Women in Ag speak out

Colleen Kottke Associate Editor
Now Media Group


According to Agri-Women, there are 969,000 women farmers making up a little over 30 percent of farmers in the U.S.

Among the growing number of women in agriculture are some of the most passionate advocates —— or agvocates — for the industry. In addition to working on the farm, these women often have careers that dovetail their enthusiasm for agriculture.

It's often a balancing act as they try to manage their personal and professional lives while still telling their ag stories. Attendees of the 6th Annual Wisconsin Ag Women's Summit opening general session on March 4 were treated to a panel discussion titled "Women in Ag: Where We've Been and Where We're Headed" featuring Julie Larson a senior sales development executive for Merial Animal Health where she works with animal health suppliers and farmers, Zoey Brooks, former Alice in Dairyland and sixth generation farmer on her family's dairy and grain operation in Waupaca and Jolynne Schoepfer, a former high school ag teacher and current field representative for Sartori Cheese.

The discussion was moderated by Amy Pflugshaupt of the NBC 15 news team in Madison. Pflugshaupt hails from an Indiana beef farm and strives to shine a light on agriculture in her broadcasting career.

The Boys Club

Pflugshaupt asked the panel whether or not agriculture was still a male dominated field and how women were able to break those stereotypes.

Larson never believed that agriculture was a male dominated industry until she graduated from college over 30 years ago. She often found herself the sole female while attending meetings. What helped her to carve out a successful career in the agriculture field was the guidance of strong mentors.

"While serving as an intern I remember asking my father whether he listened to and respected women that visited our farm. He said, 'Of course, I have four daughters' and I always remembered that," Larson said. "If you have positive role models in your life and they think nothing (of gender), it's easier to forge ahead."

Schoepfer said she didn't realize she was in the minority until she enrolled in ag classes in high school. She credits women working behind the scenes in ag careers for reversing that trend

"Working for Sartori and visiting farms I've never felt like a minority or less respected because of my gender. Hopefully we've laid a lot of groundwork for women coming after us," Schoepfer said.

Future of Ag

With more and more women taking leadership roles in ag businesses and organizations, Pflugshaupt questioned whether women were the new future of agriculture.

In her travels as Alice in Dairyland Brooks had the opportunity to meet more and more women embracing leadership roles in agriculture.

"It's not that women are taking the lead over men — it's not a competition — but I think they're becoming more equal," Brooks said. "Over the years many women worked in the background but they've been there all along, working beside their husbands or fathers and now we're seeing them step to the forefront, being advocates and sharing that story."

Larson believes that many women bring a desirable skill set to the work world.

"You ladies are the glue that keeps your families going. Women are also expert collaborators and communicators who are able to bring everyone together," Larson said. "These skills are very much in demand on the farm but also in the private sector and therefore these women are finally getting recognized in these leadership roles."

Finding balance

Farm women often find themselves wearing many hats. From mothers and wives, to bookkeepers, calf feeders or ag professionals off the farm. Pflugshaupt asked how women find balance in their hectic lives.

"Don't you think it's easier to embrace it? It's chaos in our house but I'm ok with that," Schoepfer said. "I love my crock pot and my smartphone calendar helps me to stay organized."

Larson said that time management is key to finding harmony.

"I think it starts with finding out what works for you. I like to work at thing a little bit at a time," Larson said. "Planning ahead is also helpful using calendars and popup reminders on your phone and computer. And remember to plan little rewards for yourself even if that means a good cup of coffee in the morning."

As the new junior partner on the farm, Brooks found herself burning the candle at both ends trying to learn the business and prove herself to the more senior members of the farm staff.

"Since I only live a short distance away, I was at the farm all the time," Brooks said. "I think it's important for us to take a day away now and then. And when you come back you appreciate what you have so much more."