Women Officially Leading the Way in Canadian Agriculture

CANADA - The Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame represents the leading lights of the country’s farming industry. What’s so special about this year’s inductees? As Angela Lovell reports, it just so happens they’re all women...
calendar icon 13 July 2017
clock icon 7 minute read

For the first time in its 57-year history, all inductees to the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame (CAHF) are women.

Agricultural publisher and consultant Robynne Anderson, livestock photographer Patty Jones and president of the Canadian Animal Health Institute Jean Szkotnicki will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in Calgary, Alberta this November.

Since 1960 the Canadian Agricultural Hall of Fame Association has been honouring and celebrating Canadians for outstanding contributions to the agriculture and food industry, and publicising their achievements throughout Canada. But prior to this year, only five women have been among the 210 inductees into the CAHF.

"Our time has come"

"I had no idea I had been nominated, so I was shocked and touched," says Robynne Anderson. "We have an increasing number of women who are in senior leadership roles inside agribusiness, and also inside the association environments that support the underpinnings of agriculture, so I really do think our time has come."

"Some of the people in the Hall of Fame have been my mentors over the years, and to be considered in the same league with them is humbling," says Jean Szkotnicki. "I think the fact that three women have been inducted this year sends a clear message that women are an important part of agriculture. They are competent, high energy and collaborative, and we’re going to see more women in agriculture recognised for their roles."

Robynne Anderson – a born communicator

Robynne Anderson grew up on the family grain and oilseed farm near Dugald, Manitoba. While she had her heart set on becoming a history professor, it was her talent as a born communicator that led her to a distinguished career in Canadian agriculture.

While working as a legislative assistant to the then deputy prime minister of Canada, Ms Anderson realised there was a communication gap in the agricultural sector.

"I learned that the things I considered to be the most basic understanding of agriculture were not necessarily common knowledge," she says.

"That’s how I embarked on my career, trying to share my understanding and passion for agriculture with people who need to communicate about it and work on policy environments around it – to help them bridge the divide between what they understand about agriculture and how that actually meets the rest of the world."

Helping to secure land tenure for women

Ms Anderson saw several important pieces of legislation through the Canadian Parliament, including the new Plant Breeders’ Rights Act. As an active member of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), she helped develop the Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure, a proactive document that emphasises the importance of secure land tenure for women in agriculture globally.

"Women represent about 60 to 70 per cent of the world’s farmers, and in many parts of the world women do not have access to land ownership," says Ms Anderson.

"The question of land tenure underpins success in agriculture. If you don’t have the security of your land, you don’t get access to credit, or have the same ability or incentive to steward your land; you don’t have options for multi-generational transfer, and the entire security of the infrastructure one needs to farm comes into question. We raised the bar on the discussion about how land tenure underpins the success of women, as well as access to finance and markets."

Her knowledge of agriculture and experience in government set the course for her return to Manitoba to create Issues Ink – a consulting and publishing company that has worked closely with the Canadian Seed Trade Association and published a number of business-to-business agricultural magazines.

"One of my proudest moments": International Year of Pulses

Ms Anderson was also the founder of Farming First, a global coalition for sustainable agricultural development. She led the effort to have the United Nations declare 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and was invited to co-ordinate the activities for the year on behalf of the Global Pulse Confederation, which she counts among her proudest moments.

"In that year, we had 752 events all over the world, and reached 1.1 billion people. We activated over 100 partners from the scientific community, farmers, consumer groups and NGOs. The outcomes were so exciting," says Ms Anderson.

Ms Anderson, who now lives in Calgary, currently operates Emerging Ag – an agricultural consulting firm where she applies her international expertise in agriculture and food policies to assist clients from farmers to processing operators, and from scientists to governments.

Jean Szkotnicki – championing animal health

Jean Szkotnicki was nominated to the Hall of Fame for her work championing antimicrobial stewardship as president of the Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI). For the past 25 years, she has been an advocate for Canadian veterinary pharmaceutical companies while balancing the needs of livestock producers and consumers. She was instrumental in ensuring antimicrobials are used properly as part of a “one health” approach to human and animal antibiotic use in Canada.

"Most Canadians are far removed from the farm so don’t have much knowledge about agriculture," she says. "They are exposed to messages in general media that give them concerns about practices such as the vaccination of animals, the use of hormones in beef cattle or the use of antimicrobials.

"They don’t understand how many checks and balances are in place to ensure that we have a safe food supply. We need to talk about these things downstream to our consumer base, and working with government, producers and our veterinary industry is an important way forward. Collaboration and building key relationships in the animal sector so that we can support each other in doing the right thing is a critical aspect of work that I’ve done."

Patty Jones – documenting Canadian dairy breeds

Patty Jones has spent the last 44 years building her world-renowned photography business. Her method of photographing dairy cattle has changed the way they are marketed in Canada and around the world. Her library contains photographs of more than 70,000 animals from all breeds. She is the official photographer to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair held annually in Toronto, Ontario. Patty also buys, sells and breeds dairy cattle on the family farm, Silvercap Holsteins near Puslinch, Ontario.

Advancing Canadian women in agriculture

A number of grassroots- and industry-led initiatives are emerging across Canada to advance and support women in agricultural leadership roles on farms, in agribusiness and on industry association boards. They include the Advancing Women in Agriculture West and East conferences held in Calgary, Alberta and Niagara Falls, Ontario each year.

Agri-corporations also have programmes that offer mentorship, networking and skills development to encourage the advancement of women in their organisations, such as Agrium’s Women’s Leadership Group and Syngenta’s Leadership at its Best diversity programme. A small Facebook group, Agriculture Women’s Network, grew to 500 members in just one year.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) will soon complete its three-year project Supporting the Advancement of Women in Agriculture, which conducted surveys, interviews and held focus groups to examine and address critical barriers to advancement facing women in the industry.

Balancing career and family responsibilities, breaking into the "old boy’s club" and a lack of female leader role models were the top three things identified as barriers to women advancing in agriculture.

The CAHRC is implementing a strategic programme, based on its findings, to increase women’s access to leadership opportunities. The programme will feature a website dedicated to 'Supporting Women in Agricultural Leadership' as well as a suite of resources, including guides, checklists, templates and supporting webinars to help boards and training institutions broaden the range of leadership opportunities for women.

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