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Women and Agriculture

Katie Threinen feeding poultry on her family farm in east-central Saskatchewan, 1957.
Ninita Hautz

Women have been important to the success of agricultural operations in Saskatchewan. In the homesteading era, for example, women often worked alongside men to bring land into production, raised poultry and sheep, and kept gardens to provide for their families and earn household money. Women also sold eggs, butter, and cream to augment family income - activities that became even more crucial during the Depression. All too often, however, these activities were not considered farming. Today, Saskatchewan farm women are working on the farm, in the farm household and at off-farm jobs, and continue to do volunteer work in their communities. It is only recently that married women have been able to designate themselves as farm operators. A female farmer was not previously unheard of; but those who were counted as such would have been widows (usually) or single women (occasionally). As currently defined, a farm operator is a person responsible for the day-to-day management decisions made in operating an agricultural operation. Since 1991, Statistics Canada has allowed farm operations to report more than one operator on each farm in the Census of Agriculture.

Because of this reporting change, farm women are more likely to be recognized for their involvement in agricultural production. As well, the number of women farm operators in Saskatchewan increased from 20% in 1996 to 22% in 2001; this figure is lower than the Canadian average, and reflects the predominance of grain and oilseed farms in which men have traditionally been the sole operators. Women as sole operators are still rare, and are found in only 3% of Saskatchewan farms. Over half of them are more than 55 years old: this reflects the traditional practice whereby women have become sole operators only when their husbands are no longer farming. However, the number of younger women who are categorized as sole operators is slowly increasing: more women are choosing to enter agriculture, and farm families are beginning to consider not only their sons but also their daughters as possible successors on the farm. As well, women do have higher than average representation in some of the newer types of farm operations in the province, such as greenhouses and nurseries, sheep and goat production, and fruit tree production. The farms women manage as sole operators tend to be smaller and have lower total farm capital. Saskatchewan farm women as a whole are also working off the farm in ever-increasing numbers, with 49.4% holding off farm jobs in 2001.

Information from Statistics Canada only includes women who indicate they are farm operators. Many farm women do not consider themselves so, although they considerably assist the viability of the farm. This is gradually changing, however, and farm women's contributions to farm success are becoming more visible. A recent study of farm work, for example, showed that Saskatchewan farm women are much more involved in farm work than the data on women farm operators suggest: while only 22% indicated they were farm operators, many more are operating farm machinery, caring for farm animals, driving farm trucks, running errands, managing the farm books, dealing with sales people and buyers, and supervising farm work. Saskatchewan farm women, in fact, are more involved in farm work than women elsewhere in Canada, and more than they were twenty years ago. They are, however, still responsible not only for child rearing but for the majority of household work as well as gardening, canning and freezing. As well, farm women are being increasingly called on to care for chronically ill family members in face of the aging rural population and decline of rural Health Care services. Some 86% of farm women also do unpaid community and volunteer work on a regular basis. Saskatchewan farm women are thus heavily involved in farming operations, and over the past twenty years their contributions have increased. Many factors are driving these changes: changes in attitudes, easier farm machinery operation, increase in non-farm employment, and need for family labour to make ends meet.

Diane Martz

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This web site was produced with financial assistance
provided by Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan.
University of Regina Government of Canada Government of Saskatchewan Canadian Plains Research Center
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Diversification de l'économie de l'Ouest Canada et le gouvernement de la Saskatchewan.