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The evolving role of women in agriculture

Tamara Carter believes women need confidence as well as encouragement

Tamara Carter urges farmwomen to be true to themselves. Know your strengths and then have the patience and persistence to pursue your goals. Have the confidence to sometimes step outside of your comfort zone and go for it.

Those are some of the qualities Carter applied herself over a 25-year career of learning the agriculture business in southern Saskatchewan.

She started out as a young city gal, who just happened to marry a rancher, which brought her to the very unfamiliar doorstep of a multi-generational mixed farming operation near Lacadena, in southwest Saskatchewan roughly half way between Kindersley and Swift Current.

Born in Guelph, Ont., Carter lived in several locations before the family settled in Calgary when she was in her early teens. It was just by chance years later she met this young rancher from southern Saskatchewan at the Calgary Stampede. One thing led to another as they say, and before long she was a farmer’s wife, not even quite sure which end of a cow was which (or whether it was even a cow).

“I literally knew nothing about agriculture — absolutely no knowledge or experience,” says Carter. “Initially I don’t think I felt intimidated about living on the ranch until I realized that everyone in the community knew what they were doing except me.”

She wasn’t daunted by being the rookie. After much learning over the years, today she manages the beef side of the mixed farming operation — looking after the care and well being of a 200 head commercial Angus cowherd. Herdsperson, fence-fixer, manure scraper, calving boss — breeding, feeding, treating — those are among the terms that could go on a business card.

“I didn’t know anything about agriculture, but I was keen to learn,” says Carter. It took some time. One of her key assets was a willingness to learn about agriculture; in particular, she was most interested in the beef side of the business. She learned as much as she could — helped out on the farm, studied, took classes and courses and attended conferences.

Always interested in livestock

Soon after they were married, she and husband Russ started a family and within a few years there were three children to look after as well. In 2009, the Carters bought out the other family members to operate Carter Cattle Company on their own. Tamara stepped up to look after the beef side of the operation while Russ concentrated on crops and farming side.

“Particularly in a mixed farming operation people need to play to their strengths,” she says. “Russ is more interested in the farming side and much better with crop agronomy and machinery than I am. I have always been more interested in the livestock side, so I am a better fit with the cattle. I have seen many women who tend to be more calm and more patient working around cattle, which makes a difference.” As a leading expert on animal behaviour, Temple Grandin writes: “It’s wonderful to see the increasing emphasis cattle producers are putting on low-stress cattle handling. Handling cattle quietly has many benefits, including improved weight gain and greater safety for handlers.”

Although the options are wide open for their children, they’ve gravitated towards their strengths as well. Their son Brandt is more interested in the farming side with a good head for machinery and technology. Their middle daughter, Brooklyn, on the other hand is exceptional at working around cattle. Youngest daughter Tiana, at 15 is still figuring out her interests.

While Carter has proven herself as a competent rancher, she expects there were times when she had to just work past some old perceptions and stereotypical thinking about a “woman’s place” in the agriculture industry.

“Years ago in talking to some of the older farm women who were among the pioneers, I think women were more equal in the farm partnership in working along side their husbands in the field,” she says. “Then I think in the 1900s as farming became more mechanized there was another shift toward men doing the farm work and women were delegated more to look after the house, the kids and the books and leave the real farming to the men.”

Much progress made, but …

In more recent years she’s seeing further evolution with women playing an equal role in many more sectors of the agriculture industry from the farm level through to corporations but “it’s not quite there yet.”

Carter 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.

Women are playing a greater role in many of the traditional male careers — crop consultants, crop protection specialists, agriculture lending, soil science, veterinary and all aspects of the animal health field, and livestock nutrition to name a few.

“The reality is that in some cases women have to be twice as smart and work twice as hard just to prove themselves,” she says. “Once you do prove yourself then you’re taken seriously, but it is getting to that point that can be a challenge.” And getting a job doesn’t always level the playing field.

A recent article on gender equality and pay gaps, by former Country Guide associate editor Maggie Van Camp (who is also speaking at the AWAC event) describes Carter’s point. The article in an April 4, 2018 article in Country Guide, is talking about pay scales for professional agrologists in Saskatchewan states in part:

“On average, the surveyed men reported higher earnings than women, but male agrologists reported more years of experience than females on an aggregate level,” writes Van Camp. “Not surprisingly, more years of experience and the number of staff being supervised correlated to higher earnings. Furthermore, this average gender salary gap is similar to what’s happening with other professionals, such as with reports from the professional engineers of Saskatchewan and the annual reports on certified professional accountants.

“This mirrors a general national disparity: Canadian women earn 31 per cent less than men on an annual basis and on average about 12 per cent less in the hourly wage paid for full-time work. In its 2018 budget the Government of Canada stated it was going to lead by example and that this fall it will put into place a proactive pay equity regime for businesses and organizations operating within the federally regulated sector.

“Currently, Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists is doing more data mining to determine if the gender wage gap is wider or narrower in different employment sectors, such as private versus public.

“A significant gender pay gap between new entrants is troubling. In fact, there was about $13,600 difference between agrologists with less than a year’s experience and about $20,000 between the genders with one to four years experience,” writes Van Camp.

As current chairperson of the Saskatchewan Forage Council, Carter says many organizations have an excellent reputation of welcoming women, while others still have a ways to go. “Women have made considerable progress in many sectors of the agriculture industry but you look at some of the larger agricultural corporations and there is opportunity there for greater diversity in all areas, particularly at the senior management and board levels.

“Women do have different perspectives than men,” she says. “They have different ideas and process things differently — that doesn’t make it wrong. Their input needs to heard and valued.”

Carter says that’s why it is important to have conferences such as AWAC so women in all sectors of the agriculture industry can network and offer advice and support. “There are still a few barriers out there,” she says. “Attitudes need to continue to change and women also need to have the reassurance and confidence to follow through and not be discouraged.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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