December 5, 2012

Women in farming

The role of women in agriculture has changed dramatically over the years, and with more women pursuing a career in rural industries, the future looks bright. Agribusiness View talks to Growcom’s ‘Women in Horticulture’ coordinator, Jane Muller.

The challenge many women in horticultural businesses face arises from the persistence of the traditional view of ‘the farmer’s wife’.

“Many women are still in the mindset of saying, ‘I just do the office work’ or ‘I just do the pays’,” according to Growcom’s ‘Women in Horticulture’ coordinator, Jane Muller. “We want to challenge those women to rethink the roles they play and realise that they have a lot of skills and perform essential tasks in the business.”

That’s not to say that plenty of female trailblazers aren’t already making their presence felt in developing innovative value-added products, diversifying their business, tapping into market research and rolling out social media initiatives.

For women engaging in these endeavours, says Muller, “the business outlook is quite positive, despite dealing with the vagaries of weather, markets and the market power of the two major retailers.”

Kicking goals

Where women are really shining in horticulture is in administrative efficiency, financial management, information-driven business planning, innovative value-adding and product development, market development and customer service. Additionally, women are leading the push for a greater focus on the value of training and qualifications for business owners, and the horticultural workforce, and they’re often at the forefront of investigating how information technology and social media can be used in business.

Women have been instrumental in establishing initiatives such as Regional Food Networks, where producers and regional customers join forces to re-build localised supply chains. And the value of women’s contribution to horticulture is being recognised, with some of the most successful horticultural businesses being the ones where a husband-and-wife team bring a complementary set of skills to the business.

Getting connected

What’s coming to the fore is the value of industry networking opportunities for women in horticultural businesses, but taking time-out from the farm to attend workshops or networking events is proving a sticking point.

“It’s always a challenge for men but may be even harder for women, who are juggling their farm business roles, managing the office, doing payroll, running the home and keeping up with commitments to children and, in some cases, elderly parents,” says Muller.

It can also be hard for women to upskill themselves to take on leadership roles in their industry, and that’s where more mentoring opportunities with local industry associations are needed.

Networking in action

NAB recently joined forces with Growcom in Queensland to deliver the Recognising Women Farmers Leadership Program. The program provided leadership training for up to 40 women to encourage them to step off the farm and talk with other women about the challenges they face, and to share ideas for resolving problems.

Working more effectively with family or staff by understanding communication and behaviour styles was an issue some of the forums touched on, as well as discussing the results of research into work-life balance in farming families. The participants explored strategies for maintaining boundaries around different parts of family life and setting hours for work.

The conclusion of the program saw four women awarded with NAB Agribusiness – Growcom Women in Horticulture Professional Development Bursaries. The bursaries are to encourage women in the horticulture industry to further develop their business capabilities and leadership skills through ongoing involvement in training, industry conferences or other professional development opportunities.

Success tips for women in farming by Growcom’s Jane Muller

  • Get to know your customers

Build relationships with the people who buy your product and deliver to their specifications. For example, get yourself into the retail outlets to ask customers what they’re looking for in the fruit and vegetables they buy. Use this information to help you improve your product.

  • Tap into market research

Getting access to market reports can significantly benefit your business. Growers who can bring solid market data to the trading desk will be in a strong position to work with retailers on strategies that’ll help to boost the volume and value of sales.

  • Diversify

Look for ways to broaden your business base and build diversified markets, or consider participating in regional initiatives that are building farm and food tourism.

Meet the four recipients of the NAB – Growcom Women in Horticulture Professional Development Bursaries.

Find out more about Growcom’s Women in Horticulture.

Check out Taste Paradise to see a Regional Food Network in action in Tropical North Queensland.

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