recently discussed even the very notion of women seeing themselves as the “farmer”

“In their mind, the farmer has a certain image in the industry. They might have off-farm income that absolutely contributes to the farm, the household and the family. But they are like,”I don’t know if I can call myself a farmer.””

The role of Farm Management Canada encompasses business planning, financial management and assessment as well transition or succession planning along with educational tools and resources, says Watson. Their national conference is planned for the end of November in Canmore.

To access the survey you may click this link on their webpage.

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