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Celebrating Women in Agriculture

May 11, 2020

One year during college, I served as a Collegiate Ag Ambassador. My role was to share various agricultural messages with basically anyone I could get to sit down and listen to me speak. That’s kinda my jam, so I loved it. One speaking engagement stands out in my memory more than others. I walked in early to set up and introduced myself to the club leader. He looked at me and said, “You’re a girl.” I’m rarely speechless. However, there was hardly a less obvious statement he could have made. Seeing my dumbfounded expression, he then said “When I saw that the speaker’s name was Jordyn and it was about agriculture, I just assumed…”

There was a lot of focus on the women in our lives yesterday, so I thought now would be a good time to focus on the women in agriculture. 

I spent the first five and a half years after college working in agribusiness. I attended a lot of meetings during that time and was often the only woman in the room. I went to many trade shows and events where the vast majority of attendees were men. I do have to say, there are few experiences more gratifying than seeing a line of men waiting to use the restroom while I had no wait. Every year, we see more women enter the industry though. When I started with the company, women made up more than 50% of my training class.

I think it’s fair to say that when picturing a farmer, most people probably imagine a man. Which makes sense, since most farmers are men. That isn’t going to be the case forever though. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 36 percent of farmers and ranchers in the United States are women, which is up 6 percent since the 2012 Census. 56 percent of US farms also have at least one woman who is a primary decision-maker.  

Farmers are a major part of the agricultural industry, but not the only part. There are research and development scientists, salespeople, animal nutritionists, equipment engineers, and so many more. There are women in all of those areas, but they are certainly not the majority.

I want to get into the larger discussion around women in agriculture. To talk about the numbers worldwide and the ways woman are seeing success in some areas and difficulty in others, along with the reasons for some of that. But that’s a topic for another day. Which I’ve realized I say a fair amount. So many of the topics I cover are big and multifaceted and can’t be done justice in 1,500 words. Gender dynamics and the politics and feelings around representation is definitely one of those topics.

Instead, let’s talk about some seriously awesome women in agriculture

First, Temple Grandin. Born in 1947 and diagnosed with “brain damage” as a child, she has gone on to be one of the most influential animal behaviorists in the world, specifically in the animal agriculture industry. You see, it wasn’t brain damage, it was autism, and it allowed her to think and empathize in a way that many can’t. Grandin’s way of thinking helped her understand how beef cattle could be more humanely treated and processed and now more than half the beef in the US is handled in ways recommended and invented by her.

She has a bachelor’s degree in human psychology and both a master’s and doctorate in animal science. In 2010 she was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world. HBO even made a movie about her that won seven Emmy awards. Temple Grandin is such an important woman in agriculture and people need to know about her. Both because of what she has done for the industry and for her work in helping people understand autism and how different thinkers are so vital. There is a children’s book called The Girl Who Thought in Pictures and I *highly* recommend checking it out.

Now, let’s talk about Mary-Dell Chilton, a woman who has been nicknamed the Queen of Agrobacterium. Mary-Dell has a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in chemistry and worked with a team that created the first transgenic plant. She has done extensive plant research and authored more than 100 scientific publications. This incredible woman is a World Food Prize Laureate. That is a huge deal.

Chilton is a wife and mother and has mentored and inspired so many scientists throughout her life and career. She worked for the company I used to and so many agricultural innovations have been made because of groundwork laid by her. I encourage you to dive more into learning about Mary-Dell and her work.

 I don’t personally know Temple Grandin or Mary-Dell, but I have been given the chance to work with and meet some incredible women during the last few years. One of my favorite moments relating to women in the industry took place in my office building last year. One of my coworkers had recently come back from maternity leave and was in charge of leading a meeting. She needed to pump and, instead of missing twenty minutes of discussion and potentially important decisions, she pumped at the table. In a predominantly male field, it was not something I’d witnessed before and it says a lot about the progression of the industry.

Embracing different ways of thinking

I mentioned different thinking when talking about Temple Grandin. In that case, I was talking about the way autism has made her relate differently. Different thinkers of all types are so important, which is why it’s vital that more women are getting involved in agriculture. I have watched women bringing their perspectives to meetings, leading to discussion and ideas that might not have taken place otherwise.

In an upcoming blog, I’ll dive deeper into this topic from a more global level and touch on more details. We have progress to make, getting more women involved in ag and into leadership positions throughout the industry. And I will happily stand in a bathroom line as we increase those numbers.

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  1. Lynne says:

    Great article on women AND agriculture. Go women.

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