Shift seen in farming’s gender roles

A major farm investment firm has noticed parents have become less fixated on passing on their operations to just sons. | Getty Images

A major farm investment firm has noticed parents have become less fixated on passing on their operations to just sons

Agriculture is often seen as a traditional parts of the Canadian economy.

But quietly, at a farm level, some of the old gender roles have loosened up, observes an investor in Canadian farms.

“We see more young women as part of the succession plans than we did 10 years ago,” said Joelle Faulkner, chief executive officer of Area One Farms, which invests in and partners with existing Canadian farm operations.

For generations, most farms were based on assumptions that a son would take over the operations once the father retired or scaled back. Faulkner said farm operators now seem more interested in working with their child that has the most interest in being a farmer, regardless of sex.

“Now, it’s whoever’s interested,” she said.

It helps that fathers today can often seem to see beyond old gender stereotypes about the roles of men and women, and to care about their daughters’ interests, aspirations and abilities.

“People like seeing women in agriculture because people like seeing their daughters in agriculture,” said Faulkner, whose investment fund operates from Toronto.

Making room for farm daughters to take leadership roles on farms does more than just open roles for more children in the family than just the sons, said Faulkner. Daughters also often bring different education and skills.

“There’s a lot of professionalism that comes into the farm that way too,” said Faulkner, noting that many farm daughters get training in accounting, which is of great value in running any modern farm.

Faulkner hasn’t found many problems in running her farm investment company as a woman, although she said she would have no way of knowing if potential farmer-partners might shy away from working with a woman-partner.

If a farmer felt that way, he just wouldn’t talk to her company, she acknowledged.

“If they want to work with us, us is me.”

And she said she is in a fortunate position because she brings money to the table, and she is clearly in charge, so if farmers want to talk to Area One Farms about a long-term ownership partnership, they are already accepting that they’ll be dealing with her.

But she said she senses that a bigger concern for many farmers these days is finding partners that understand farming, rather than being focused on gender roles.

“I find the biggest reactive difference is when we’re in conversation. It’s not necessarily that I come from a farm (that matters), but that I think like a farmer,” said Faulkner, who was a Rhodes scholar.

“Would we be more successful with investors if I was a man? No idea,” she said with a laugh.

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