December 1, 2021
Being a woman in agriculture hasn’t made my work life much different than working in any other industry. Yes, there are far more male farmers when you look around the room at most meetings, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of women working in the agriculture field.
According to USDA’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, 1.2 million women account for 36% of the nation’s ag producers. This number is on the rise, up 27% from the 2012 census. About 1 million farms have one or more women responsible for the decision-making on the farm, while just 9% of farms in the U.S are entirely run by women.
However, a problem with this census and its findings is that it leaves out so many amazing women who dedicate their time, efforts and lives to the agriculture industry. Extension, education, agronomy, research, sales, marketing media, technology — all of these fields within agriculture are full of women who bring their skills and talents to the agriculture table.
Women in ag leadership
Thinking of some of the highest professionals I work with in the agriculture industry, many of them are women. If you look to commodity groups, Farm Bureau chapters, Extension and private companies within the industry, you’ll see women in many top leadership roles.
Agriculture seems to carry the stigma of being a “boys club” by many, where women don’t fit in. I’ve never experienced any prejudice for being a young woman at an ag event. While I know I’m lucky (and a little biased) to say that I work with the best group of agriculturalists and producers in our region, some don’t have the same luxury.
One woman shares the prejudice she’s received as a beginning rancher in California. Markie Hageman is also a teacher, digital creator and ag advocate who discusses her struggles finding a seat at the cattlemen’s table on her social media pages for “Girls Eat Beef Too.”
Through humorous videos and content, Hageman shares the highs and lows she experiences as a first-generation female rancher. While she says she’s received encouragement and support from many in agriculture, it’s clear to see there’s some room for improvement to make sure ranchers like Hageman are treated like any other beginning rancher.
Courtenay Dehoff is the creator of the #FancyLadyCowgirl movement, and works as a host and speaker to encourage women from all walks of life to embrace themselves as “fancy lady cowgirls” and be their own people in the agriculture industry.
DeHoff breaks boundaries in the rodeo and Western world by including herself into stereotypically male-focused industries, such as the bucking bull business and stock contracting. This movement she created helps encourage women from all walks of life to find their place within ag, or any other industry, and live as their true selves, without concern of criticism or notions of not fitting in.
I believe there’s room for everyone at agriculture’s table. From first-generation farmers, young and beginning farmers and ranchers, and female or minority farmers to the been-there-done-that producers, we can all learn and benefit from one another.
It’s clear that there is no shortage of women working in agriculture. But no matter what anyone says about women in ag, for us it’s just another day at work.
About the Author(s)
Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress
Sarah McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture communications, along with minors in animal science and Extension education. She is working on completing her master’s degree in Extension education and youth development, also at NDSU. In her undergraduate program, she discovered a love for the agriculture industry and the people who work in it through her courses and involvement in professional and student organizations.
After graduating college, Sarah worked at KFGO Radio out of Fargo, N.D., as a farm and ranch reporter. She covered agriculture and agribusiness news for North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Most recently she was a 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D., teaching, coordinating and facilitating youth programming in various project areas.
She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, serving on the executive board for North Dakota Agri-Women, and as a member in American Agri-Women, Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.
In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, enjoys running with her cattle dog Ripley, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.
Sarah is originally from Grand Forks, N.D., and currently resides in Fargo.
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