A spotlight of national, state and local groups

According to the USDA, there are 969,672 women farmers in the Unites States.  Women in the Ag industry account for an economic impact of $12.9 billion.  These women are the backbone of the rural economy.  They make up almost half of the world’s farmers, and over the last few decades, they have broadened their involvement in agriculture. 

From the classroom to the farm, women in agriculture are helping lead the way for a better future.  Making sure the next generation of women are educated, encouraged and empowered to take on the challenges of meeting the world’s growing food, fuel and fiber needs in what women’s Ag groups are striving to achieve.

From large groups with 3,000+ members to smaller women’s groups of 10 members, these women come together and share experiences and learn from each other.  They discuss important topics to get a better understanding of different aspects of farming.  The topics can be anywhere from where to buy tractors and hay to who might have a farm for sale. 

Kentucky Women in Agriculture (KWIA)

KWIA is a group of women who have been working to make a difference in agriculture for many years.  In 1999, the Kentucky Agricultural Women’s Leadership Network was established to enhance these efforts.  Since then, the network has grown and evolved.  In July 2003, articles of incorporation and bylaws were filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State to launch a new, nonprofit organization known as Kentucky Women in Agriculture, Inc.  Their mission is to empower women through education, involvement and action.  Their goals are to promote Kentucky women in agriculture and create a cooperative feeling among women to strive for good fellowship and integrity of the membership as a whole.  They communicate with one another and with other consumers to promote agricultural products and services for the benefit of Kentuckians and the world.  There are approximately 3000 members state-wide.

“Women play an integral part in agriculture.  Many farm wives, who work right alongside their husbands, downplay their contribution.  However without these women, farms would surely be lacking in many areas,” says Cynthia Elder.

Cynthia Elder is a delegate and member of KWIA.  She says being a member of the group vocalizes and visualizes the contributions women make in agriculture throughout the state and that women are now holding jobs once held only by men in the industry. “It’s very important to consider your personal contribution to agriculture on all levels: your farm, your farm community, your local community, the state in which you live, your country and the world.  We all have input to support the agriculture industry.  United we can positively influence agriculture in Kentucky.”

Illinois Agri-Women (IAW)

IAW is a group of women passionate about all facets of agriculture and/or agribusiness within Illinois.  To date there are 144 members.  They speak out in support of the American farmer and the farm industry.  They promote public awareness that farming is a business and must make a profit to survive and work for legislation to preserve the family farm enterprise.  Educating the consumer of the economic importance of agriculture to the nation is amongst their many goals. They are also an affiliate of the American Agri-Women which was organized in 1974.  

Illinois Agri-WomenIAW Members Tour the GSI facility.  

“After participating in the first Women Changing the Face of Agriculture (WCFA) career discovery event as a presenter, I found the connection with other like-minded women inviting and encouraging and I have never looked back,” says Diana Ropp.  Diana Ropp is the president of Illinois Agri-Women. As the president of IAW, Diana is pleased with the many networking opportunities, friendship building, creativity and leadership building IAW has encouraged among many women in the Ag industry. WCFA is a conference that IAW organizes every year as an investment in the future of agriculture by showcasing what women are doing for the industry.  It gives all women the opportunity to explore different career paths offered in the agriculture sector and attendees receive accurate information first hand from actual women agriculture professionals.  Diana says, “Always remember the purpose and cause which encouraged you to join.  Put aside political and personal differences for the betterment, success and long term goals of the organization.”

Smaller women’s ag groups may be small but it still speaks volumes

Take it from these women, a small group of women in the same field “no pun intended” was just what they needed.  “Our all woman's peer group started back in 2012, Melissa Gerber (my aunt) and I were in our second year of TEPAP (The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers) and they strongly encouraged us to set up a group.  So, one day during a break we started to form our group, along with 2 other ladies that were in our TEPAP class,” says Kassi Tom-Rowland of Tom Farms.  

Today their group consists of 6 operations from 6 states (IN, OH, MS, KY, MO, AR), covering 63,000 acres and 8 ladies.  Over the years they have perfected their group and decided last year to not add anyone else to the group.  They know each other so very well and decided it would be difficult to bring any other farm on at this point.  

During TEPAP and those original conversations, Kassi and the group realized quickly that most women of farming operations do much of the same jobs, with other tasks as well.  “Most all of us handle the following: HR, PR, Finance, Accounting, Compliance...but we also do things like planting, run grain facilities, harvest, and succeeding our fathers as CEO, etc.  We have so much to share and learn with one another.”

At one point they had a moderator, Marcia Taylor from DTN, unfortunately, Marcia past away from cancer last year.  We decided as a group to not have a moderator, since they all have been a part of groups in the past they thought they could come up with their own agendas and run our their own meetings.  This has worked great.  They meet 2 times per year and have a scheduled call every month, but most often they talk weekly.  Their summer meetings are always "on farm", so they travel each summer to a farm within their peer group. 

During their summer meetings they take a tour of the farm they are at (the one they just returned from was Kasey Bamberger's farm in OH, Bryant Ag), they reviewed their financials/ratios and had a meeting with PACI a buying group that Bryant Ag uses, they also met with Starlett Chesser from John Deere and discussed the importance of woman in Ag, and finally went over two operations SWOT's that were prepared ahead of their meeting. 

Kassi says their winter meeting is normally somewhere warm, such as Florida and this year they plan to meet in Nashville so most all of them can drive to keep the cost down.  When they started their group, they didn't think there should be a price tag.  “We all pay for our travel to get to each meeting and then split everything from there.  We typically stay together at someone's house; this gives everyone time together since we are together the entire meeting.  So many great conversations happen around the breakfast table or during dinner.  This makes our group very inexpensive for each operation.”

Local  Women in Ag GroupKassi Tom-Rowland and her peer group.

“In our group, we all believe we have something very special that would be tough to replicate.  We all encourage one another and have the highest respect for each other.  We all have our own "specialties" within our operations which helps everyone.  If any of us has a certain problem, such as HR, we know just who to call within our group.  We are all completely transparent with each other as well.”

Thirty one percent of American farmers are women and today that number keeps growing with the help and support of women’s Ag groups.  Around 301,000,000 acres of land is farmed by women, according to the USDA.   Whether it’s a large group with many members from your state or a small local group that gets together to share their experiences and advice from their operations to help others in the group, that is the support and drive women in Ag need to help this industry to continue to grow.

 

For more information about these and other women's ag groups - check out these resources:

https://civileats.com/2016/07/07/how-women-farmers-are-changing-u-s-agriculture/

http://civileats.com/2015/03/30/women-farmers-potlucks/

www.kywomeninag.com

www.americanagriwomen.org

www.illinoisagriwomen.org

 

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