Farmers are very independent. Good thing I chose this profession because I am an extremely independent person. I am sure Greg would agree there is good and bad to that quality! So much of our business is basically “just us” with our decisions. I would dare say most farmers got into farming for the science of it. Being outdoors, planting the seed, caring for it over the season, then harvesting and hopefully earning the rewards of a job well done. Then it is hunting season, right? Well yes, but there is so much to do between harvest and planting and these tasks aren’t any farmer’s favorite. Year end financial statements, marketing the remaining amount of the crop, analyzing equipment needs, reviewing the prior crop and planning for the next. The list goes on and on and this is why so many farmers spend many hours in front of a computer or discussing issues with their partners during the winter months. Because most farms are dynamic in their ownership, location, mix of crops etc no two are exactly alike or can be compared. At times we feel out there on our own in finding enough information to make informed decisions. To add to the problem, there is the competitive nature of the independent entrepreneur.
Many years ago I attended a class hosted by Texas A&M called The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers. It is by far the best educational series about farm management I have attended since college. It was full of practical information to operate our farm. I would recommend it to anyone farming or ranching with any size operation. Learn more about the program here.
I headed out to Austin, TX where the class was held that year not knowing any other participants. I have done this type of thing several times in my life. I actually attended a 3 week long high school scholar experience after my junior year in high school in Newton, PA. It was good to get this country girl out of the sticks and into an urban area. I learned so much then too – but I digress! After a day or so at TEPAP class I was happy to team up with a couple of women who were there for the 2nd session. Thankfully one of them was very outgoing (I find it hard to reach out to strangers but once I get to know you watch out!) and invited me to eat with them. They shared with me their idea of forming an all women agricultural peer group. They envisioned this group meeting twice a year to learn about each other’s operation in differing areas of the country. We would also get down deep in the weeds (HA!) about any topic we needed to discuss in our operations. We would share ideas and give support to one another as we managed and transitioned our operations. There would be complete disclosure and confidentiality for all members and operations in the group.
Now this idea was certainly one I had never heard of before, especially in southern agriculture where, bless your heart, we would never talk about such things with anyone much less a stranger. I pondered their idea and finished the class that week. During the sessions I felt intimidated by the level of professionalism and intelligence in the room. There were some outstanding operations being represented. Ideas were flowing and I took note after note to remember this awesome experience. One thing I had decided before the class was over was that I did not want to leave there and stop learning and growing in my profession and as a person.
Fortunately, the group did come together and I agreed to be a member. We began meeting as a group in 2014. The core group has changed a bit but we have finally settled on a great mix of people and operations. Each summer we visit an operation and we learn about the host farm and the agriculture in that area. Our winter meeting is more business focused and is at a mutually agreed upon site. We also meet once a month by Zoom call to stay updated on each other. We are from Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio and grow crops such as alfalfa, barley, corn, cotton, peanuts, rice, soybeans and wheat to cattle and even some specialty crops. We active in our communities, our families, and our respective crop specific industries. We are cutting edge and all trying to be the very best at what we do.
The best part of this group is we are non competitive and willing to share what has worked and most importantly what has not worked on our farms. At this point we are peers and friends and share plain old life things as well. We laugh and we cry and we pray for each other and then we laugh some more. We offer solutions and look forward to hearing about the progress someone has made on a particular problem or issue. We support one another and are truly interested in the success of each operation and each person.
I am proud of every one of these women and they are my tribe. They speak the language of agriculture and they get it, they get ME. They have my back and cheer for my success. If you have not found a group like this in your life keep searching. There are more women out there who want to support you than tear you down. If you are surrounded by people who only tear you down I hope you walk away and find support and love and laughs and prayers. The hardest part is being vulnerable enough to let them in on the whole story so they can support you. Sometimes that isn’t easy but it is worth it!