The Canadian Farm Family at Work: Exploring Gender and Generation

Centre For Rural Studies and Enrichment

The motivation for the study The Canadian Farm Family at Work: Exploring Gender and Generation arose out of the need to assess the changes that had taken place over the past 20 years in the work of Canadian farm women. However, this new research evolved within the context of the farm family and encompasses the contributions of women, men and youth. The study documents the work of farm family members and the time they spent on various activities over the course of 15 months in 2001 and 2002. The study also presented an opportunity for farm women, men and youth to provide their thoughts and opinions regarding their non-farm and community work and on the current trends in agriculture.

The study found that Canadian farm women continue to be heavily involved on the farm and over the past 20 years, their contributions have increased in almost all areas of the farm operation. Many factors drive these changes, including changes in attitudes, increasing ease of farm machinery operation as well as an increase in non-farm employment. The traditional division of labour still exists within farm families. Men define their work roles primarily around the farm operation whereas women tend to define their work roles more broadly within the household and across various farm tasks.

The examination of the contribution of Canadian farm youth significantly increases the knowledge and awareness of the importance of farm youth to family farm operations. Although youth’s contributions are less than those of adults, without their help many tasks on the farm would not be completed. Youth are involved in all areas of the farm operation, with most of their involvement in livestock care. Male youth are trained to farm at a very young age and parents have higher expectations of male youth involvement on the farm operation. Female youth are less likely to be involved in the farm operation and spend more time on household work than males.

This study also points out the importance of non-farm work to the viability of the family farm. More family members are working in non-farm employment in order to supplement farm income and meet the needs of family members. Approximately half of the farmers in the study are working at non-farm employment. Males are working to increase farm income, whereas women engaged in non-farm work not only for additional income but also for interest and enjoyment. Non-farm employment has mixed consequences; while it brings in additional income, it also increases the time constraints for men, women and youth to adequately complete their on farm work.

Decision making on family farms is part of the process of effectively managing the farm and family labour that supports the farm. Farm men and women note that decision-making is becoming more frequent and more critical on their farming operations. The study found that within the last five years family members are regularly making a significant number of decisions, with two thirds considering decisions around buying or selling land, major farm equipment purchase, and major household purchase. Traditionally, decision-making has been divided on the basis of gender. Farm men and women in the study still report that males are making decisions around the farm operation and women are making decisions around household matters.

Transferring the farm to the next generation is very important to farm families and over half of the youth respondents indicated that if given the opportunity they would like to farm. Families place considerable importance in keeping the farm in the family. At the same time, there are families who are reticent to transfer the farm to their children because of the stress and uncertainty within agriculture. There is a tremendous amount of concern on the part of the participants in this study about the future of the family farm in Canada. The major concerns are the replacement of family farm with corporate farms, the barriers to young people entering farming, an increasing amount of environmental regulation, and the lack of understanding of urban people about the importance of agriculture and the benefit it holds for society.