Girls Can Farm Too!


“Any fool can teach his daughter to drive a tractor, any fool can leave his daughter that tractor in the will; but will she be able to make that tractor pay?”  

There are many men who would kick anyone’s ass at the coffee shop, if anyone said that his daughter couldn’t farm the same as any boy.  But at some point, the same man is probably going to do something chauvinistic without knowing it.  Surprisingly, his wife is more likely to say something chauvinistic.  Agriculture is a traditional society filled with conflicted social norms like a woman’s role on the farm.  Even the most open minded and progressive family is going to make mistakes without knowing.   We’ve got thousands of years of chauvinism in our social culture and it’s going to take a few generations to overcome.  

100 years ago, the boys would get the farm and the girls would get grandma’s china set.  Now women are getting more equity in the farm, depending on their level of involvement in the farm.  However, getting included in the will isn’t enough.  You’ve got to transfer wisdom, not just assets.  

For instance a father might bring his son along to negotiate a tractor deal or even let him make the deal, but many father’s are making these deal’s on behalf of their daughters right until their death.  What happens when Dad dies prematurely and then suddenly the daughter has never bought a tractor?  The skill of negotiation of a tractor deal (not just driving a tractor) is a competitive advantage that determines the farm’s success 30 years out.  But the bigger issue is having the confidence to succeed and negotiating a major deal without dad’s emotional support is tough for a seasoned veteran, let alone a rookie.  Thus when females inherit their share of the farm’s assets and not have these skills taught to them, they are at major disadvantage and thus can’t realize their full potential if they aren’t equipped with the wisdom/skills prior to their parent’s death.  

I met a girl named Molly at the dairy expo who complained about her dad discussing strategic decisions with her two brothers and trying to groom them to make decisions together, but never consulting with her about anything.  This irritated her because she did more work than her two brothers combined and in the five years she was home, she had turned the operation around.  The farm was putting almost 20% more milk into the tank because of her hard work and attention to details.  

She got upset one day when a combine showed up in the yard and she knew nothing about it.  She said, we need to put money into ventilation for the calf barn and buying ketosis strips for the fresh cows.  She said, it’s all of my hard work and the results I got in the barn that is paying for that stupid machine.  

Her one brother flunked out of college and was there because it was easier than getting a job in the real world.  He constantly slept in, showing up at 10am to be a dairy farmer and was a useless piece of skin.  His other brother’s big off farm experience was going to jail and it wasn’t because he was a criminal mastermind.  By far Molly was the bright one of the family.  Yet her dad was trying to groom his two boys to take over the farm and Molly was just seen as a temporary employee on the farm until she went off and got married.  

Her mom said, “well you can marry a farmer and go work on his farm”.  Molly said, if I marry a farm, he can come work on my farm because I’m taking over this farm.  

Parents will do stupid, chauvinistic actions even if they mean not too.  Hell even I make foolish judgements from time to time and helping females get a “fair shake” to take over the farm is something I’m passionate about.  We’ve got thousands of years of chauvinistic social norms and perspectives to overcome.   Rather than getting upset act what is bound to happen, a female should focus on changing the processes that lead to stupid decisions being made.  I said Molly, don’t blame the process not the results.  Instead of being upset about the decisions and the consequences you have to live with, change the decision making process beforehand.  Rather than being upset at a combine being purchased or being upset that she wasn’t included in the decisions when they were made with her brothers in the shop, she should change how decisions are made.  

She signed up for my program and via SKYPE we started having both weekly and quarterly meetings.  She came to the table with such great ideas and showed leadership as a result of actions identified in those meetings.  In once meeting, we discussed the issue of wages and got it straightened out, one of her big pet peeves that her one brother made more than her, even though he worked less hours.  Within 15 months when we set up the farm to be incorporated as part of succession planning it was obvious to everyone that Molly should be named the farm’s CEO.  

It’s only by changing how decisions are made on the farm and how daughters are included in decision making, that a farmer’s daughter can shatter the glass ceiling holding her back from her full potential.