The Importance of a Good Skill Set: Advice from a Farm Manager

Jan. Holmes is a Farm Operations Manager at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

What’s one thing that would surprise people about your field of work in agriculture?

How few women farm managers there are (especially in the public service)… I am currently one of two female farm managers at AAFC. I manage an agricultural research farm which includes supervising a crew of 9 to 14 people (mostly men), overseeing the work on 850 acres in 165 different fields to make sure that all of the fields are properly taken care of (research considerations taken into account as well as proper agricultural and environmental use considered), and ensuring that 400 pieces of equipment are in proper working order.

I think my strong suits are organization, planning, and problem-solving. Those things are important in this kind of job because it’s like a moving puzzle. You have to be flexible because equipment can break down, someone can call in sick, or it starts to rain. I probably have three plans in my head at any one time. Our team helps researchers prepare and manage research plots that range in size from 0.5 to 3.5 acres. Some of the plots are for crops such as potatoes, grains and cereals, hops, blueberries, hemp, and corn; others are for experiments that include water and soil studies.

How did you get into your line of work?

I have a degree in Religious Studies from Mount Allison University and a diploma in plant sciences from Nova Scotia Agricultural College. I developed a passion for agriculture and PEI and, when the first opportunity came to move to PEI, I took it. Since then I have worked in a wide range of jobs in agriculture (including as an agriculture research technician, vineyard manager, and director of culinary and food tourism with a not for profit organization). I consider myself very fortunate to have had some exceptional jobs and exceptional experiences. While the path to my career has been quite diverse and varied, it’s been a lot of fun. When this job was posted, I applied for it because I thought it sounded interesting with lots of new challenges.

What is your most memorable moment at work?

I organized and led a field tour of the Harrington Research Farm to Deputy Minister Chris Forbes. I was pretty nervous; however, he asked great questions and was very engaged, which made it easier to lead the tour.

Is there something we can do to support women in science?

Normalize it, get everyone to see that being a women in science or agriculture is normal! It’s the skill set that is important, not someone’s gender!

What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in science?

Don’t be scared of what others think, try your best and keep going!

What are your hobbies, and do they influence your work?

Definitely I love being outside (most of my hobbies involve being outside, running, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, mountain biking, and kayaking). I farm with my husband (a fifth-generation farmer) and daughter. We have a beef operation in Kingston, PEI with some cash crops (soybeans). I love the sense of accomplishment with agriculture, both at home and at work, with getting to be part of every part of the process, planting something (or watching and helping it be born), taking care of the crops (and animals) and then harvesting and enjoying the fruits of our labours.

What do you hope to see in your field in the next 10 years?

People not to feel like they are limited to one career based on gender or any other potential limiting factor.

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