5 reasons why women are agriculture’s best resource

Agricultural writer Mark Parker recently found himself in some hot water following a blog post he wrote for Farm Talk titled, “The top 10 ‘above and beyond’ farm wife qualities.” The list included her abilities to reheat leftovers, read romance novels on trips to the elevator, and be happy with jumper cables instead of roses for her birthday.

I know the article was intended to be a funny post about agricultural women, and although I didn’t find it particularly humorous, I will admit that I have seen myself, my mom, my grandmothers, and my girlfriends — who I consider to be very strong women in agriculture — play many of these roles in our day-to-day lives on the ranch. Running for parts, raising kids, cleaning the house and opening gates are just part of the equation to making a ranch run, but women are so much more than that.

While I’m proud of my ability to run the home, raise my children and cook for my family (all roles that are traditionally reserved for women), I also appreciate my opportunity to have a career in agricultural communications, to have a real stake in our family’s cattle operation, to serve in leadership roles, and to be a part of the evolution of the agricultural community where a young female writer like myself can gain the respect of the older male ranchers who make up the majority of the readers who check out this blog each day.

Where Parker went wrong is he forgot to acknowledge the expanding role women play in the agricultural community. I will admit I’m somewhat tired of all of the “politically correct” rhetoric that the media uses to pit people against each other, so I was hesitant to join the many women who were “offended” by this pretty lame list that was so clearly written in haste and without much effort. However, I think Parker’s blog post does present an opportunity to talk about how the role of women in agriculture has grown exponentially in recent years.

Today I am speaking at the Gregory County Women In Agriculture conference in Burke, S.D., and in preparing my remarks for the event, I decided to respond to Parker’s blog post and create my own top list for the “above and beyond” farm qualities of women in agriculture.

Here are five reasons why women in agriculture are huge assets to the world of food production:

1. She is 1 million strong


According to USDA’s Robert A. Hoppe and Pennie Korb, “Over the past three decades, the number of women-operated farms increased substantially. In 2007, women operated 14% of all U.S. farms, up from 5% in 1978. Women-operated farms increased in all sales classes, including farms with annual sales of $1 million or more. About half of women-operated farms specialized in grazing livestock—beef cattle, horses, and sheep or goats. In addition to a principal operator, some farms have secondary operators. If both principal and secondary operators are counted, the number of women operators in 2007 expands from 306,200 to nearly 1 million.”

2. She is educated

The 2012 USDA Census for Agriculture revealed that, “On average, women farmers and ranchers are better educated than their male counterparts. Approximately 61% of women principal operators have education beyond high school (with 32% having a college degree and 29% some college), compared with only 47% of male principal operators. The shares of women farmers who continued their education beyond high school also exceeded those of all U.S. householders by 4 percentage points.”

3. She is an entrepreneur

A woman’s ability to multi-task is unmatched, and I doubt my husband would disagree with that statement. She can run a ranch with a kid on her hip, and she can maintain a job in town to bring home insurance, benefits and a 401K plan. She can also creatively find ways to bring extra income to the ranch when things get tight. The old saying, “Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town,” may be a little dated, but it still rings true. However, women in agriculture today are often the primary rancher who can maintain the cow herd while also bringing in a steady paycheck from town. According to the USDA report, “The share of women working off-farm has grown substantially, from 42% in 1982 to 59% in 2007, an increase of 17 percentage points.”

4. She is an ag professional

Women in agriculture hold influential positions both on and off the ranch. Female leaders are working in agricultural science, biotechnology, research, education, communications, marketing, sales, business and more. We are seeing more women hold positions on agricultural boards, serving as presidents and executive directors of commodity groups, lobbying on behalf of farmers and ranchers in Washington, D.C., and taking part in important discussions with consumers about food and how it’s produced.

5. She is invested

Since returning to my family’s operation in 2009 and getting married in 2010, my husband Tyler and I have bought our own ranch, rented pasture, purchased cattle and equipment, hired labor, and made other heavy financial decisions together. It’s not just his name on the dotted line at the bank, mine is there, too. We both have to make the payments.

We both are deeply invested in this dream of ours. A financial risk doesn’t care which gender you are. A woman rancher has just as much skin in the game as her male counterpart, and she knows and understands the responsibility and burden of making the numbers work to support her family, grow the operation and protect it for the next generation.

Parker may have missed the mark with his blog post, but I’m confident that women in agriculture will continue to grow and thrive in the agricultural community despite such silly rhetoric. I’m so pleased to have been asked to speak at the Gregory County Women In Agriculture event today because I know that this demographic is truly the industry’s best kept secret weapon to getting things done and getting them done right.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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