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Is there still a farm wife out there?

Lee Hart treads into dangerous territory, daring to take on the issue of the term “farm wife”

Since religion and politics are always safe subjects, I thought I would really kick over the can of worms and talk about gender equality on the farm.

I am not even sure where this topic is going, I just know the term “farm wife” raised a few hackles at a recent Canadian Farm Writers Federation conference in Calgary. The male speaker who prompted the discussion or comment was talking about the difference between speaking with the farmer and speaking with the farmer’s wife. That drew a somewhat critical response from one young woman, who is a communicator, but who along with her husband also farms. I believe she bristled at the notion the comment implied the woman on the farm was somehow different, out of touch or perhaps less knowledgeable about the farm than the man.

And to play it safe on this one, I am just going to say “I agree.” I am not sure what that means, it can be taken either way.

Quite seriously, I am probably as guilty as anyone in assuming when I call a farm to talk about crop or livestock production that I should talk to the man. I admit I am probably just “old school” but my conditioning over the years — over my life — is that the man farmer is the one to talk about production and farm business matters.

That’s partly due to the influence I had on our own family farm growing up as a kid. Dad looked after the farm stuff and mom looked after the house. That doesn’t mean Mom didn’t work hard on farm chores. She did. But Dad took the lead. And over the past 30 years or so as a farm writer I dare say 99.99 per cent of the time when I call a farm to talk about a livestock or crop production matter, the female who answers the phone defers or refers me to the man… “you need to talk to my husband about that — he’ll be in for lunch, call him first thing in the morning, here is his cell number.”

That’s the response I expect, but it isn’t because I think the woman on the farm isn’t bright enough to know what herbicide was used on a crop, or the weaning weights of calves. I just assume that isn’t her area of expertise and she is deferring me to the person who is the most familiar with that information. Maybe the reality is she’s just passing it off because she’s too busy to talk. She knows all the answers, but she wants her husband to feel like he is part of the operation too.

And I know the agriculture industry has changed considerably in the past 20 to 25 years. There are way more women involved in production and management than ever before. Certainly on the industry side there are far more livestock specialists and crop production and input specialists who are women than there was 10 or 15 years ago. And that’s great with me.

And to be honest, every once in a while when I call a farm phone number for crop or livestock production information I do speak to the farm woman. For this issue of Grainews, I called the Cronin farm in Ontario to talk about their diversified hog operation, and Amy didn’t miss a beat in answering any questions I had about the farm. And that is great.

Even in my own household here in Calgary, I am the one who knows how to start the lawnmower and the weed trimmer, but if someone asks about household finances — how much are your taxes, how much are your utilities, where are your investments, when is your payday — I have to defer them to my wife. She knows. (And that’s only because over the years I have been ground in to submission to stay out of matters I have a history of screwing up.) And that is great.

I don’t know if it is politically correct to still refer to the woman in the farming operation as the “farm wife.” If not, then I apologize in advance. It relates to my upbringing and my conditioning over the years. Bottom line for me, when I call a farm looking for information, it doesn’t matter to me who I talk to. I just ask who ever answers the phone to point me in the right direction. I am open to learn. And if you need someone to dazzle you with creative bill paying just hand me your cheque book. It could then take years to get your finances back on track.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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