Allison Ammeter may not have a Class 1 driver’s licence, but put her in front of microphone and she can comfortably cover a lot of ground.
The central Alberta farmer says at one time she was dogged by the notion “to be a real farmer you needed a Class 1 drivers licence” and be able to drive a multi-axle grain truck. More than 30 years down the road on their family farm near Red Deer, she still doesn’t have her Class 1. But she realized at some point that holding a Class 1 certainly wasn’t the be-all or end-all to making a contribution to the family farm or the agriculture industry.
“I sometimes think my real gift is from the neck up,” says Ammeter, who has served on a number of producer organizations, national programs and community boards. “I’ve never been afraid to be in front of a microphone and talking to a group of people.” And there have been different times over her farming career where that skill and ability to communicate has been sought out and served her well in working with associations or boards or just getting her views expressed. Sometimes she says the task may seem daunting, but you can be surprised at what you can do if you just try.
Ammeter, and husband, Michael, operate a third-generation farm near Sylvan Lake, west of Red Deer. The Ammeters crop about 1600 acres in a rotation of canola, wheat, barley, fababeans and/or peas, and canola, practicing minimum tillage and using variable rate seeding technology.
She was born and raised on a traditional mixed farming operation southwest of Swift Current, Sask., obtained a college diploma as a computer programmer and analyst and had embarked on a career as a systems analyst when she met and married Michael nearly 33 years ago.
“In those days, there was no debate. When you married a farmer, you went farming,” says Ammeter with a laugh. “But the truth is that I was thrilled to get back to farming.”
While she says the role of women in agriculture has changed over the years, in her own personal experience it was more like “morphing” from one role to another as years passed and circumstances changed.
“Shortly after we were married we started a family,” she says. “When the children were little it was my role to raise the kids, be chief cook and bottle washer and chauffeur.” And with three young ones in home schooling that took up most of her time.
But as the kids got older and as the youngest one got their driver’s licence, things changed. “Suddenly I had this free time, I didn’t have to drive kids around anymore,” she says. Her role morphed into being more involved in the farming operation — driving a combine at harvest and helping out where needed. Unfortunately she drew the short straw when it comes to farm bookkeeping. “I do the farm books… my least favourite job on the whole farm,” she says. “But it is also a very necessary job. And it is an area where we both have to work together, we are both involved and on top of things.”
Always active in the community and volunteering for local causes, Ammeter next “morphed” into more involvement with industry organizations. Michael has long been involved with the Alberta Barley Commission and with encouragement from him as well as farming neighbours Kevin Bender and Terry Young, who are also quite involved in producer organizations, Allison got involved.
About five years ago she started as an advisor and soon became a director of the Alberta Pulse Growers. She’s continued with that organization eventually being elected chair, now serving as past chair and she also got involved at the national level.
She is the current chair of Pulse Canada and a couple of years ago served as Canadian chair of the International Year of Pulses 2016. She is also currently chair of the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta.
Ammeter’s goal is to serve the pulse growers and food industry in as many ways as possible. She never misses an opportunity to encourage farmers to grow, consumers to eat, and the food industry to use more pulses.
At the same time, anytime Ammeter can encourage women to step forward and play a greater role in any aspect of the agriculture industry, she does.
Whether it be in the field, the barn or the boardroom, Ammeter doesn’t see any limits to the role a woman can play in what for many years was probably considered a man’s world.
Ammeter will be sharing her views and experience in Calgary, Alta. next month at the annual Advancing Women in Agriculture Conference (AWAC), March 11 and 12 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. She’s among several women speakers from across Canada who will describe their challenges and successes as they forged careers in agriculture. For more information and to register visit the conference website.
The next generation
Talking about changing roles and changing times, Ammeter thinks about her grandmothers on both sides of the family. One grandmother was very much directly involved in the farming operation, working alongside her husband in the field and with livestock. The other grandmother was a schoolteacher who worked outside the home, but her income helped keep her farm going.
A couple of generations later and “in many respects I grew up in an era where the unwritten rules were that women should not be in the field,” says Ammeter. “It wasn’t expected that girls should be out doing farm work. Some of the traditional thinking was that girls can’t do this.”
Some older thinking, she notes, that has largely disappeared “if there was a boy in the family it was just assumed he would take over the farm and any girls would get some land to build a house on and do something else.
“But times have changed. Today girls can do anything a boy can do. The opportunities are there. Women have the freedom to take on any role they please, they just need the encouragement to step out and do it.”
Again Ammeter points to a recent conference in Saskatoon where Laura Reiter, farmer from Radisson, Sask., chair of the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission conducted a session. “She just handled everything so capably,” says Ammeter. “I don’t think there was anyone in that room thinking ‘a man could do better.’”
While she says there may be some areas of the industry with “attitudes” of gender bias, she feels lucky. “Fortunately that was never been my experience,” says Ammeter. “I have always found that men have been extremely supportive. Sometimes they may have pushed me a bit toward jobs or roles that were beyond my comfort zone, but that’s where you also learn about yourself and realize what you can do.”
She says while attitudes have changed and continue to change, it is important for women to feel supported.
“I think the change is happening as we speak,” says Ammeter. “But at the same time women may need that encouragement. They need role models and mentors and whatever the job is they need to know they have the support to step up to a challenge and say I can do that.”