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.
Over the years
Besides having chickens and an apiary, the Adam’s ventured into agri-tourism nine years ago.
“We have a 10-acre corn maze with six miles of paths,” Adam said. “We create our own designs each year and are responsible for their set up and maintenance.”
In addition the Adam’s have created a farm petting area, along with a pumpkin patch, and a chance for visitors to try out a pumpkin slingshot and a new 50-foot slide. Over the years they’ve hosted school, church and business groups from September through the end of October.
Adam, who grew up on a row crop and hog farm, had always been interested in livestock and was hoping to have a career in farming. She has seen huge changes for women in agriculture.
“Thirty years ago in Future Farmers of America, there was maybe one girl involved,” Adam said. “Today 50 to 75 percent of FFA members are girls.”
All four of Adam’s children help to run the family farm.
“You help if you want to or not. If you don’t work, you don’t get fed!” laughed Adam. “Seriously, all the kids are very helpful.”
Her oldest son is a freshman in the College of Agriculture at Purdue majoring in Agricultural Systems Management.
And while farming still a male-dominated field, Adams says statistics show that change is coming.
“At least in the animal science program at Purdue University, 60 percent of the students are women,” Adam said. “Women are taking a much more active role in all parts of farming,” Adam said. “They are managing operations and are taking the lead role in decision making.”