More women own and operate farms and agribusinesses in Canada than ever before.
What is it that women need to do to be great farmers and how can farms prepare daughters for the ownership of the family farm?
Underlying any business transaction is value. And often, families focus on the value of the capital assets as a priority and as a starting point for discussion. I suggest that people are the most valuable asset to the operation and empowering young folks coming in is just as important as the paper transaction.
For the young woman coming to the farm it is important that she understand and appreciate her OWN value and have no fear in articulating this. Many women don’t appreciate themselves and in the process sell themselves short. Girls and women should be encouraged to do an honest evaluation of hard and soft skills; education and experience; adaptability and flexibility; knowledge and passion — and to stand by those qualities.
Girls and women can enhance their value in a farming operation. Experience is an astounding teacher. It could be in extensive education away from home, travel, global work experience on other farms and in other industries (for at least five years), volunteer time, playing on competitive teams or clubs, spending time with the poor, the unlovely, the marginalized or continuous technical training.
Globally I have experienced that the single most important factor in the success of the women who farm is literacy and particularly financial literacy.
There are very few schools that teach commerce and finance from Grade 1 (where it should start), and even fewer families that focus on the financial literacy of their daughters. This huge gap can be filled at any time in life but before women come back to the farm they should be strongly urged to become financially literate.
- More with Brenda Schoepp on the Alberta Farmer: Tech companies charting a new food trend
When farming with a partner, the daughter or female spouse is encouraged to have operations outside of the farm that are her own. It starts with owning land, investments or a home and having a business that is not tied directly to the farm, but is complementary to the life that you wish to lead there. One can still farm full time while having independent investments. In the interest of equality (social and economic) just as a fellow may solely own a heavy-duty garage so can a female partner.
The beauty of farming is the limitless opportunity and dreaming big is encouraged, but so is starting small. It is the business plan that allows the sole owner to navigate through the grid of farming. When farming falters, one can always return to the business plan as a neutral place to recharge. It is a flexible road map and should be complemented with personal and professional goals.
When women borrow money they have a tendency to ask for “just what they need,” and this has proven to slow the process of access to capital because banks like a decent-size loan, too. Think about the end at the beginning of the project, go back to the plan and mitigate risk within it, be bold, prepare for success, and ask for more.
Women are great farmers and creative marketers. The challenge then is in finding committed help that is willing to move into management. Preparing for success also means to prepare a human resource plan that allows for mentoring, growth, and empowerment of family and staff.
For all parties, the experience of a mentor will be the greatest gift they give themselves, but this is especially true as women start their independent farming careers. When the going gets tough, a good mentor gets going with empowerment, inspiration, and encouragement. Choosing to hang with family, friends, groups and clubs that build, educate and challenge keeps the momentum going.
The business of farming is just that — the business of farming.
Farms are to make money and support the family; be a steady source of income for employees; and help build communities. This is not a lifestyle — it is about money with a lifestyle bonus. Keep focused on the financials.
Respect family through the process. Bringing a global approach to the table is important but so is the understanding that the parents or sellers are also in transition. They may have concerns that are not addressed. Let them know they are appreciated and will be missed.
What can farms do?
Changes in farming are inevitable and because farming is such a creative business, it is an especially good fit for our daughters. As farm families go through the process of change in their daily life, there is great value in asking and discussing with children: What will change? Who will it affect? How will it be handled?
True equality starts with the respectful engagement of all family members and fostering an environment for girls where they create, problem solve, and execute with confidence. Having a business plan that is transparent and flexible attracts your daughter’s engagement and ensuring she is financially literate will boost her chance of success.
At all times, stand up for her excellence. She will be amazing!