Call for more women in grain industry

Nuffield scholar looks at female ratio in grain industry

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Understanding why there are less women in Australian agriculture is at the heart of a report by a Nuffield scholar.

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Nuffield Scholar Randall Wilksch said there was an urgent need for change if there was to be real diversity and equality in agriculture.

Nuffield Scholar Randall Wilksch said there was an urgent need for change if there was to be real diversity and equality in agriculture.

A REPORT released last week by South Australian Nuffield scholar Randall Wilksch sheds new light on why so many women are not identifying as farmers. 

Supported by the Grains Research & Development Corporation, Mr Wilksch received a 2016 Nuffield Scholarship to investigate the visibility of women in agriculture and the need to increase the number of women in management and industry roles.

His report includes case studies and insights from conversations he had with more than 60 women around the world, who work across the broadacre and livestock farming sectors, as well as agribusiness, education and policy development. 

“Understanding why there are less women in Australian agriculture, when women are so vital to its ability to overcome challenges and remain globally competitive, has been at the heart of my Nuffield report,” Mr Wilksch said. 

“I spoke to women around the world to gain a deeper understanding of some of the cultural, social and financial barriers they face. 

“This research revealed that despite positive steps in recent years, there is still an urgent need for change if we are to realise real diversity and equality in agriculture.”

Mr Wilksch said education was key to make the change and while more women were studying agriculture and working in agronomy than ever before, the sector remained largely dominated by males. 

“In the livestock industries, for instance, the number of women enrolled in tertiary agricultural courses has surpassed male students, which could lead to a flow-on effect of more females taking on senior management roles,” he said.

“Real change starts with education at an early age. 

“It’s important that agricultural subjects go beyond just the practical aspects of farming, to focus on the business and cultural elements critical to any agricultural enterprise. 

“For grains, we need to increase interest in our field and to challenge long-held social complexities associated with gender specific roles in areas such as machinery. 

“Above all, we must encourage every child’s love of the land.”

Mr Wilksch said the Australian grains industry had the highest percentage of farmers, predominantly women, working off-farm, citing the example of grain machinery as a significant investment, which often required women to work off-farm to provide for families.

“Women produce at least 49 per cent of real farm income in Australia and the survival of many family farms is inherently linked to a woman’s financial contribution, most notably their off-farm income,” he said.

“Daughters see their mothers doing this and the situation self-perpetuates. 

“While it’s not the case for every farm business, it was a general theme that seemed to ring true with many that I spoke to as part of my research.”

Mr Wilksch met with Iris Bouwers, an agribusiness student in the Netherlands, who will return to the family farm after she finishes her degree. 

She believes that machinery is a barrier for her, due to a lack of knowledge and ability to repair or operate the farm’s large equipment. 

“It sends a clear message that we must adjust and find solutions to ensure women farmers are actively supported across all facets of their business, including increased training, for example on machinery and the ability to have input and make informed decisions for the business,” he said.

As part of his research Mr Wilksch wanted to understand how the grains industry could propel more women into senior leadership roles. 

From speaking with women across the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia he found a common thread in their views, which was that the most qualified person was always the best suited to taking on managerial roles on family farms. 

“Times are changing, particularly in countries where it was traditionally very unlikely for the daughter to return home to manage the farm business,” Mr Wilksch said.

“Even when I returned home years ago, it was rare to see women directly involved in agriculture, but now it is much more common.

“For the next generations, there must be a far greater mix of men and women. 

“A more balanced gender mix is desirable for the diversity of opinion, perspective and strengths that it brings to an industry working to feed an ever increasing population profitably and sustainably.”

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