A woman’s voice at the money table
More women own farms and have key management roles running them. So why are women still ignored when the talk turns to finance?
Thursday, March 30, 2023

Section: Structuring Ownership

by Thinkstock
“It’s important for women to be a visible part of the industry and set the tone for equality ... We all need to work together and for each other.”

Jeanine Moyer
Country Guide BusinessManagement

“It’s important for women to be a visible part of the industry and set the tone for equality ... We all need to work together and for each other.”

Heather Little farms with her husband in Amaranth, Ont., and is a realtor with Royal LePage. She recalls the treatment she received from lenders when she bought her first farm with her husband nearly 20 years ago, a time when the lenders she dealt with were predominately older males and insisted they deal with her husband.

“They didn’t seem to care that I was the one managing our farm’s finances,” Little says.

But surely, those must be the bad old days that are long gone, right? Even Little is optimistic that real progress is being made and the genders are being treated more fairly when it comes to farm transactions and management advisors.

But it’s also true that the inequality today may simply be better hidden, because there’s still intense pressure on women to prove that they’ve got a right to be in the room.

“Unfortunately, many women are still being treated differently, and as a result they aren’t taking their rightful seat at the farm management table,” says Kim Inglis, portfolio manager with Raymond James Ltd. in Kelowna, B.C.

Too often, Inglis finds, the financial responsibility on the farm is delegated to the male partner and, as a result, many farm advisors still tend to see men as the head of the household and they default to the men for decisions and transactions.

Inglis works with clients across Canada and is proud to see female land ownership and business management on the rise across many sectors, including agriculture. When it comes to working with farm clients, she makes a point of encouraging both males and females to actively participate in all aspects of farm management, especially financial planning, and says, “Women can’t be left at a disadvantage.”.

Even so, she knows that their workload on the farm often makes it more difficult for women, especially where they have a disproportionate share of the responsibilities for family and children and are often the ones saddled with the off-farm jobs so they have less time than their husbands to focus on farm financial matters.

No matter the reason, Inglis believes that as an advisor, one of her most important roles is to make every effort to include women and encourage them to participate in discussions and decisions.

“Women already manage 40 per cent of all wealth in North America, and as the boomer generation ages, we are set to see a massive wealth transfer with women set to inherit 70 per cent of estates,” says Inglis, noting that agriculture will be no exception. “This translates to the farming industry too where an elevated rate of farm ownership and wealth is expected to transfer to wives and daughters.”

The emerging consensus is that there’s never been a more crucial time for women to take their place at the decision-making table. Whether it’s crunching numbers with a lender to finance a farm purchase, managing cash flow, balancing debt or putting money aside for investments or retirement, women need to be active financial partners for the farm’s success today, and its future preservation.

“Like it or not, many women will be left to manage a farm’s finances at some point and if they don’t understand the management strategy, everything everyone has worked for could be jeopardized,” says Inglis. She also points to statistics when advocating for women to get involved in farm financial planning — on average, women live longer than men and many marry male partners who are older than themselves, inevitably resulting in more widows (compared to widowers) left to manage the family finances.

As a farm advisor, Inglis regularly works as part of an advisory team that includes accountants, lawyers and realtors. She encourages the teams she works with to practice inclusivity to make sure everyone feels comfortable asking questions. Inglis often arranges one-on-one meetings with female clients, offering an education component to help them get up to speed and feel more comfortable and confident when participating in farm management meetings with larger groups.

“Women need to advocate for themselves,” Inglis adds.

Supporting female agri-food entrepreneurs

“When it comes to buying a farm or investing in farmland the challenges are the same, whether you’re male or female,” says JoAnne Baines, broker with Just Farms Realty Inc. in London, Ont. “Having the capital to purchase and operate a farm is the biggest hurdle.”

Baines was especially proud to work with a female farm operator in 2022 who purchased more than 700 acres on her own, but she says on average, most females purchasing a farm do so as a co-owner with their partner, or as a partner or shareholder in a larger corporation or family business.
Regardless of the ownership situation, she says women need to actively participate in farm business planning, especially when it comes to managing finances.

Baines’s advice to women seeking to invest in a farm is to build a good relationship with a lender they trust.

In an effort to level the lending ground, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) stepped up in 2017 with the launch of the FCC Women Entrepreneur Program. In its first year, the program saw 21,600 women borrow funds through the program, with the number hitting 24,500 in year two.

“When we support the growth of our customer’s financial abilities along with their businesses, we are setting everyone up for success,” says Darlene McBain, senior industry relations manager with FCC.

McBain describes the FCC Women Entrepreneur Program as a dedicated resource to finance and empower women in the agriculture and food industry. Understanding the challenges women have been facing when it comes to financial literacy, confidence and equal treatment, the program includes resources and events to support their customers.

FCC did their research when developing the program. McBain says the program directly responds to the needs of today’s agriculture industry, where women require greater access to capital in order to build and grow their financial and business competency skills, and they need tools and resources to make that happen.

Through the women entrepreneur program, FCC is also focused on inspiring women and fostering a network of support through scheduled in-person events like the FCC Women Entrepreneurs Summit, along with a variety of business skill development events.

Canada’s agriculture and food industry is so dynamic, and by encouraging women to take more leading roles we can contribute more diversity of thought, valuable insights and so much more,” says McBain. “The challenge is, agriculture is also a very traditional industry and we still have work to do to close the gap. It’s still hard for many women to find a balance between family and farm.”

While most would agree Canada’s agri-food sector is making progress to remedy gender discrimination, many women still face the challenge of finding a balance between managing the home, being a business owner, child-care provider, farm worker, and finding the time to get away from the farm to network or contribute to the industry.

Says McBain: “We need to make room and space to give women permission to get involved outside of the home and farm, and as an industry, provide them with experiences that will benefit them.”

A rightful place at the table

When it comes to empowering women to take their seat at the farm management table and to work equally alongside farm business partners and advisors, everyone needs to step up. Baines advises her female clients to do their homework before entering into any situation, especially when investing in a farm or into a business arrangement. She recommends having a plan and working with trusted professionals who can help manage risks. Most of all, however, she encourages women to have confidence in themselves and to be fearless.

“It’s important for women to be a visible part of the industry and set the tone for equality and inclusivity that will encourage others to step up and inspire the next generation of women in agriculture,” says McBain. “We all need to work together and for each other.”

In Ontario, Just Farms’ Baines has been on the front lines for nearly 30 years working in agricultural real estate. Like much of Canada’s agri-food sector, this was male-dominated territory and Baines believes women are only now moving into their rightful place in the sector.

She sees better days ahead. “Today, women are stepping out as well-educated business leaders,” Baines says. “Women are involved in every aspect of the farm business all across the sector, taking lead roles and owning successful farm businesses.”

Baines is encouraged: “Women are not only buying farmland but are being recognized for their roles.”
“With the importance and necessity of farming,” she says, “the future holds many opportunities for women.”
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