Women taking more ag leadership roles
By KAREN SCHWALLER
As agriculture evolves, the role of women has gravitated more to the forefront, according to researchers at Iowa State University, which hosted the first of three webinars on Nov. 18 called, “Leading the Way: How Women are Changing Board Rooms and Rural Landscapes.”
Webinar moderator Madeline Schultz, Women in Agriculture program manager at Iowa State University, said there is a leadership gap in overall industry between women and men.
“Women have become 50 percent of college graduates in the U.S. since the 1980s,” she said. “As a result, they are taking on more leadership roles, and yet there’s still a big divide in the leadership roles that men and women have.”
She said 21 percent of Fortune 500 leaders are women, 17 percent of board seats across the U.S. are held by women and 18 percent of elected officials are women.
“These stats show that women have a ways to go in leading and serving in different managerial and leadership roles,” said Schulz.
She said women are managing complex farm businesses; starting new businesses; serving local, regional and state boards; innovating in food production and conservation methods; are involved in cutting-edged efforts to produce food and products; as well as methods in producing those foods.
She said women are also leading in agribusinesses and ag service industries and are teaching the next generation – including the host of women involved in a group called CommonGround, which uses (primarily) social media and visits to talk about food and food production.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden told attendees that women have always been at the cornerstone of American agriculture, with more than 1 million working on American lands today.
“That’s 30 percent of American farmers,” she said. “Women (as) principal farm operators generated $12.9 billion in agriculture sales in 2012 alone.”
She said women are becoming more prevalent in the areas of science research, chief executive officer positions, economists, veterinarians, conservationists, owners of large and small businesses, making policy and setting standards.
“Women are the past, present and future face of American agriculture,” Harden said.
Harden is the third female to hold the position of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.
The webinar included comments from Dr. Jewell Harriston, dean of the School of Agriculture at Virginia State University, a position she has held since 2011.
Harriston said she develops strategic vision and plans for the Extension and research divisions and academics departments at VSU, leads 120 employees and is responsible for $8.3 million in federal and state funds and $4.2 million in federal, state and private grant funds.
She previously served as a 4-H youth development specialist, and is the only female dean among 19 land grant institutions in the southeast U.S.
“Being a woman in agriculture is not necessarily easy … but it’s an important job because all of us have that role of leading the way for those who are coming alongside us or behind us,” she said.
It was a group of men who gave her the opportunity to be a college dean.
“I came into agriculture through cooperative Extension, and I love young people,” Harriston said. “As a 4-H Extension specialist, I had an opportunity to connect with the youth development aspect and learn the importance of working with the rural and urban communities.
“I also got my first touch of working with producers.”
She said she has learned that women can do the physical work. Many are running farm operations and keeping the books. Her experience in visiting with young women is that they are in need of someone to lead and guide them in getting involved in agriculture.
“Many of them are looking at trying to make a footprint in the world of agriculture and they don’t know how to do it,” Harriston said.
Kate Danner is a fifth-generation farmer and vice president of Longley Farms in Illinois. She said she farms 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans with her father.
She spoke of her experiences on the farm and her involvement in agriculture as a county Farm Bureau member, soybean ambassador and member of the Illinois Soybean Association.
She said college ag students need to learn more about the risk involved in agriculture and the capital it takes to make an operation work, saying it was a real eye-opener for her when she began farming.
She said through ag-based trips that people in general are excited to see young people choosing agriculture as a career.
Danner said her father is nearing retirement age and that transitioning discussions are beginning.
“Transitioning is different for every farm,” Danner said,” and so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open, and to keep the family first.”
She said she and her father prefer on-farm storage. They keep 85 percent of their crop under roof at their farm and carry it over until March.
“It’s going to pay off for us this year,” she said. “It’s a global market, and you really have to pay attention to where the commodities are going.”
Harriston said women are primed and ready for leadership, are as effective as men and get the job done well.
“Ag and agribusiness are more open to having women in some of those top leadership roles and they need to be ready for that opportunity when it’s there,” she said. “I would rather hire someone who truly wants to be part of an organization and who has good character, as opposed to someone who has been well trained.”
Danner added that women need to take on more leadership roles on the farm and in their communities.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Danner said, “where someone else makes the decisions that affect your best interest.
“I preferred to be at the table, where I can help make decisions that affect our farm.”
The other two webinars in the series, both which air at 11 a.m., will be Dec. 2, “By the Numbers: What the Census of Ag Tells us About Women Operators” and Dec. 16, “Heart of the Farm: Why Women’s Unique Family and Farm Business Roles Matter.”
To join the webinars, go to connect.extension.iastate.edu/womeninag about 10 minutes prior to the start time.
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