Empowering Female Growers

Research shows that female growers are on the rise.  The share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over the past three decades, according to a study by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, which analyzed gender roles in the Census of Agriculture from 1978 to 2007.

In some regions, women in agribusiness have even begun to overtake men.  One recent study suggests more new farmers in Atlantic Canada are female than male.

However, on the whole, the gender gap in agribusiness and horticulture is still very real.  Figures from Statistics Canada show that in 2011, 27.4% of its country's farm operators were women.  In the U.S. in 2012, only around 14% of the nation’s farms had female principle operators.   The gender gap becomes sharply even more noticeable at the managerial and policy levels.

There are significant barriers to female entry in agribusiness and horticulture.  The sheer physical difficulty of farming poses a unique challenge.  Women have long used creative means to execute the more physically-taxing tasks around the farm and spare themselves from injury.  Now, more companies are introducing tools optimized for women's strength - think shovels with a wider foot base and a differently-shaped handle; and  easy-start, lighter-weight chainsaws.

Perhaps even more formidable than the physical barriers are the psychological and social obstacles facing females in agribusiness and horticulture.  Many women still struggle to overcome discrimination in the industry, feeling that they are often not taken seriously because of their gender.  Many cite difficulty gaining access into "the old boys' clubs" that are some commodity boards.  Female growers and farm operators say that "Where's your husband?" is a common refrain among visitors to their farms, including fellow growers and sales representatives.  There's a lack of female role models, and child care can be notoriously hard to come by in rural settings.

Many female farm operators cite mentoring and networking to be an invaluable support, and helpful in fostering confidence and helping female voices be heard in a male-dominated industry.  Social media has also been a saving grace for those unable to find in-person support in their rural areas.  The online forum Ag Women's Network, for example, was started in 2013 to provide a platform for discussion and a support group for women in agribusiness and now has thousands of members.  Women in Ag, another online support platform, offers coaching and even scholarships with the aim of "supporting, empowering, and connecting all women in agriculture in order to strengthen the industry as a whole".

Empowering aspiring and new female growers is an important priority for the horticulture industry, especially as the average age of growers continues to rise and the number of new entrants continues to dwindle.  With meaningful communication and a willingness to evolve traditional mindsets, the industry can help new female entrants grow and thrive - and vice versa.

 


 

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