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APRIL 2018 • COUNTRY LIFE IN BC


Loan program will focus on female


farm entrepreneurs Initiative one of few ag mentions in federal budget


by MYRNA STARK LEADER HORSEFLY – Growing up,


Ricky Seelhof knew she wanted to be involved in agriculture and she wanted things to be different than they were for her mother and grandmother, both farm wives. On her grandparents’ farm, her grandmother cared for the kids, cooked and cleaned while Grandpa farmed.


Seelhof and her husband,


Chad, started ranching on a small operation in 2006. In August 2016, they bought out his parents. Today, as full partners in the business, they run about 700 head at Woodjam, a ranch established in 1899 near Horsefly. “Even compared to my


mom, I’m more involved in making decisions and I can run this place myself if my partner isn’t here,” Seelhof says, proud of the example she’s setting for her three children – two girls and a boy, all under 12. “I want to show my girls


that you need to be strong and fierce but kind and loving at the same time, and whatever it is you want to do in life, you can do it.” Seelhof says ranching is


rewarding but not easy, and sole female ranchers are still rare. She’s aware of younger people who are interested in the career but can’t afford to get started, so she had a mixed reaction when the federal budget announced that Farm Credit Canada (FCC) would be launching a new lending program for women entrepreneurs in agriculture.


She was among the 95 people who liked a Country Life in BC Facebook post that shared the news – a post that garnered nearly 20,000 views, the most of any of the paper’s social media posts to date. “When I first saw it, I thought it’s a great idea. Maybe this will be a benefit, bringing women up to the level they are supposed to, but to me everyone is equal so I’m not sure how it will work,” she says with a bit of skepticism. Targeted lending program or not, she’s noticing more women today speaking up, speaking out and getting involved in agriculture, and there are other tangible


positive changes. “In previous years, it was


always just the man on the title whereas now women are holding their place in the title and the business,” she says. The lending program is still in the exploratory stage and market research isn’t complete but federal agriculture minister Lawrence MacAulay specified it in his mandate letter to FCC as meeting federal


commitments to support diversity in Canadian agriculture. MacAulay’s staff directed questions regarding the program to FCC, which says it’s too early to discuss details. It is committed to launching the program by March 31, 2019, however.


Gender bias Some were critical of the


news, though, sharing Seelhof’s view that everyone is equal. Some went so far to say the initiative perpetuates gender bias. One rancher, claiming over


20 years in the cow/calf and crop production business, wrote in response to Country


3


Ricky Seelhof, far right, and her husband Chad, left, are full partners in Woodjam Ranch at Horsefly, south of Williams Lake. She's proud of how far women have come in agriculture so she has mixed feelings about a lending program for women entrepreneurs in agriculture. KIMBERLEY A TAYLOR PHOTO


Life in BC’s Facebook post that she isn’t sure why women were singled out. “I would be very interested to understand more about the ‘barriers that face women in ag’ (other than lack of training, know-how and experience).” Cordy Cox, president of the


Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association and a rancher at Williams Lake, also has mixed feelings about the program. “It’s a great opportunity for


women looking to get into agriculture or agri-business, or women in agriculture to see increased lending capacity. At the same time, why couldn’t that same


woman apply for regular lending and qualify?” Cox asked, noting that when she applied for financing in 2007, there was no special program for women. She believes lending


practices should not be gender-specific but she’s interested to see what FCC develops.


Statistics Canada’s 2016


Census of Agriculture identified 271,935 farm operators nationwide. Of these, 28.7% were women, an increase from 27.4% in 2011. BC boasts the highest rate of female farm operators in the country at 37.5%, up from 36.5% in 2011.


Nationally, women were


most prevalent among farm operators aged 35 to 54 years (30.7%), followed by those aged 55 and older (27.7%) and those under 35 years of age (26.4%). Women also reflect the diminishing number of farm operators in Canada, with the total number of female operators dropping by 2,695 between 2011 and 2016. BC accounted for nearly 40% of the drop, with 990 fewer female farm operators in 2016.


Whether a new lending


program designed specifically for women will reverse the trend remains to be seen.


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