That sexism still exists in New Zealand's agricultural sector will be of no surprise to anyone who followed the saga of former Massey University chancellor Chris Kelly, as last year his demise played out in the nation's newspapers. His downfall was sparked when he told Rural News that the "problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family". If there was anything heartening about this episode, it was the outrage that followed Kelly's comments. He later apologised, and then stood down.
VICE wanted to know about how sexism in the sector continued to affect female farmers, so we got in touch with Lisa Kendall, 25, who will later this year become just the fourth woman to compete in the grand final of the FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition. We asked Lisa about overcoming prejudice and what young women considering an agricultural career need to know.
VICE: Hey Lisa, so how did you get into agriculture?
Lisa Kendall: I was just really in love with being outside and the land and the culture New Zealand has always had with farming—I've always just been interested in it. I grew up on a lifestyle block in South Auckland and I was always quite jealous of my friends whose parents had farms so it was always something that I wanted to do, but it wasn't really encouraged as a career at school. I went to Lincoln University after school and studied agriculture, and that's how I got into it.
What did your parents think about your decision?
I think everyone was quite surprised when I left high school and decided to go into agriculture. But now they're sort of used to it. They think it's alright.
And now you have your own business?
So it's called Nurture Farming, and basically I'm like a hire-a-farmer for lifestyle blockers in my area. I basically just do any kind of farming that they need, anything from tractor work to drenching to fencing to everything else in between.
Can you tell me about the Young Farmer of the Year competition?
It's pretty full-on at the moment. I'm just preparing for the grand final that's in July. I'm only the fourth woman in the history of the competition to get into the final, which is quite exciting. Basically it covers everything, from business and market innovation to human resources to general knowledge and practical skills. Basically everything that could be involved in running a business.
More women than ever are now graduating with agricultural degrees—why do you think that is?
I think it's awesome that there are so many more women deciding to enter agriculture. I just think that there's probably less of a stigma around it—it's seen as less of a manly job or that only men can do it. People thought in the past there was a big strength factor in it, but people realise now that there's a whole bunch of other skills that people need that women are just as capable as men of doing. For example, there's a huge amount of theoretical stuff and scientific aspects to it. It's not just about physical strength.
Is that strength thing a factor at all?
I would say not really at all anymore, because, depending on your job obviously, there's technology you can use that means that is almost irrelevant, like, for example, a front-end loader on a tractor. It comes into some things, but it's much less of an important aspect of it.
People ask me when my husband is going to come around and do the jobs
Do you come across sexism in your work?
Definitely, you do still see it. People definitely underestimate you and whatnot. For example, in my work, some people ask me when my husband is going to come around and do the jobs. So there is still that attitude and I've found that, as a female, I've had to spend a lot more time proving myself to some people—not everyone, not everyone is like that—than I should need to or than male colleagues would have to. It seems sometimes there is less belief that you're capable of doing these things. The guys in the competition are a really good bunch of guys, so that's awesome. I don't think any of them underestimate me and I don't underestimate any of them. There's definitely an attitude change compared to a couple of decades ago when it was completely different, but yeah, you do get people treating you differently, but for the most part it's getting better.
And what are the advantages of being a female farmer?
It's quite cool because there's almost like a sisterhood of women in agriculture. Like, they're all 100 percent behind each other, and it is really great to see every one supporting each other like that. I think that's probably the biggest advantage.
What do you think could be done to get more women into farming?
I think that already the universities are doing a great job with promoting it. A lot more women are considering it and, as you said, a lot more are going into university to study it so I don't think at this point women should feel like they don't have the skills. It's quite well-publicised now that everyone's skillsets can add value to the industry. I don't think too much more needs to be done—I just think women need to keep seeing female role models in the industry and if they want to join, that's awesome.
What would you say to a young woman who was seriously considering agriculture as a career?
What I wish someone had said to me is, don't underestimate yourself and be confident. You're not going to start out knowing everything—definitely not—but neither does anyone so just be confident and ask for help and don't underestimate yourself.
You can vote for Lisa, or any other of the Young Farmer of the Year finalists, for the FMG People's Choice Award here.