With Valentine’s Day just gone by I can’t help but appreciate the women in our lives, especially if you live in the country. In addition to being the dominant child care authority, time manager, social coach and nutrition consultant, they are usually the accountant, the medic, the purchasing agent, the sales representative and the strategic thinker who brings the operation back onto level ground when it’s shaky.
You may have guessed that my grandmother raised 11 kids in Indian Country after her husband passed, my mother helped us survive through many years of livestock and my reality was that one of my sisters and most of the girls I dated could ride, rope and brand as well as I could. I am lucky enough have a spouse with the same calf-rearing, hay-selling talents as most of the impressive women I see in agriculture.
According to the USDA and the IRS, there are 6,745 women in agriculture in Wyoming (35 percent of producers) who are involved in managing 12.1 million acres and generating 81.2 million dollars in economic impact. Montana has over 15,000 women producers and Nebraska has almost 20,000. Behind the majority of male agriculture operators who are successful there is a capable and focused woman partner.
Women producers tend to be the most innovative and active side of agriculture which is obvious when you look at value-added efforts like Farmer’s Markets, direct sales, new products, great advertising and finding new income when the traditional methods are not enough. In fact many of the noteworthy annual events, educational programs, magazines and new business startups are “Farm Her” dominated (a USDA coined noun).
I have had many opportunities to collaborate with notable women producers in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. Many of our farms and ranches are left solely for women to manage when men pass and they handle it admirably. They were already engaged in the management in most cases anyway. In Nebraska, a group of over 70 women agriculture producers who happened to be widows chose to keep their ranches and generate income with livestock or leasing. Every year I held a leasing workshop to help them work through adjusting their lease rates. In Colorado, several women producers stimulated and led the way to write the first Conservation Easement legislation and several of us had the privilege to help.
It does not take too long as an agriculture educator to realize that if you want get male producers to listen to a somewhat unpalatable lesson you must first convince the women producers such as the Cattlewomen and the Quilt Guilds that it’s a good idea. The gentlemen will attend after that – I learned who was in charge of most new ideas on farms and ranches.
Extension and Vocational Agriculture educators have the opportunity each year to interact with young developing women producers and its very encouraging. With their help the future of our industry whether you just raise a few lambs, hundreds of calves or a specialty crop have a huge promise level. Many of our youth benefit directly from the dedication of supporters and volunteers, most of whom are women.
Every morning when I feed I get a chance to realize that agriculture is not always pleasant when conditions are tough. But the feed I use, the truck I drive, the fuel I burn, and the real warmth back at the house is my partner who balances the books and keeps me and the stockdogs happy. Doing a little laundry, some cooking, and a few favors from time to time is not much to ask.
My ending thought is this – If you have an opportunity to support a woman in agriculture—do it. They support us all of the time. Credit where credit is due. Think about where our rural landscape would be without the amazing women around us past, present and future. It would be depressing. They are the heart of the Country.