Women in Agriculture -- A Few Facts
Do a Google search for women in agriculture and you will get some interesting results. Some “also asked” questions include what is a female farmer called (I did laugh at this one, but a farmerette is the correct terminology!), how long have women been in agriculture, what is women’s role in agriculture, and what kind of problems do women face in agriculture? While the answers to some of these questions may seem obvious to those of us who live the lifestyle, I would like to take a moment to address them.
First, the obvious. Women have been involved in agriculture from the very beginning. Agriculture was born out of the necessity of the human body to eat for survival. What we view as traditional agriculture today is just an evolution of the hunter-gatherer. And women have been involved from the get-go from the simple aspect of being human, whether as part the tribe, the family farm, or a multi-million-dollar operation.
Which leads to the next question. As a lender in a rural community, I have encountered many variations of women in agriculture. Some are full time, hands on, head decision makers in production agriculture. Some work in town (usually to provide health insurance) and help their partner in the evenings and on the weekends. Some own feed stores, run farmers’ markets, or manage grain elevators for large corporations. Other head marketing departments or manage local and national agricultural media. These examples are limited to the women I personally know. There is no limit to what a woman can achieve in agriculture when she sets her mind to it.
Of course, there are hurdles in agriculture like any industry. The major hurdle is cost, especially when it comes to production agriculture. Land is a finite resource and thereby continues to increase in price. Equipment in the past few months has become ridiculously expensive. Most projects require a 10-20% equity injection to start. And there is the cost of obtaining knowledge.
For the tangible costs, there are some programs and funding specifically targeted towards women in agriculture. The Farm Service Agency is one of the governmental agencies with such programs and available funding, but the Small Business Administration is often an overlooked resource in the agricultural industry. The SBA has funding and programs available specifically for women. Each agency and program has different eligibility requirements and terms, therefore it is highly recommended that each operator work with the local agency, their financial advisor, and lender to find the best fit.
Another cost is knowledge. It takes time, effort, and sometimes funding. But being successful in agriculture does not require a PhD. Some of the best operators learn by doing, because they grew up in the industry or became successful through trial and error. The commonality they share is they never stop learning or being creative to try and achieve better results. These are the women using their local extension office, going through Annie’s Project, taking classes at the local college, and investing in a network.
Yes, networking! Most women are social creatures. They want to engage and get to know one another. So, put that desire to good use. Networking is just engaging with others, exchanging ideas, learning who does what and how that can help the individuals and the agricultural community. Of course, networking can come with pressure to join societies and boards. Be selective in how you invest your time to develop the relationships and skills needed to benefit you and your desired path in agriculture.
So, are women in agriculture? Yes! Are they important to agriculture? Definitely! Are there hurdles to face? For sure. Can we make it happen? Absolutely! Is it worth it? For those of us who live and breathe the agricultural way of life, we’d have it no other way.
Jessica Allan is an agricultural lender and commercial relationship manager at Guaranty Bank in Carthage and Neosho, Missouri. A resident of Jasper County, she is also involved in raising cattle on her family’s farm in Newton County and is an active alum of the Crowder College Aggie Club. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.