Encouraging daughters to farm

Now is probably the best time ever for women to be accepted and involved in agriculture, Elaine Fisher writes.

In People9 Minutes

Asking girls if they want to become farmers is a critical step towards encouraging daughter succession in a farming business, believes Katrina Sasse, farmer and an “inspired farm daughter” from Morawa near Geraldton in Western Australia.

“Asking your daughters when they are very young and continuing to ask throughout childhood to teenage years; ‘do you want to farm?’ is critical because they may not otherwise think it is possible to work in agriculture,” Katrina said during a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Farm Business Update North Livestream in August.

Katrina advised parents to research what jobs women were doing in agriculture and what career options were available, but most of all to encourage their daughters’ interest in farming.

In 2017 Katrina was awarded a Nuffield Australia scholarship with which she travelled globally to investigate strategies to encourage young women, particularly farmers’ daughters, to play an integral role in the continuity of the family farm business.

While describing now as probably the best time ever for women to be accepted and involved in agriculture, Katrina said gender biases remained. Comments including ‘boys are born farmers, girls like pretty pink things and a woman’s focus is on raising children’ were still common but the biases were often unconscious.

“It starts at such a young age when sons are given tractors, toy trucks and Lego and told they will be farmers one day and girls are given pretty pink toys and told they look like princesses.

“Such attitudes are often really ingrained in family values. You often parent the way you were brought up. It is about stepping away (from those attitudes) to take your daughter on to the farm, allow her to tinker with things, to try to fix things. Don’t take the job off her but allow her to make mistakes – just be patient.”



As part of her scholarship, Katrina travelled extensively overseas interviewing women who had successfully taken on family farming businesses, including one in Germany who was the first daughter in her family’s seven generations to take on the family farm. While each woman’s story was different, there were similarities in their pathways to farm succession, including their strong involvement in and love of farming from a very young age.

“These women were always involved in the farm and allowed to see the possibilities. They were not pigeonholed into jobs but allowed to do the same chores as their brothers. Most worked on the farms before and after school, working with cows in the paddock, working on tractors or combines and did not lose connection with the farm when they took on higher education.”

In fact, many of those stories reflected Katrina’s own pathway to succession farm ownership on her family’s farm.

She grew up on the traditional wheat and sheep farm which later transitioned to solely grain growing. With her two older sisters, Katrina helped out on the farm before undertaking tertiary studies in Perth followed by three years working in Melbourne in corporate agri-business banking, eventually returning to the family farm to take part in its succession plan. Years away from the farm, gaining a higher education and wider life experience was something many of the women Katrina interviewed also had in common and it is to those experiences she attributed much of the women’s success in their farming roles. She encouraged parents keen to see their daughter take on the family farming business to encourage them to take on tertiary education, preferably but not necessarily, related to farming, and to spend three to five years working in another business or career before returning home to the farm.

This brought a wider world view, developed valuable knowledge and skills and helped women grow the confidence they needed to take on the family business.

Supporting daughters to be actively involved in the farming business while raising a young family was also vital. “Family time is so crucially important when children are young so reduce the pressure (on daughters).”

Ways of supporting daughters with young families included grandparents helping with childcare, employing nannies or au pairs and ensuring staff were available to step in if mothers were unavailable at any time.

“It takes time to take over a large business so have a good plan in place and allow five to 10 years to get there.”

Many of the women in Katrina’s study were involved in farm succession alongside their brothers and most families had found ways to make that work.

“Lots of brothers and sisters were working successfully together. I know this does not work for every family and it can be a challenge.

“Often daughters working with brothers had separate roles and were not working in the same branch of the business, but they came together for council meetings and to decide on operations and budgeting. It’s another big stereotype that women and men can’t work together.”

Daughters and sons often saw the same farm in a different way and that diversity of thought was an asset to the business.

It was important that the long-term agreement to buy into or out of the farming business be laid out, establishing how daughters would take over the farm structure and who in the family was buying in or out. Setting the time frame for daughters to take on more responsibility and liability was also vital.

Katrina said it was important that those plans were reflected in the parents’ wills and that plans were in place to minimise the tax burden. Having guidance in succession planning from experienced accountants and farm advisers who understood the variety of different needs of women through their farming career, and the changing landscape of agriculture was also vital, she said.

Katrina suggested women keen for a future in farming should seek mentoring and coaching from other women in the industry.

Proudly telling the stories of women’s successes in farming was also vital, as was calling out gender biases when they encountered it.

“That may not be easy, but it will help the future generations of women farmers. Small successes will take us all the way to the future.

“Agriculture needs all hands on deck right now, so why not encourage and involve all those who are passionate about it?”

GRDC Farm Business Update North Livestreams are topic specific, interactive, interview style discussions that address key farm business management improvements common to grain growing businesses across Australia. GRDC is responsible for planning, investing in and overseeing research, development and extension (RD&E) for grains under the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.