‘Women think differently than men’
By LAURA CARLSON
STORY CITY – “This Women in Agriculture: Soil Health Class is for any size of land owner’s property.”
That’s what Carol Schutte said as she welcomed 24 women on a cold, windy day to the Women Caring for the Land Soil Health meeting on April 10 in Story City. Schutte is coordinator for Women Caring for the Land, Food and Agriculture Network located in Clear Lake.
“Whether you have two or 2,000 acres, soil health is the foundation for successful farming,” she said.
The Women Caring for the Land program began with the group sitting in a “learning circle” of tables to facilitate conversation and sharing of information. There was lots of sharing by participants describing their interest in soil health.
“I’m so happy to be here and learn more about implementing conservation projects on my 89 acres,” said one participant who owns land south of Ames.
Women own or co-own half the land in Iowa.
“Women have the will to make conservation changes on the land, which are important for the farmland heritage in Iowa,” said Schutte. “Women may have different values than men who farm. Lots of men have conservation ethics which is seen in the farms. Women might be more likely to make some changes on her land to keep two acres in marshland so she can chase frogs with her grandchildren.”
“Men have been charged with the responsibility for decades to pass on a monetary heritage to their offspring,” she added.
Much of the morning’s introductions included discussion and encouragement of women being active in various county commissions and river health organizations.
“Women may look at other aspects of farmland heritage,” Schutte said. “We may have more freedom to plan differently.”
Participants were from all over the nation.
Loyce Archer-Dunbar owns land in central Iowa, but lives in Florida.
“I am here to learn how to talk to my tenants about making some changes to the land, like CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) acres,” she said. “My tenants don’t always agree with my ideas, so I want to help them learn about conservation.”
Discussions about inheritance taxes and keeping the land in the family were common themes.
“Dad began terracing when that first was introduced in Iowa,” a woman from the Iowa Falls area said. “Those need a lot of work, but we are focusing on setting up a trust to pass on the land to my grandkids.”
“The land means a lot to me,” she added. “This keeps my mind active and that’s why I’m here to learn.”
Helga Offenburger, with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, helps land owners set up wildlife habitats on their land.
“I have the best job in the world,” Offenburger said with a smile. “I understand the hard conversations about land and conservation use from my family’s experiences.”
Some of the women grew up on farms and others were raised in cities. Each participant stated a desire to improve her land with wind breaks and better soil health.
“We partner with the Young Farmer Program since none of our children want to farm the land,” shared another farmer from central Iowa.
The USDA offers a Young Farmers Program, while Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has a Beginning Farmer Center in Urbandale that matches beginning and experienced farmers.
Chris Henning, from western Iowa, said she never wanted to live on a farm.
“You couldn’t make me leave the farm now,” she said with a chuckle. “We have four creeks running through the land and we sit on along the river. About 50 percent of the land is in CRP.”
Henning said she uses buffer strips and that highly erodable land is in prairie.
“I crop share with another farmer who has young children,” Henning said. “This last year we had 200-bushel corn and 60-bushel beans. This morning I saw eagles, deer, mink and geese. The kids will have to pry me off the farm.”
Laura Merrick, who has a large garden in her home of Ames, attended the meeting because she’s interested in a change.
“As a citizen scientist I have monitored water quality in Iowa for about 20 years,” she said. “This year, I received a grant through Iowa State to monitor water quality with community partners. I also teach two classes at Iowa State University in the distance learning master’s degree program. I would call myself an aspiring conservationist.”
Wright County Extension Field Agronomist Angie Rieck-Hinz shared her expertise in field days with participants.
“We offer programs to women around the state to help them get comfortable with agronomy,” Rieck-Hinz said. “Our goal is to empower women and expand knowledge of farming.”
Some participants arrived for the soil health day with questions.
“I’m wondering what options I have for neighboring farmers plowing up the waterways that have filled my farm pond,” a central Iowa farming woman said. “It is now filling with silt.”
Also present for the day were conservation field partners speaking about cost share details with attendees wanting conservation advice. Business cards and phone numbers were exchanged throughout the day.
Before the morning was over, specialists with USDA and NRCS had chatted with the woman requesting help with her pond.
“There are grants available through NRCS for you today,” added co-presenter Jean Ells, of E Resources Group in Webster City. “That is part of the funding deal for this meeting is you have access to NRCS for a guidance in creating a plan.”
Julie Falcon, National Resources Conservation Service’s conservation consultant, will make a conservation plan up with a participant of the meeting April 10.
“I will get an aerial map and go over everything with you to put a plan together,” Falcon said. “I follow NRCS specifications like, ‘what do you want to see, when do you want to see that, and how will you do it.'”
“This isn’t pie in the sky,” she added. “This is a working plan that includes dates. Pheasants Forever, Soybean, and others offer help with water quality. I can share that with anyone interested. I have access to a lot of information, but the best plan is to see your land and soil personally.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have one acre or 1,000. The process is the same.”
The class, lunch and tour were funded by NRCS, Prairie Rivers of Iowa, and Women, Food and Agriculture Network.
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