Great women who are leading agriculture groups in the U.S.

markie hageman


We have seen a rise in the female demographic in agriculture in recent years, with some organizations led completely by women

Strong women leaders are evermore present in modern agriculture. We have seen a rise in the female demographic in recent years, with some organizations led completely by women, such as American Agri-Women and Animal Agriculture Alliance. According to the 2017 Census, the agriculture industry shows more women are directly involved in on-farm operations, about a third of American farmers and ranchers are women, so it makes sense that we are seeing an uptick of female-led organizations in industry.

Women have become highly involved in leadership roles at the local, state and national levels, and have helped to create a more diverse agricultural industry. There are leadership courses and events, like the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Program and Women In Agribusiness Summit, that are geared towards enhancing the skills and knowledge needed to create even more female leaders in the industry!

At the forefront of this are many wonderful women. While it is difficult to list every single woman who has brought her talents to an organization and helped shape a better future for agriculture, we wanted to honor a few good women who are pioneering the future of the industry for generations to come. In no particular order, here are some women who are fearlessly working to promote their industry at the top levels:


1) Holly King — Chair, Almond Board of California

Holly King has been an almond advocate for more than 20 years, a journey initiated by a farm partnership with the Gardiner family, multi-generational almond growers in Kern County, California. Her experience and perspective extend well beyond the orchard, encompassing crop and livestock agriculture, agricultural finance, and public policy work.

Raised on a cattle ranch and farm in Northern California, King developed an understanding of the difficult decisions farmers make every day — financially, operationally and environmentally. After graduating from college with an ag business degree, King went to work for Farm Credit, where she received her initial training that led to a 20-year ag lending career and ended with the development of an ag lending division for Union Bank of California. From there she moved to the nonprofit world.

As director of Agricultural Programs for the Great Valley Center, a Modesto-based nonprofit, King found a way to combine her love of Central Valley farming and policy work. With a grant from the Packard Foundation, she worked to elevate awareness of the importance of farmland and its protection and worked to create an infrastructure that would protect agricultural land through the use of agricultural conservation easements. While at the Great Valley Center, she also convened commodity groups around the growing concept of sustainability, using the sustainable winegrowing practice programs to inform the Center’s design with other commodity groups.

Seeing more synergies between sustainable farming practices, industry transparency and the needs of the public sector, King was drawn to the work being done by the Almond Board.



2) Karolyn Zurn — President, American Agri-Women

Karolyn Zurn farms with her husband, Bill, and two sons in Northwestern Minnesota, where they raise corn, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat. As a Past President of Minnesota Agri-Women, she additionally served four years as American Agri-Women Chair of Government Issues. She has served on many agriculture boards including Minnesota Ag in the Classroom, Northern Crops Institute Council, and Minnesota Soybean Growers. On the Becker County Corn & Soybean Growers, she served as treasurer and government affairs representative. She coordinated the North Dakota Common ground program for four years and most recently she was appointed to Minnesota State FSA Board.



3) Kay Johnson Smith — President and CEO, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Kay Johnson Smith is a native Virginian who has worked professionally with agriculture promotion and education for 25 years. She joined the Alliance as executive director in 1994, and was named president and CEO in 2011. She is a leading advisor to the ag and food industry on farm animal welfare issues, serves as a national spokesperson and has provided hundreds of presentations and media interviews on related matters. She serves as the industry liaison to USDA on farm animal welfare matters and coordinates U.S. agriculture input to international farm animal welfare initiatives, such as those of the World Health Organization for Animals’ (OIE) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Kay regularly works to engage media, government and broader industry stakeholders about the importance of modern animal agriculture and provides strategic guidance to managing activist campaigns. Kay serves on the Virginia Board of Agriculture and is a member of numerous national coalitions and engages frequently with international organizations.



4) Ebony Webber — COO MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences)

Ebony Webber’s journey began in a small rural town in Mississippi. She was first introduced to MANRRS her sophomore year in college by Carl Butler. Although she was an independent member of MANRRS, she never had an active affiliation with the organization. During her last semester in college, I became pregnant with her son. Not only did this turn my world upside down, but school no longer was her main priority. When the real world was about to kick in, bigger obstacles were being placed in front of her. Graduation was right around the corner and she had no plans or possible job opportunities. She began to think she would have to move back to Mississippi, the place that she had worked so hard to leave behind that only offered underpaid salaries and little to no job opportunities. She was disheartened but did not lose hope. She graduated Cum Laude and at the top of the Computer Science and Mathematics department. 

Shortly after moving back to Mississippi and giving birth to her son, Butler contacted her about a possible job opportunity as his assistant at the MANRRS executive office in Memphis, Tennessee. That job opportunity is the reason she is in a position to be such a leader today.Although she was not affiliated with MANRRS through the traditional way of agriculture or natural resources, the organization impacted her life greatly. MANRRS has helped her begin the second journey of her life. It has helped her to grow professionally, as well as build lifelong connections with friends she’s met while employed by the organization. Through MANRRS, she has been exposed to a group of people that believe in helping young, minority students and providing avenues to allow them to be successful. Ebony’s life’s journey has taught her that faith, hard work, and endurance will warrant success. It also has taught her that “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” So, here she is, choosing to give back to an organization that has given so much to her.



5) Karisha Devlin and Doris Mold — Co-CEOs, Annie’s Project

Dr. Karisha Devlin is a Field Specialist in Agricultural Business with University of Missouri Extension. A native of Mississippi, she received a B.S. in Animal Science as well as an M.S. degree in Agribusiness Management from Mississippi State University, and a EdD in Educational Leadership from University of Missouri. Devlin is passionate about educating farm women and has been involved with Annie’s Project sine 2004. She has served on the Annie’s Project National Leadership Team and later, on the Annie’s Project Education for Farm Women Board of Directors. Additionally, Devlin serves as the co-state coordinator for Annie’s Project in Missouri. Her dissertation, “Meeting the Educational Needs of Farm Women: A Case Study of Annie’s Project,” evaluated the effectiveness of Annie’s Project in meeting the educational needs of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois farm women. Devlin is an alum of A LOT (Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow) Class XI. She serves as a board member for the university of Missouri Greenley Research Center Advisory Board, Chair of the Missouri Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority. Past President of the A LOT Board, Secretary/Treasurer of the St. Joseph Parish Improvement Foundation, and Past President of the Knox County Rotary club. Devlin is married to a fifth-generation row crop farmer and has two children who both want to farm one day.

Doris Mold is the President of Sunrise Agricultural Associates, LLC; an agricultural consulting firm. Mold is an agricultural consultant, agricultural economist, educator and advocate, as well as a farm co-owner/operator. Mold’s consulting practice has included a broad range of work, including business and risk management, farm stress, coaching, evaluation, marketing, advocacy, leadership, and organizational development. She teaches Farm and Agri-Business Management at the University of Minnesota for MAST International. Mold served on the Annie’s Project Board of Directors for four years, as well as the American Agri-Women Executive Committee for sic years. Mold was President of the American Agri-Women in 2016 and 2017. Mold has also been co-lead of the Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture “farm stress” project and co-founded the Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference, which is entering its 22nd year. In 2015 she served on an expert national Panel on Statistics on Women and Beginning Farmers for the USDA Census of Agriculture, which is resulted in an increase of nearly 27% in women producers. Mold served six years on the USDA Agricultural Statistics Advisory Committee for NASS and chaired the committee for three years. Mold has served as the Upper Midwest Dairy Industry Association General Manager for the past decade. Previously, Mold worked as an Agricultural Economist at the U of MN and continues to work on research/education projects on a project basis. Additionally, Mold is a member of, serves or has served with a number of other agricultural organizations on a local, state, national and international basis. Mold has an M.S. in Agricultural Economics and a B.S. in Agricultural and Applied Economics, Animal Science and Agricultural Education, all from the U of MN. She did her master’s work on Conflict Resolution in Agriculture-Farmer Lender Mediation in Minnesota.



6) Beth Ford — CEO, Land O’Lakes Inc.

Beth 34-year career spans six industries at seven companies. Since joining Land O’Lakes in 2011, she has held a variety of roles leading the company’s farmer-to-fork business offerings. Today, she is a passionate advocate on behalf of farmers and rural America with the goal of connecting people, particularly in urban areas, to the farmers and rural communities who grow their food.

A native of Sioux City, Iowa, Beth holds a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in business from Columbia University Business School. She also sits on the Board of Directors for the Business Roundtable, the Fortune 150 company PACCAR, Inc., and numerous other industry, non-profit and university boards. Beth has been recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders and Most Powerful Women and was named to Fast Company’s Most Productive People and Best Leaders lists, among other honors.



7) Angelou Ezeilo — CEO & Founder, Greening Youth Foundation

Angelou’s love for the environment stretches far back to when she was a little girl who had the chance to escape the dense urban streets of Jersey City, New Jersey, to summer in upstate New York. After a brief stint of practicing law, it was through her work as a Legal Specialist for the New Jersey State Agriculture and Development Committee that Angelou embarked upon a career as an environmentalist.

Angelou further honed her skills as a Project Manager for the Trust for Public Land (TPL) in both its New Jersey and Georgia offices. In her position, Angelou acquired land for preservation and worked on the New York/New Jersey Highlands Program, Parks for People-Newark, the New York/New Jersey Harbor Program in New Jersey, the Atlanta Beltline and the 20 County Regional Greenspace Initiative in Georgia. While at TPL, Angelou realized the disconnect between the land that was being preserved and the education of people about that preservation—particularly as it related to our next generation. This was the impetus for the Greening Youth Foundation. Under her leadership the Foundation has taken up the charge of providing environmental access to underserved children and young adults through its Public-School Initiative and Youth Conservation Corps programs. Greening Youth Foundation provides its services throughout the country and in Ghana, West Africa.

Angelou is a graduate of Spelman College, Georgia. She received her Juris Doctorate in Law from the University of Florida, College of Law. Angelou is a member of the National Center for Civil and Human Right’s Women in Solidarity Society and South Fork Conservancy boards; Advisory Board Member for the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, The Million Mile Greenway, Inc., Keeping It Wild, Inc., and Outdoor Afro; and sub-committee member of the National Park Service’s 21st Century Conservation Corps.



8) Nancy Barcus — COO, Agriculture Future of America

Nancy Barcus manages AFA’s internal operations, including business and program oversight, while leading the development and evaluation of current and new program initiatives. From 2003 to 2007, Nancy was the program manager for AFA where she coordinated the AFA community scholarship program with rural leaders in eight Midwestern states, coordinated the annual AFA Leaders Conference, and assisted students and organizations in the internship program development process and recruiting. From 2007 to 2009, Nancy managed business development activity with non-profit and trade association client relationships in Washington, D.C., for Adayana, a full-service consulting firm. She also served as a business analyst to Adayana’s government solution design team. Nancy returned to AFA in 2009 and has held a variety of roles.

Nancy holds Bachelor of Science degrees in plant science and agricultural education leadership and communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Nancy currently serves on the boards of the Agriculture Council of America (ACA) and Centurion Alumni Association.



9) Sophie Ackoff — Co-Executive Director, National Young Farmers Coalition

Sophie Ackhoff has mobilized young farmers and their supporters for policy change since 2012 and helped lead the Coalition to win historic investments for young farmers in the 2018 Farm Bill. She is a member of U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado’s Agriculture Advisory Committee and speaks nationally and internationally on young farmers issues, including as a representative of the United States at the 2019 International Young Farmer Summit in Paris. Sophie has been named one of 25 Leaders in Food and Agriculture to Watch in 2019 and Jewish Week’s 36 under 36, an award for emerging leaders from across denominations and professions who have demonstrated unique initiative, creativity and leadership. Sophie studied Biology and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan University and has farmed on several vegetable farms in the Hudson Valley of New York. When Sophie’s not working with our farmers and staff, she enjoys running with her cattle dog mix, Sutter.



10) Jennifer Sirangelo — President and CEO, National 4-H Council

Jennifer Sirangelo is a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world. She leads National 4-H Council in its mission to increase investment and participation in high-quality 4-H positive youth development programs.

Sirangelo joined Council in 2006 to grow support for America’s largest youth development organization. Council is the non-profit partner to the nation’s 4-H movement, supporting leadership development for nearly six million young people through diverse and inclusive programs in agriculture, science, health and civic engagement by way of alliances with America’s philanthropic sector.

In 2017, Sirangelo, who is currently leading the largest brand and alumni activation initiative in 4-H history, the Grow True Leaders Campaign, was named to Fast Company’s annual list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business. A Missouri native, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and political science from William Jewell College, a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse University and attended St. Peter’s College at Oxford University. As an undergraduate, she was recognized as a Harry S. Truman Scholar.

Sirangelo is a member of the Farm Foundation Round Table, serves on the AgriCorps Board and is an Advisor to the Global 4-H Network Board.



11) Dr. Tammy Gray-Steele — Founder/CEO National Women In Agriculture Association

Dr. Tammy Gray-Steele is an American agricultural specialist, agripreneur, educator, and women and children’s advocate. Born and raised on a farm, she received her secondary education in the rustic and rural community of Wewoka, Oklahoma. Upon graduating high school, Steele left Oklahoma to pursue a dual educational and business career in New York City.

Armed with the legal degree she obtained from New York University Law School, and the requisite legal business experience she acquired on Manhattan’s Wall Street, she returned home to her family farm and started to give back to the Oklahoma rural communities. During that time she was working full-time in the Oklahoma Corporate legal arena, and also devoting time to study for a Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA), Horticulture and Childcare Development Certifications.

On the broader national turf, Steele is a former USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Advisory Main Council Member. Additionally, she had the rare honor of being appointed by President Barack Obama’s administration as a distinguished USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Advisory Councilwoman, serve on USDA Grant Panels, and a USDA Strategic Action Team Leader. Steele serves on various scholarship committees that were instituted for the educational empowerment of youth. In addition, she offers valuable support to the Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce, apart from volunteering on various rural Chamber of Commerce boards.

Steele has embarked upon a personal crusade to develop good character among women and children. She established the National Women In Agriculture Association in 2008. Since that time, she has employed the powerful and influential instrumentality of NWIAA to pursue her agenda of sustainable development in America’s agricultural sector. To this end, in January 2014, Steele opened NWIAA’s first Sustainable Agriculture Academy in the United States, located on the Eastside of the Oklahoma City Metro Area, and in close proximity to the city’s largest African American population. It was in the light of this that Steele was recognized at the White House in February 2014, for leading the country in efforts to save and educate America’s youth using environmental and innovative agriculture-based sustainable best practices.

In the spring of 2013, she was awarded a humanitarian honorary doctorate for exemplary performance as one of the most influential agro-business community developers among her generation in the United States. Steele has received awards from Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Conservation District Cooperatives Department and Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, and Tuskegee University and other educational institutions in genuine appreciation for her support of various economic empowerment entrepreneurship programs. She has written testimonial articles with New York Magazine and other Agriculture Journals.



12) Marji Guyler-Alaniz — President and Founder, FarmHer

In 2013, Marji Guyler-Alaniz had just left her job in corporate agriculture and started a photo project titled FarmHer, capturing women working on the farm. She wasn’t the only one interested in updating the image of agriculture, and others began to follow the movement.

FarmHer quickly grew into a place where stories are shared and women are not only recognized but feel a sense of inspiration and community. Today the business consists of various entities, all shining a light on women in agriculture.

When she is not answering phone calls, at a photo shoot, filming the next television episode, or managing all aspects of FarmHer, she can be found in her home state of Iowa hanging out with her husband and two kids.



Markie Hageman lives in California and is an agribusiness graduate from Fort Hays State University. She is the Communications Coordinator for California Rangeland Trust and is an avid agriculture advocate. Her AGDAILY articles can be found here.

Sponsored Content on AGDaily
The views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of AGDAILY.