Women Are Changing the Ag Landscape, Part II

Franklin County Iowa farmer April Hemmes with her daughter Ruth

As farms become larger, the need becomes greater for production agriculture to be managed like a business.  Technical expertise becomes as critical – if not more so – so than physical strength when it comes to running an agricultural enterprise.

“What separates top farms is timing,” says Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M economist and director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP).  “Those most successful farm businesses are those with the best timing: when they entered the business, when and how they expanded, if and when to scale back, where to reallocate resources and how much grain to sell and when.”

The business side of agriculture requires ongoing attention, and that’s why Klinefelter says more women are managing farms today than ever before.  He’s seeing more couples, especially young couples, view their farming operations as a partnership.

Today’s husband-wife or father-daughter farming partnerships look different than they did just one or two generations ago as women’s roles in agriculture have evolved.  Based on observations through TEPAP, Klinefelter says women today are likely to fill these key roles within the family’s farming operation:

  1. Data analysis – Farmers currently have more data available than they can manage, which is creating opportunities and even income streams for those who can analyze where their money is best spent.  For example, one farmer’s daughter went to college for statistics.  She returned to the farm upon graduation and is now analyzing input costs.  She’s been so successful in helping determine plant population and fertilizer rates for her family’s operations that friends and neighbors are tapping into her expertise.  A local “peer group” formed as she works with a group of six or so farmers and shares findings with them.
  2. Site-specific farming – Not all farm ground is created equal.  Different soil types within the same field have different needs for nutrients and seed.  The ability to shift application rates on-the-go is better for the environment and for profitability.  It’s a win-win.
  3. Regulatory compliance – Today’s political environment means we must look beyond the Department of Agriculture and note how other agencies are impacting agriculture.  There are at least six other agencies that will play as much of a role in the success of agriculture as the Farm Bill: Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Labor (DOL) and Homeland Security.
  4. Commodity marketing – Although there is a perception that women manage by emotion, Klinefelter says he seems quite the opposite when it comes to commodity marketing.  Men tend to think of crops or the farm as “their babies” while women aren’t as visceral about the commodities.  Women often take the time to do the homework.  They lock in prices at a profit, without worrying so much about locking in at the all-time high.
  5. Public relations and social marketing – “There’s a huge communication gap” between farmers and the food-eating public,” as USDA Chief Tom Vilsack said during the 2012 Farm Journal Forum.  Consumers are demanding transparency in food production.  With fewer people engaged in food production, the onus falls on farmers to explain their practices.