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Women: The (often) unsung heroes of agriculture


Women have always been integral to agriculture, so the glass ceilings here look slightly different. They’re filled with open spaces, barns, cattle, and crops. And even in a world where sexism sometimes persists, cows and corn couldn’t even begin to define the term. In this world, sweat equity often pays dividends, but recognition is lacking. 

I started out writing this article trying to think of other women who might share a story akin to mine — I wanted to find a thread that I could latch onto to help me make sense of my own story as a woman in agriculture. I couldn’t think of any. It can be a lonely industry. 

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But then, it dawned on me. Our stories are different, but every woman I know involved in the agricultural sector brings something extraordinary to the table. And, while our experiences are all our own, all are modern-day heroes.

Fifty-six percent of all farms have at least one key, female, decision maker. Meanwhile, women make up 43 percent of the global agricultural labor workforce. Many women weigh in on all of the farm’s key decisions while pulling your own weight on the farm or ranch, working in town, raising a family, or working in support roles to ensure that the folks in the field can keep going. And, many of you do this amid trite, patriarchal, uphill slogs. Every one of these roles matters, not because the future is female (it isn’t male either), but because the future is everyone, and it will take us all to continue feeding the world. 

Women in support roles: Production agriculture wouldn’t exist without you. 

Women who take care of the home, deliver meals, run errands, rock babies, and shuttle kids to and from school and activities, they’re integral to the operations they help support. Women who may run the tractor, drive the grain cart, or work cattle are shouldering a variety of roles, all while raising the next generation of farmers and ranchers. My hat is off to you. But, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all — I know, I’ve tried. And, because of you, more of it all can get done. 

And, do we mention that you make sure that all of it gets done (at some point) even when water lines freeze and break. Even when the washing machine goes down (thanks, hard water). Even when nobody will take their dang boots off during calving season? You. You get it done. 

Some of you chose this world, and others were born into it. Some of you chose a partner who sometimes prefers farming over family. But, overwhelmingly, I read about the value that agriculture brings to your plate and to your family’s lives, largely thanks to you. 

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Women who work in town: Most farms, and ranches, couldn’t run without you. 

The women who help to support their families financially and agricultural operations, who keep the bottom line in the black, and maybe even ensure that their relationships stay intact by not working on the farm and ranch — wow, what a job. Some of you laugh when the auto insurance company asks if you drive 15,000 miles per year. You’re on the road before the sun comes up — and long after.

In between, you’re teaching, handling others’ finances, and working in the medical field; maybe some of you are lawyers, politicians, postal workers, or even just doing whatever you can to get by. Some of you might even support your family and the farm financially all while advocating for agriculture professionally. And you sure wouldn’t mind grabbing a part or two on your way home, would you? 

Part-time farmers: You keep the ‘profits’ and the products flowing. 

Does the ranch or farm need some help? Whether it’s seasonal work during harvest, driving with flashers behind a combine, or why not driving the combine? Women are out there getting their hands dirty in their fields. Who still shows up when the farm can’t or won’t hire a full-time employee (or a female)? You. Need an extra hand at branding? Yes, you’re there — even though you may have helped prepare lunch before and get to help clean it all up afterward. 

And, if you live on that operation, I’ll bet many of you will get to give directions sometimes, even if you don’t get to wear the boss’ hat. All the more power to you — your insight and experience are recognized. 

Image by Heidi Crnkovic

Full-time women in agriculture, you bring so much to the table — it wouldn’t be full without you.

For those whose operations rely in large part on your work, who feed their families by working on the farm, whose crops or cattle pay the bills, it’s a hard job. But you’re helping to provide for the world. Whether you’re working to make someone else’s operation successful or building on the success (and sometimes hardships) of past generations, may your work build on the future success of coming generations. 

Are people surprised when you tell them that you farm? Let them be. Are you as strong as a man? Some of you might be. Others of you are innovative enough not to let physical strength become an obstacle. And sometimes, you’re humble enough to know when to ask for help. 

Like so many of you, I’ve found that agriculture can be a disheartening and isolating life. Rewarding, passion-filled, and even lovely at times, but for every moment you’ll share with someone, there are 10 more that you’ll spend alone. People will sometimes doubt you, and at times, you may challenge yourself. Babies (human or animal) will make your heart tender — while the hours, days, and years will make your hands tough.

Image courtesy of Sara Neudorf

Being a woman who farms, it’s hard work, but it’s good work. And, it can be a good life. If you aren’t already being recognized for your contributions — I see you. If you have kids, and they don’t already, they’ll soon see you too, because it’s going to take us all to keep moving agriculture forward. And, thanks to you, we’re on our way. 

AGDAILY AFT DIversity in Agriculture

Heidi Crnkovic, is the Associate Editor for AGDAILY. She is a New Mexico native with deep-seated roots in the Southwest and a passion for all things agriculture.

This article was published in partnership with American Farmland Trust.

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