This inevitably sees intergenerational collaboration play out with the new generation of farmers introducing new techniques, science and technology to drive productivity growth and ensure best possible innovation and technology adaptation.
“When all children, including females, are given the opportunity to develop hands-on farming skills from a young age, they build confidence, capability and potentially a lifelong interest.”
Technology on farms opens up wider possibilities and opens the sector to those with specialised skills which are clearly in reach of any gender. With women obtaining higher levels of education they are perfectly placed to apply their unique perspectives and skills to take the industry into the future.
Women have always been a feature of farm business decision making in a family partnership but in recent times this has become more visible. Not just within family farms but in the number of females represented in industry bodies, communities and in corporate agriculture.
The farmer’s work has often been seen as work in the yards or on the tractor, however, a modern generation of farmers are showing while hard work and manual labour are still required, they are not the cornerstones for farming success. The modern world of farming requires skills in business, marketing, finance, science, nature and technology. Farms - and farmers - are changing.
Next in line
Another complex issue in family farming is succession. This topic is often tackled as family members come of age or as children divide across farming or other career and life choices and earlier generations look to retirement – or at least easing back.
What is clear however, is that when all children, including females, are given the opportunity to develop hands-on farming skills from a young age, they build confidence, capability and potentially a lifelong interest. This is extremely important in the context of farm succession outcomes where a passion for farming is matched by capability.
When family farms are able to come together to make business decisions by including members with a diverse range of knowledge, skills and experiences, they will have better outcomes. This not only includes gender but also different generations - along with external advisors where possible. This also encourages stronger communication skills to support the farming business successfully into the future.
Experience: on vs off farm
In the 2020 ANZ Agri InFocus report titled “Women’s Work”, the number of women completing agriculture-related studies was shown to be increasing faster than their male counterparts. With women more likely to complete higher education, females accounted for 58 per cent of all domestic students enrolled in Australia universities in 2016. These women return to the farm with different experiences and skills.
While gender stereotypes may have once meant girls were not given the same on-farm experiences as boys, these days it’s more likely for children to be brought up on an equal footing. They are both encouraged to pursue studies or careers of their choosing with no single child being expected to return to take over management of the family farm.
The Nuffield study “Raising women to farm” shows a key influence in whether young girls become farmers is whether they are involved in farm life through their childhood. When young women are given the opportunity to be involved and to develop the hands-on skills required, this builds their confidence to continue working to develop into farmers of the future.
What seems particularly clear is many young girls are drawn to the animal husbandry aspect of the farm. Women’s involvement and talent for livestock-related farming is clear - from raising lambs and calves (extremely important given the current high-value of livestock) to concern for animal welfare. This passion for animal care is reflected in veterinary studies with over 80 per cent of graduates being female.
The early involvement and passion for animal husbandry appears to be leading to higher business ownership in these sub-sectors. The highest percentage of female owner-operators identified within the 2016 agriculture census was ‘other livestock’ at 39 per cent followed by ‘poultry & pigs’ at 35 per cent.