“There’s a Lot More to Agriculture Than Driving a Tractor!”
Contributed Content from Danielle Harris, CAIA, AFM, Senior Acquisitions Manager, Manulife Investment Management Timberland and Agriculture
Women have been a critical part of farming and ranching businesses around the world for centuries and, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), women today make up 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force, yet they face significant discrimination when it comes to land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to credit and financial services.[] In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that as of 2019, more than half of all U.S. farming operations included a woman principal (responsible for day-to-day decision making) or at least one woman secondary operator (involved in decisions but not a primary operator). However, a deeper review of the data reveals that only 14 percent of all farms had women principal operators, meaning the other 37 percent of farms deemed to be led by women included women in more support-type roles, rather than a leadership position.[]
At Manulife Investment Management, (Manulife IM) we seek opportunities such as the Women in Agribusiness (WIA) Summit to promote meaningful discussion of how to drive change within the agriculture industry to bring more females into decision-making roles. We believe that making women aware of the broad range of opportunities within agriculture, both “in the field” and beyond, is the first step in driving more women to seek careers in the space. One way to raise awareness is to highlight the diverse career paths available in our own agricultural investment management organization, from investment, operations, accounting, acquisitions, and other professional roles. Megan Chicoine and Kassie Dews-Arriaga are two professionals from Manulife IM’s agriculture business who both work on the operations team of our vertically integrated farm management company. They make an impact every day on our clients’ farmland holdings and successfully do so from both the field and the office.
Megan Chicoine, Manulife Megan Chicoine is a lifelong resident of California, and despite California’s significant agricultural production, she entered the farming world through her education. “I didn’t grow up directly in agriculture. Redding, California has agriculture influences, but it was not something that I spent too much time in.” Megan graduated from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, as an agribusiness major. Ultimately, she thought she wanted to study business, but it was her dad who convinced her to keep studying agriculture. Cal Poly’s motto is ‘learning by doing’ and Megan embraced that. “I really loved being outside. Through my coursework, I was able to work at the school’s dairy, plant carrots, and study abroad in South Australia to learn about winegrape production,” she said.
After graduation, Megan found Manulife IM through an online job posting, joining the farming operations team in 2018. Megan’s role as manager of U.S. operations is a critical function to Manulife IM’s farm management team. Megan is responsible for oversight of strategic and national accounts, farm administrative staff (inclusive of 11 employees located in Wisconsin, Washington, and California), onsite farm contract management, equipment and fleet management, and harvest production data. Currently, Megan is also participating in the Almond Leadership Program through the Almond Board of California. The year-long program "inspires and prepares almond community members to join a network of leaders meeting the challenges of a changing industry."[] Megan balances her time between the office and farms all throughout California’s Central Valley. As Megan noted, “It helps to have the hands-on time on the properties to inform my work back in the office.”
Kassie Dews-Arriaga, Manulife
Kassie Dews-Arriaga, also a lifelong California resident, grew up in a farming community in Turlock, California. Kassie spent her summers on her grandparents’ farm in Northern California but didn’t expect to ever work in agriculture. After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from California State University, Stanislaus with a focus on accounting, Kassie was happy to see her interest in farming merged with her career when she joined Manulife IM in 2015. After four years in accounting and earning her Master of Business Administration degree, also from CSU Stanislaus, Kassie moved closer to her roots by joining the farming operations team in 2020 as a senior operations analyst. In this role, she leads the annual operating and capital budgeting process for over 250 farms across the United States. She coordinates closely with Manulife IM’s farming team to compile farming plans for each asset for the following year, developing the roadmap for the work that happens in the field. Kassie leads the analytical function of the operations team, which aggregates an immense amount of property data critical to decisions regarding yield forecasting, redevelopment decisions, operational effectiveness improvements, and hold/sell evaluations.
For Kassie, the key to success has been working with and learning from her teammates who spend time in the field. “The best part of my role is working with the farm managers – where I’m considered part of the team. There is always something to learn about farming – which makes every day different. Taking the time to learn as many details as possible, as Megan and I have done, helps to foster collaborative decision-making with the team members who are operating the farms daily.”
Megan and Kassie continue to grow in their respective roles and hope to see more women join them in farming operations (as well as in other roles such as portfolio management, etc.) as awareness increases about agriculture career paths like theirs. While subtle and not-so-subtle systemic bias may have prevented women from seeking roles in agriculture in the past, Kassie wants women who are interested in agriculture to know that they have an important contribution to make in farming, both in the field/on the ranch and in the office. She and Megan credit both their female and male colleagues for supporting and nurturing their aspirations. As Megan noted, “there are plenty of opportunities… in the office or in the field! There’s a lot more to agriculture than driving a tractor! Come join us and be a part of a dynamic, collaborative environment that seeks to feed the world sustainably.”
(Both Megan and Kassie will be attendees at the WIA Summit this fall and look forward to connecting with many talented women there who share their enthusiasm and aspirations for careers in agriculture!)
 https://www.fao.org/reduce-rural-poverty/our-work/women-in-agriculture/en/  https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=101367  https://www.almonds.com/about-us/programs-and-events/almond-leadership-program
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Danielle Harris is the California regional acquisition manager for Manulife Investment Management’s agriculture business, which provides investment and farm management to institutional investors in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South America. Prior to this position, Harris worked in other roles within the firm’s agriculture team, including as a transaction manager and farm operations manager, and as an analyst for Manulife’s real estate finance team. She formerly worked as an operations analyst for AgIS Capital LLC. Harris received her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with a concentration in finance from Northeastern University, and an M.B.A. from Boston College. She holds the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst (CAIA) and Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) designations.
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