Census data show that the number of women who are principal farm operators is growing steadily. In 2007, 30 percent of the total number of farm operators in the U.S. were women.
PHOTO: Participants in the 'Women Involved in Agriculture -- A Kansas Annie's Project' work together on a class project.
Annie's Project Provides Knowledge and Support
Kansas women are taking increasingly more active roles in farm management. To help them learn more about keeping financial records, understanding lease laws, marketing, and estate planning, K-State Research and Extension offers a series of workshops.
Denise Gerber attended the initial Women Involved in Agriculture – A Kansas Annie’s Project workshop in Hutchinson in fall 2010.
"I grew up on a wheat farm in Harvey County, where we also raised cattle," said Gerber. "After college, I left the farm for an accounting career. Now, years later, I'm a business manager for an absentee landowner, as well as for my mother, who is also an absentee landowner. The workshop has given me knowledge and insight on dealing with all aspects of managing a farm."
Annie's Project is based on an Illinois farm wife who spent her lifetime learning to be an involved business partner. Her daughter, a university extension specialist, developed the program to share with women across the country.
Three agents -- Jonie James, Harvey County; Mark Ploger, Pratt County; and Glenn Newdigger, Stafford County -- secured grant funding from the North Central Risk Management Education Center to establish the program in Kansas.
They teamed up with K-State agricultural economists Kevin Dhuyvetter, Troy Dumler, and Rich Llewelyn and local organizations such as Farm Bureau, American AgCredit, and Frontier Farm Credit to provide speakers for the regional workshops.
The topics differ slightly across the state, with 20 to 30 participants meeting six times for three- to six-hour sessions.
"Annie's Project is an educational program and support network to enhance the business skills of women involved in agriculture," said James, who coordinates the project. "Participants say they find answers, strength, and friendship. They also grow in confidence, business skills, and community prestige."
Katie Sawyer of McPherson enrolled when she was engaged to her husband Scott, who is a fourth generation farmer and works alongside his father.
"I enrolled in Annie's Project to gain a better understanding of how a family farm operates, the terminology used by people in the agricultural industry, and how outside factors — such as the commodities market, government regulations, and consumer demand — affected our operation," Sawyer said.
"Annie’s Project allowed me to understand why we did what we did and what I could do to either help or improve our operation," she said. "After each class, I talked with my husband about what I learned. Those conversations allowed my husband to relate the lesson more directly to our operation. A classroom setting allowed us to ask questions, work one-on-one with instructors, and also network with the other ladies."
Workshop evaluations are positive, with 90 percent of respondents now using financial statements as a benchmarking tool, 63 percent starting family discussions on transition planning, 56 percent using software to categorize expenses and income, and 45 percent implementing family business meetings.
"It is never too late for women to educate themselves on the agriculture industry," added Sawyer. "The Annie's Project is a valuable tool for women of all ages and has a diverse enough curriculum that everyone will likely gain something from the courses."