The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is one of the world’s leading grains research organisations, responsible for planning, investing in and overseeing RD&E to create enduring profitability for Australian grain growers.
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Nuffield Australia 2017 Scholar
Though the Australian agricultural sector is making strides in achieving gender balance objectives, a greater focus must be placed on shifting the traditional patterns of patrilineal succession and the way rural communities perceive daughter successors, in order to further engage and empower women to remain on family farming operations.
That’s according to a report by 2017 Nuffield Scholar and West Australian grain grower, Katrina Sasse, whose research was motivated by her own experiences on returning to the farm. With support from the Grains Research & Development Corporation (GRDC), Ms Sasse travelled throughout USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark, meeting with family farmers, agribusiness consultants, academics and private and public-sector managers, to better understand how daughters are engaging in farm succession planning in advanced agricultural economies.
Throughout her travels, Ms Sasse investigated global perspectives surrounding family farm succession management and ownership; enabling her to identify practices and business structures that are setting up daughters to become farm successors.
“Travelling to Grinsted, Denmark, I spoke with dairy farm owner and 2016 Danish Young Farmer of the Year, Connie Linde, who decided to leave the family dairy farm and purchase her own operation in 2015 at just 26 years old,” Ms Sasse said.
“As a role model for change in succession management, Connie said you have to be tough and be proud to show that women can excel at both the business and practical side of farming. She has maintained the support of her family during this process and continues to upskill through management and leadership courses, focusing on innovation and maximising efficiencies within her enterprise.”
In the report, Ms Sasse speaks of how traditionally daughters aren’t afforded equal opportunity of succession, and as a result, family farm management and leadership has become a sort of male hegemony with daughters rarely thought of as future leaders in farming.
“Daughters are an untapped resource in family farming. Many of the female successors I met had very strong credentials in terms of higher education, agricultural experience, and business and technological skills, which often set them apart in their industry and local communities. For the first time in history we are seeing women take over multi-generational family farms, but there are still discrepancies in the socialisation patterns of boys and girls in farming communities.
“Pigeonholing women into categories such as farmer’s wife or daughter-in-law, perpetuates the gender bias in rural communities. There needs to be a paradigm shift in agriculture that involves structural changes to the way people think and make decisions about farm succession at both a home and community level.
“Women bring diversity, innovation and thought leadership to the agricultural sector, and both men and women must continue to promote and validate the achievements of female farmers.”
Travelling to Quebec, Ms Sasse met 28-year-old Swiss Canadian dairy farmer and herd manager, Regula Estermann, who spoke about the opportunities in the agricultural sector that opened up when she moved from Switzerland to Canada.
“Regula explained that in Switzerland it is not common for daughters to participate in farming, women are not afforded opportunities to work in the same capacities as men, and mainly manage the family and household domain. Regula then went to USA for several years after school to manage a large dairy herd of a corporate dairy company knowing full well she would like to return home to the farm, but felt it was critical to gain invaluable knowledge and expertise in managing cow health and nutrition first. She returned to her family farm in Quebec where she has taken over the herd management responsibility from her father, with his understanding that her leadership and skills will benefit the business and boost productivity gains.”
In her report, Ms Sasse concluded that although there are various initiatives across the globe that seek to empower women into agriculture, there is very limited visibility in regard to the roadblocks women face when it comes to succession planning.
“To change the way our rural communities think about succession, we need to see more industry led initiatives that focus on building the capacity of women to remain on family farms and become successors,” Ms Sasse said.
“Then on the home-front, parents need to be challenging gender role stereotypes, recognising unique strengths and capabilities, and ensuring both sons and daughters are given equal opportunities for succession.
“We need to continually encourage the upskilling and development of young women in our sector, sharing stories of female successors so the younger generation view it as a viable career option and feel empowered to pursue it.
“To safeguard the success and continuity of family farming enterprises, we need to continue striving for a balanced gender setting on farms and within rural communities across Australia, and ensuring daughter are engaged and empowered in family farm succession planning.”