Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Business

March 19, 2012

AG FOCUS: Females are making a mark in ‘manly’ profession

SHIPSHEWANA — It’s true that most farmers are men. That doesn’t mean there weren’t generations of women who played a key role in helping support farming.

But times are changing and more than 120 women at the 11th Annual Midwest Women in Agriculture Conference will attest to that change.

“Thirty percent of farmers today are women,” said Melissa Gerber, member and director of administration at Tom Farms in Leesburg. “We’re breaking through the glass ceiling.”

Gerber and Cassi Rowland, the assistant director of administration, attended the weekend conference in Shipshewana Feb. 29 through March 1.

The conference, put on by the Purdue Kosciusko County Extension Office, offered sessions to address the personal, family and farm issues that face women in agriculture today.

Gerber, who had also recently attended an Executive Women in Agriculture Conference in Chicago, found the weekend sessions beneficial.

“The session on crop insurance was worth the entire weekend,” Gerber said. “It just all finally made sense to me.”

Even though Gerber grew up on a farm, she spent years after time in college working in the International Department of CTB Inc. in Milford. Her mother, who kept the books at Tom Farms, taught her daughter her skills 16 years ago. Gerber’s been back on the family farm ever since.

“We used to have 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans, and seed corn,” Gerber said. “Now we farm 16,000 acres and we have 20 fulltime employees.”

She sees a lot more women becoming involved in all aspects of agriculture.

“I think families used to look to their sons to farm,” she said. “Today there are so many women making all the key decisions. The whole family can now be involved.”

A key role

Technology has played an important role in bringing women into farming during the last few decades.

“Farming is so technical now. Everything is computerized,” Gerber said. “The tractors have GPS and there are hundreds of computer programs that are an integral part of every aspect of farming. There just aren’t any limits anymore. Women can do so much.”

Rowland agrees. She attended many of the sessions offered at the conference and found the weekend to be informational and great place to network.

“Don’t rule out women when working with farm business,” Rowland said. “We need more programs like this. It really grows a support system.”

Cynthia Adam, a New Paris farmer, also attended the conference and found several sessions to be very helpful.

“My degree is in food science and nutrition, so I found the estate planning very informational,” Adam said. “It’s like a second layer of education and an opportunity for great networking.”

Adam also said she found the conference to expand her education base with practical information that she could apply readily to help make her life easier.

And while the ideas learned could make her life easier, it certainly won’t make it any less busy.

She and her husband John, along with four children ranging in ages from 11 to 19, operate Knollbrook Farm, a modified rotationally graze dairy farm with 70 Holstein and Jersey cows.

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