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Panel of women farmers addresses ag’s challenges, opportunities

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WOMEN SPEAK: Four Midwest farmers shared their experiences Sept. 22 with the challenges and opportunities they face at the 10th Women in Agribusiness Summit in Minneapolis.
Four farmers shared their experiences Sept. 22 at the 10th Women in Agribusiness Summit in Minneapolis.

Four Midwest farmers shared their experiences with challenges and opportunities they face on Sept. 22 at the 10th Women in Agribusiness Summit in Minneapolis.

Panel participants were Rochelle Krusemark, Krusemark Farms Inc., Trimont, Minn.; Courtney Heller, True North Jerky and Foods and Gottlieb Farm, Chelsea, Mich.; Patty Mann, Mann Farms, Jackson Center, Ohio; and Amanda Severson, Grand View Beef, Clarion, Iowa.

The moderated panel addressed a wide range of topics, from working with advisers to how women in agribusiness could support one another. The following offers a synopsis of the 44-minute discussion.

Working with advisers

Mann provided a lengthy list of professionals that she relies on at her farm: banker, accountant, tax adviser, agronomist, seed products specialist, grain marketer, mechanic, precision ag adviser, crop insurance agent and investment adviser.

“A whole team of people make up our network,” she said. With farm employees, she wears the human resource specialist hat on her farm.

Krusemark gave a shoutout to third-party consultants and university Extension specialists.

“We really appreciate that third-party consultant and expert to give us an opinion and not try to sell something,” she said. “I want someone that’s going to be impartial.” Krusemark wants honesty, too, citing an example of bagged seed prices. She learned how the same seed could be in several different bags and the price per hybrid ranged from $25 to $52 per bag.

“I want an adviser to tell me what seed I am really buying,” she said.

Being new to the farming business, Severson said that beginning farmer program opportunities have been helpful to her. She has tapped the local USDA Farm Service Agency office for information and advice.

Another key resource: Her in-laws who farm.

“We rely heavily on my in-laws daily, and they are so great about gently pushing us in a direction to avoid disaster,” Severson said.

Heller noted that their community, in a way, also serves in an advising capacity. And in turn, farmers can share what they do.

“Incorporating our community in our interdependence [on one another] has been key,” Heller said. Whether interacting with others at Girl Scouts or the library, or when picking up kids from school, she said talking about your farm helps bring the community together.

Encountering ag misconceptions

Heller shared a recent exchange she had with a doctor as she interviewed her as a potential new primary care provider.

“Halfway through the interview, she suggested I switch to a vegan diet, and that farmers are hiding something,” Heller said. “I was like, ‘It’s time to mention I’m a farmer and I own a meat shop.’” The doctor quickly switched gears and affirmed how she was comfortable with people making their own choices. Heller then asked the doctor where she got her information.

“And she said, ‘I love to watch Netflix,’” Heller said, adding, “We have a lot of work to do.”

As co-owner, with her husband, of a large row crop farm, Mann noted that the farm has numerous seed company signs in its fields, identifying the crop variety planted. Farmers know why those signs are there. However, many do not.

“A lot of people think that the name on that sign owns that field,” she said. So, some educating needs to be done. Mann and her husband, along with their adult children, operate their family farm.

Severson expressed frustration with news sources that report negative stories about agriculture.

“It doesn’t seem like I can go to any main media source without finding out that the fact I am eating a burger is horrible for the environment. That is so misinformed. We have to work together as an entire industry to change that knowledge,” she said, adding, “I think there is a misperception that because I raise grass-fed beef that I don’t agree with corn-fed beef. That’s not right. There is a place for all of us here … it’s key to know that as farmers, we are all working together and not food-shaming anybody.”

Using technology

On her crop, hog and beef farm, Krusemark said the farm’s own nutrient prescriptions are written, thanks to her son, who enjoys the challenge. They take crop tissue samples and only apply nutrients needed. Precision ag technology provides yield maps that they layer with other data and analyze.

“Winter is time for data analysis on our farm,” she said.

With harvest in mind, Mann shared how their combines, running in the same field with 40-foot headers, share GPS coordinates. So, when they finish a field, one 40-foot row is left to harvest, allowing for one last efficient pass.

How others can help

When asked how other women and vendors at the agribusiness summit could help them with current challenges, farmer panel responses ranged widely.

Krusemark offered improved seed genetics and ongoing research. She would like to see more soybean varieties with resistance to soybean cyst nematode.

“We need something other than Peking variety soybeans,” she said, adding that farmers need crop protection products, too.

Severson stressed the need for collaboration from farm to fork.

“My [producer] friends and I feel that we are advocating as much as can, and messages are not getting across,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of resources. Collaboration across the entire supply chain is what we need.”

Mann would like to see mental health resources more broadly shared and offered. The last few years of growing seasons have been challenged by weather and then COVID-19.

“In 2019, we had a wet spring. That was the first year ever we only got half the corn planted, and 25% of our total acres went unplanted,” she said. “That is hard to look at all year. You are growing a good crop of weeds, and those have to be managed as well. Costs are still there even if you don’t have a crop to harvest.”

Then COVID-19 hit in 2020, prompting concerns about employee health during planting and harvest. Thankfully, that growing season came through fine, she said.

“Between markets and weather — our two biggest challenges — we have no control over,” she added. “Places like this [conference] get us off the farm and give us a chance to recharge.”

 

 

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