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Women take the wheel at combine clinic

Ag Women Manitoba wants to beat back the preconceptions over female farm equipment operators

Tiffany Dancho and Pam Bailey don’t think machinery should just be for men.

Two of the lead voices behind Ag Women Manitoba, Dancho and Bailey set off for Neepawa and the group’s inaugural combine clinic July 13 in the hopes of getting women more comfortable in the cab.

“I’ve been in equipment for 10-plus years, gone to farms, and the stigma against women in machinery is massive,” said Dancho, a product development program manager with MacDon Industries.

The July 13 event, followed by a tour of the nearby Farmery Estate Brewery, was one of the first Ag Women Manitoba, which incorporated this spring.

Female farmers are on the rise, according to the last census. As of 2016, 28.7 per cent of farm operators were female, compared to 27.4 per cent five years before. Over seven per cent of farms were exclusively female run, still minor compared to the over 60 per cent that had no women at the helm, but up from 2011 and more than double the numbers from 1991.

Statistics Canada noted the number of female farmers in general has been increasing since the early ’90s.

Most young farmers are still men, who alone head over 68 per cent of the farms with operators under 35, but the growth in the small number of female-only farms in the same age bracket is far outpacing the men (113.3 per cent over 2011, compared to 24.4 per cent for the guys).

But while women have slowly taken up more of the farm demographic, Dancho and Bailey say learning opportunities have not kept up, something that planted the seeds for Ag Women Manitoba.

The pair took their cue from a women’s mentorship program at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of agriculture. As mentors, they saw the need for more connection and education among farm women.

“You found all of these career women and all of these academic women, all of these farm women who wanted to sit and share and talk business, talk combines, talk families, talk challenges… so we found we were literally shutting the place down every time,” said Bailey, who is both a farmer and director with the Manitoba Canola Growers.

The organization soon began drawing from support from other organizations, including the Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference and farm women’s organizations outside the province, and began plans for its own events this year.

Fixing, but not operating

Machinery was an immediate priority. Many existing clinics are geared for service, Dancho said, while many women are more concerned with the on-field realities such as ensuring that your header’s feeding properly.

“What do you do when it plugs?” she said. “What are some tips and tricks that you can look for and watch for in order to make sure that when you go through you don’t have to worry about hitting the reverser or getting out and disconnecting the header and reaching in with your hands to unplug the combine?”

Dancho saw her chance after contacting Rocky Mountain Equipment in Neepawa earlier this summer. The dealership was having its own combine clinic July 13, and the women’s group was welcome to join. While the agenda was already set with more of a focus on service, the group has tentative plans for a regional tour next year including multiple companies and tailored more to operation.

“How to operate, what to look for, things like that,” Dancho said. “Because they might not necessarily have to worry about pulling sieves and servicing, but they’re going to be looking more on the operations side and, ‘What should I notice? What should I look for to get a clean sample?’ This was just a good way to cut our teeth and get something going midsummer.”

Reaching smaller centres

Ag Women Manitoba is also considering similar events for women who may not be able to travel to larger urban centres.

“Other organizations might stick to Winnipeg, Portage and Brandon and we’re really hoping to get out to those other locations like Neepawa, like Dauphin, like Steinbach, like Winkler and a lot of those other places,” Bailey said. “By having (events) in these small communities, they might not have all the bells and whistles, but we have the knowledge; we have the experiences; we have the other women there who can share stories and help support women along the way.”

The organization also has plans for Ag Days next year. The group hopes to see a breakfast and panel next January, drawing from a mix of women who work both on and off the farm and have varying roles in the farm operation.

About the author

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Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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