Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Farm Wives' Work: A Comparative Study of Dairy and Potato Farming in New Brunswick, Canada

Document type Thesis
Author Machum, Susan Tracey
Degree Ph.D., Sociology
Publisher University of Edinburgh; Edinburgh, UK
Date 1998
Pages 355 pages


Using a comparative case study research design, the thesis examines the similarities and differences in farm wives' work on family owned and operated dairy and potato farms in New Brunswick, Canada. New Brunswick, Canada was selected as the research site because of the opportunity it provided to study two highly contrasting but comparable farm industries. Potato production is an intense and seasonal process, involving the planting, tending and harvesting of a field crop. Dairy farms are all-year operations involving animal husbandry and milk collection on a daily schedule. Potatoes are sold in 'open', uncertain markets; milk is sold in a 'closed' market protected and regulated in the provincial Milk Marketing Board. The differing labour demands, marketing arrangements and other conditions surrounding the production and sale of milk and potatoes made them ideal industries to study the effects of a farm's commodity on farm wives' work. The family, farm and work histories of fourteen farm wives on potato farms and sixteen farm wives on dairy farms were gathered, between November 1995 and September 1996, using an in-depth, open-ended interview format. What the farm sets out to produce effectively establishes its labour requirements, its work rhythms, as well as the marketing and pricing arrangements farm families will face. As a result, the farm's commodity provides the key for understanding the various ways farm wives' become 'incorporated' into their husband's work. Dairy farmers are not engaged in the same work as potato farmers even though both are called farmers and there are similarities in their work. It is not enough to study farm wives' work without ascertaining the particularities of being a dairy farmer's wife or a potato farmer's wife. At the same time both sectors must contend with agricultural restructuring, the cost-price squeeze and the economic uncertainties facing their rural communities. In examining the implications of this case study for future research on farm women's work, the thesis adds we must re-evaluate the spatial locations of work - household, on farm, off farm and community - and analytic dichotomies of work - productive and reproductive, paid and unpaid, direct and indirect - in order to better appreciate how farm wives contribute to family farming and how family farming contributes to farm wives' work.