By Nicole Lamers, Public Trust Specialist
Women have been involved in Saskatchewan agriculture since the beginning. Today, women are actively taking on agricultural leadership positions – from managing farms and agribusiness, to sitting on industry boards and commissions, to leading important causes and conversations. In fact, there are women represented on 70 per cent of Saskatchewan agricultural commissions, but there is room for more!
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we took the opportunity to hear from four women who are living out their dreams in agriculture and may just inspire others to take the leap into industry leadership: Charlene Bradley, Laura Reiter, Tamara Carter and Kim Keller.
Charlene Bradley grew up in the city and is an accountant by trade. Although she never foresaw the path her career would take, today she is a proud producer, operates a family farm, serves as General Manager of an inland terminal and Vice Chair for the SaskCanola Board of Directors.
Growing up on the farm, Laura Reiter knew she wanted to be a part of agriculture but she was not sure what aspect interested her the most. While enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan, she spent her summers working at the Crop Development Centre. She continued doing research after university and also spent time doing sales and agronomy work. Laura is no stranger to the board table as the Chair of the Board of Directors at the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.
Former Calgarian, Tamara Carter, notes that a background in communications did not prepare her for the new language she would learn on the farm and ranch. With no prior ranching experience, her passion for continual learning helped this self-proclaimed “Cow Boss” to hone her skills on the ranch, and implement new ways to ensure low stress and best practices for her herd. She is currently the president of the Saskatchewan Forage Council and sits on the Strategic Advisory Board for the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence.
Kim Keller grew up on the farm but vowed that she was never going to have a career in agriculture. It was not until she heard about another young woman who had joined her father on the farm as a career path that she realized it was a viable option for her too. Kim went on to co-found Farm at Hand, a farm management platform; Women in Agriculture, which has since grown into a network of women united in agriculture; and just last year, the Do More Ag Foundation, which focuses on bringing awareness to mental health in agriculture around Canada.
What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of your career so far?
Charlene: Being able to touch the industry in such a variety of ways. From working with grain companies and seeing the products moving from start to finish, to sitting at the board table and working on strategic planning.
Laura: The ‘most rewarding’ is difficult to pick as each stage has had its achievements. Some of them included getting my first set of results as a researcher, our first harvest, and being elected to the Sask Wheat board. Maybe the most rewarding is my son deciding that agriculture is an industry he is interested in and having him enrol as an Agro at the University of Saskatchewan.
Tamara: I love the diversity of agriculture. There is so much variety and so much to learn. Being able to raise a family, while producing food for my family and fellow Canadians, makes farming rewarding and meaningful for me.
Kim: First, would be creating Farm at Hand with a team who had never been involved in agriculture until that point. Watching them develop a love for the industry that I had as well. Second, would be working with the farmers and industry with the Do More Agriculture Foundation.
What role has mentorship played in your development as a leader?
Laura: I have been lucky enough to have several individuals over my time in ag that have had a positive influence. It is important to have someone that you can discuss things with, to draw on their knowledge and experience. If they have not gone through something before, at least you can talk through things and work on a solution together.
Kim: Mentorship can sound really formal, but it does not have to be. I am a really big fan of casual mentorship. I like to take little bits from every interaction I have with people across the industry. Turning these conversations into opportunities for me to grow and learn and adapt.
Tamara: Anytime that young people can get some experience, advice or support from somebody else that has lived it already in the industry is an excellent opportunity, it does not have to be someone older than them. I would have loved to have had that as I began my journey in agriculture, someone to give me advice on some of the bumpy situations.
How do you Celebrate International Women’s Day?
Kim: By doing what I do every day! I love supporting women and empowering women. And I just want any woman out there to be able to be involved in the industry in any capacity she wants to be.
Charlene: Agriculture is still a male dominated industry. Females traditionally had more administrative roles, but it does not have to be that way. I do not think men or women should be singled out by their gender, but rather by their skills and the effort they display to get to where they are today. There were not a lot of people like me out there when I started out, but it is great to see that changing.
Laura: I think that in Canada, while we have some issues to deal with, women do not face the struggles that they do in other parts of the world. I have run into some individuals who have been less than happy about my involvement in the industry. Thankfully, they have been outweighed by supportive folks, both men and women. There have been a lot of changes in agriculture since I started and I think it is moving in a positive direction. International Women’s Day gives us a reason to look back at what we have accomplished and be proud of where we are today.
What is one piece of advice you would like to give to a young person contemplating taking on a leadership role in agriculture?
Laura: Think about where your strengths are. What do you like doing? There is so much more to agriculture than driving a tractor! The opportunities are endless so take the first step and see where it leads you!
Charlene: This is a fascinating industry to be in, truly a hidden gem. There are lots of opportunities for your career and different avenues to take. It is a progressive industry and the sky is the limit!
Tamara: Consider mentorship. Reach out to find someone who can help guide you. Find someone who can help you identify your strengths and where your passion lies. We are really fortunate in Canada to have so many opportunities for men and women.
Kim: Just do it!