Women playing important roles in all sectors of agriculture

From the USDA report on Women in Agriculture this past April, to the Missouri State Fair’s “Chick’s Dig It” theme in August, women have a growing presence in agriculture and are being noticed. More women today own farms and are more involved in agribusiness than in years past.

“Now a day, more women are wanting to be in agriculture, and the female statistics in agriculture are rising all of the time,” said Leah Maloney, a sales representative trainer at Syngenta.

According to the 2002 USDA Census of Agriculture, women owned 786,480 farms. In the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture reported women owned 942,035. In five years, women owned 155,555 more farms. (Editor’s note: the 2007 Census is the last one published at this date. The 2012 census publication has been delayed due to the recent work stoppages, according to the USDA .)

An Economic Research Study done by USDA shows younger women are entering farming faster than older women are leaving.

While the majority of farms are still owned by men, the increase shows change in women’s roles in the agriculture industry, both on farms and in agribusiness.

Agribusiness is also a growing environment for women.

“Today, companies are looking to hire and promote females employees,” said Jena Sowers, a district manager for Kraft Foods. “With 80 percent of all consumer packaged goods purchasing decisions being made by females, industries are recognizing that their employees need to mirror that of their target consumer in order to better market their products. Diversity is a key factor in determining a businesses success.”

Sowers said she believes that women are critical to agribusiness because of their purchasing power and increased role in making the everyday decisions for their households.

“While women are making these purchasing decisions, they are making marketing decisions as well,” Sowers said. “Employers recognize how critical female employees are in knowing what their consumers want. Today, women are moving into leadership/management positions and playing an important role in their company or family operation. Historically they might have filled more of a support type role.”

U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan stated in her latest article, “Women Farmers: One Million Strong,” that there is serious momentum behind the impact of women in agriculture.

Merrigan states that women are driving the development of local and regional food systems across the country and they are leaders in livestock production.

Recently, women who attended a program at MU called “Pearls of Production: Women in Agriculture,” learned more about livestock production through hands-on training opportunities .

Marcia Shannon, one of the leaders of Pearls of Production and an animal science professor at MU, said that the number of women in livestock production is rapidly increasing.

“One reason for creating ‘Pearls of Production’ is that if you look at the demographics of the undergraduate students in animal science or veterinary science, it is about 70 to 80 percent female,” Shannon said. “Those women are going to be in livestock production or agriculture somewhere.”

While the trend of females entering a male-dominated field is important, the reaction of the males is important too.

Sowers acknowledges that her experience — of women being largely involved and treated as equals — might not be the norm. Leah Maloney, a sales representative trainer at Syngenta, said she previously worked in a world where women were definitely looked down on as a minority.

Maloney’s past job, at Pfizer Animal Health, was a little different than her current job at Syngenta.

“While working at Pfizer, less than 10 percent of the sale representatives were females,” Maloney said. “Now working at Syngenta, about 20 percent of the sales representatives are female. Respect of women in the agriculture field is not 100 percent there, but it is improving.”

Shannon said she agrees with Maloney. She said she has seen the agricultural field as prominently male dominant up until now.

“In college, someone was always telling me that I was going to be in a male dominant field” Shannon said. “It never really bothered me though, because I had great mentors. I also think most men will accept the fact that females are going to be involved in the work place because they do bring diversity and a different perspective.”

While numbers of women in the agriculture workforce are not even with the numbers of men, the overall population of women in agriculture is increasing.

In October 2013, the Second Annual Women in Agribusiness Summit was held in Minneapolis, Minn. They conducted a poll, and found that nearly 44 percent of people in agribusiness are women.

Maloney, Shannon and Sowers all said they believe there is a lot of promise in agriculture’s future.

Sowers said while the agriculture industry sometimes has ups and downs, that holds true across most industries.

“The thing about agriculture, though, is that people are always going to have to eat, and people are always going to have to provide food,” Sowers said. “The agriculture world is always going to be thriving and growing.”

Allison Wepler

About the Author Allison Wepler

Allison Wepler is from Liberty, Mo., which is north of Kansas City. She is very excited about the possibilities agriculture and Mizzou have to offer her. Attending Mizzou runs in the family for Wepler. Her father played football for the Mizzou Tigers when he was a college student. In high school, Wepler was active in FCCLA, Broadcasting, Student Council, dance and cheer. Wepler does not have an agricultural background, so being a student in CAFNR has opened up a huge amount of opportunities for succeeding in the adult world and finding a satisfying career in agriculture. She decided to major in science and agricultural journalism because she wanted to be a part of the business or journalism world. “It is an important thing that we are going to need in the world for a long time,” Wepler said concerning her choice to focus on agriculture within the journalism world.