Integrating women into the farm business decisions

A few years ago we surveyed Water Street clients to ask whether wives were actively involved in the farm’s business decisions. Almost half said that their wife is actively involved about 20-40% of the time. A quarter said their wife isn’t actively involved at all, or only up to about a quarter of the time. 

This means the majority of farm women typically aren’t actively involved in the farm’s business decisions. That causes the farm to miss out on a valuable perspective. When everyone who has something at stake in the farm business gets involved or is at least on board with what’s happening, the whole operation tends to improve and move forward. 

It’s important to keep the lines of communication between husbands and wives open about what’s going on with the farm finances. Becky Frye, wife and business partner of Water Street Solutions founder and CEO Darren Frye, encourages farm couples to do a communication analysis. 

“Sometimes we don’t truly hear or understand each other because of the way we’re communicating,” she says. “The analysis helps you understand how you’re communicating and what you’re communicating with the other person. I would encourage farm partners—whether a husband and wife, father and son, or other partnership—to try it.” 

When communication is open among all farm stakeholders, farm women understand what’s going on with business decisions and finances—whether they work in the operation or off-farm. When a farm wife isn’t very involved, she can start to feel left out or upset if she doesn’t understand what’s going on. 

The wife of one of our clients worked off the farm and wasn’t involved in managing the operations or finances of the farm. She was starting to feel worried—she saw bigger numbers come through the checkbook each year but didn’t know why. The worries built up inside her until she finally spoke up, saying, “I don’t really understand the marketing. I just know we write a lot of checks for it, and that makes me nervous.” 

She was afraid that the achievements from all of their hard work were at risk. They decided to meet with their Water Street advisors to talk about how she was feeling. She hadn’t ever been involved in those meetings in the past, but she realized she needed to do something to understand the farm’s finances better. 

All four sat together at the kitchen table. The market advisor showed her why they wrote those checks and how it ended up benefiting the farm much more. Her husband talked about the dreams he has for the farm—and they all discussed what would need to be done to achieve those goals. 

As she began to understand, she gained more peace of mind. She felt better because she could see why they were doing this and how they were making progress toward their goals.

Another of our clients is a husband/wife farming partnership. The husband does most of the production work, and the wife does the bookkeeping for the operation. She sits in on meetings with the market advisor and other specialists, and has even learned a bit about marketing strategies.

She’s very comfortable and “in the know” about what’s going on financially and where the operation is headed. She and her husband frequently communicate about business decisions. She has a great deal of input in the goals and dreams for the farm. 

Even if a farm wife doesn’t work full-time in the operation—like the partnership mentioned above—she still brings valuable input and perspective. Maybe it’s a matter of the spouses communicating more about farm business decisions, or everyone participating in a meeting about the farm’s finances to learn more.

 Reaching a clear understanding of where the farm is headed gets everyone on the same page—and helps the farm achieve success.