“When you are doing something you love, you aren’t looking for anything more.”
This sentiment encompasses Jean Johnson’s passion for and commitment to the agriculture industry. And that commitment to agriculture has led her to being honored as “Ag Woman of the Year” for 2021 by the Sigma Alpha chapter at North Dakota State University.
Johnson grew up on a farm near York, N.D., where her fondest memory is riding on the open cab combine with her father. “Barley chaff would be flying in my face, but it didn’t matter because I was with my dad,” she says.
As her biggest influence, her father instilled in her the importance of honesty, integrity and hard work, which she has carried with her into all aspects of her life, she says.
Fast-forward and Johnson has had a robust career. She started out working in retail before transitioning into a marketing role with Hallmark Cards in Kansas City, Mo. After moving back to North Dakota, she began working for the University of North Dakota, helping to start the North Dakota Interactive Video Network, which was the first form of interactive distance education.
Today, she works as a marketing communication consultant for AgCountry Farm Credit Services. She has been in her role for over 25 years and was key in implementing the Farm Credit Fellows Program with NDSU.
ROOM FOR ALL: Women “have always been a part of agriculture, but now we are venturing into different roles,” Jean Johnson says.
Along with being a North Dakota Agri-Women member, she has been a National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA) member since 1997 and served on the North Dakota 4-H Foundation board for nine years. She also has served on the Minnesota FFA Foundation board since 2013, taking on the role of board chair in 2020.
Johnson describes the agriculture industry as exciting: “That’s the way I look at the agriculture arena. There are exciting opportunities ahead for young women who are looking for a profession in agriculture.”
She says young women wanting to become involved in the industry should reach out to ag professionals to learn more about available positions, and attend ag shows and career fairs to find out more about companies in the ag industry. She also says that a Dale Carnegie or parliamentary procedure course would be helpful.
Johnson also advises to seize opportunities, even if they scare you, because it’s a chance to grow. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she stresses.
In 2019, she was offered board chair for the Minnesota FFA Foundation but turned it down because she felt unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure and the position was outside her comfort zone.
In 2020, she was offered the position again and accepted. “I’m so glad that I did. I’ve met so many new people, made so many connections and, hopefully, made a difference in the lives of FFA members,” Johnson says.
Women belong in ag
As for hardships that women may face as professionals in the agriculture industry? Johnson says she doesn’t see women as a separate segment.
“We have always been a part of agriculture, but now we are venturing into different roles,” she says. “Women have proven that they can do pretty much anything a guy can do. They have a unique sense of business and have already elevated to very important roles in agriculture.”
Johnson says she has not faced any hardships personally as a woman in agriculture, although she knows others have. She says she has been happy holding her positions in agriculture because they gave her the opportunity to branch off and give back by serving youth in agriculture.
“It hasn’t always been within my job and has taken my personal time, but it’s what I wanted to do because it’s my passion” in helping youth, she explains.
In fact, Johnson says her favorite part of the agriculture industry is engaging with young people, whether they be students at NDSU, in the NAMA program, in 4-H or FFA, or young producers who are just starting on the farm.
Johnson says her proudest accomplishment is her work done in developing the AgCountry Farm Credit Fellows Program with NDSU. “It was a number of years in the making,” she says. “To work with these bright, young students and hear about what the program has done for them tells me we are on the right track.”
In the coming years, Johnson is most excited to see the innovative ways that technology will further the industry’s productivity, as well as the ways that social media can have an impact.
“Social media has become a real springboard for the content and knowledge that businesses and individuals can give, as well as gain,” Johnson says. “Using it to connect with those outside of agriculture to share the real stories is key.”
Johnson firmly believes that everyone should know the real story of agriculture. “Farmers and ranchers are extremely good stewards of the land and provide the best possible environment for their animals,” she says.
Harris is a senior studying management communications at North Dakota State University and writes from Fargo, N.D.