Editor’s note: The following article is part of a series featuring women members of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
Tina Hinchley and her husband, Duane Hinchley, own and operate a 240-cow dairy farm near Cambridge, Wisconsin. She also since 1998 has been operating Hinchley’s Dairy Farm Tours. The tours are designed to help non-farmers – especially children – see how a typical dairy farm operates.
When and why did you begin farming?
Tina Hinchley: I married a farmer 24 years ago with the agreement we would farm together. We worked side-by-side milking cows in the early years. We set goals to be the most efficient with our time and energy. Eventually I milked while my husband mixed feed and hauled manure. We completed our jobs at about the same time, which gave us time with our children and opportunities to work more farmland into our goals.
What do you produce on your farm and why?
Hinchley: We milk 240 cows using a robotic-milking system. We raise all our replacement heifers as well as grow corn for silage and alfalfa for haylage to feed our cattle. We cash-crop corn for ethanol, soybeans and winter wheat for straw. We also grow a few acres of pumpkins to give away during farm tours. We farm 2,300 acres.
Does your family help with your farm?
Hinchley: My husband is my sidekick every day. When my children were growing up, all four helped with chores. As they grew older they left the farm. But our daughter, Anna, has returned to the farm after graduating with a degree in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is in the process of transitioning into partnership with us. She works in the dairy barn every morning, feeds calves, removes manure from the freestall barn, and helps with harvesting hay, covering bunkers and everything between.
What are the best online resources for women in farming or women who are interested in beginning to farm?
Hinchley: I believe if you have an issue and would like another opinion there are plenty of website groups to join. “Dairy Moms” is a good one. I also believe there are many opportunities shown by just searching on Google. I use it a lot.
Whom do you admire as setting good farming or lifestyle example?
Hinchley: My husband. His examples were passed down from his father, Keith Hinchley. They both have a passion for what we want to have as a farm and how we farm. I remember my husband telling me how his father taught him to cut the corners square in alfalfa fields. That provides extra hay, and weeds won’t grow and take over. We work to keep our fields and farm neat and tidy. I love working on our farm; it makes me proud to see what we’ve done. It makes the effort worthwhile.
When and why did you join Wisconsin Farmers Union?
Hinchley: My husband’s parents, Keith and Ruth Hinchley, were members of both the Wisconsin Farmers Union and the National Farmers Organization. I became interested when we attended summer picnics with a candidate forum. From then on I paid attention to farm issues and learned what was part of the policy. The more I learned, I found that the Wisconsin Farmers Union was part of our family’s views and was a voice for us. Our children attended Dane County Farmers Union day camps. When they were older they attended Kamp Kenwood. Farmers Union was a big part of every summer for our family. After a few years attending meetings, I became more involved.
When and why did you take on a leadership position with the Wisconsin Farmers Union?
Hinchley: I was elected president of the Dane County Farmers Union and held that position for a few years. I was then encouraged by a board member to run as a district director on the Wisconsin Farmers Union’s board. My husband and I are conventional farmers and are active in our community as leaders in the Cambridge 4-H. I also serve as secretary for the Cambridge FFA alumni. It made sense for me to take on the leadership role with the Farmers Union.
How does the Wisconsin Farmers Union most help you? How do you think it most helps women members?
Hinchley: Being in an organization that’s parallel to the ideas and goals of one's family is important. There always have been struggles and issues in farming. Farmers Union is the most in sync for our farm’s future. The ability for women to become involved in farming now is better than ever. As my daughter has taken the leap into becoming a full-time farmer, I see it as an amazing opportunity for her and other women too.
What would you like others to know about the organization?
Hinchley: There are farm organizations for all types of farms. There isn’t a rule you can belong to only one. I suggest people look into what the Farmers Union has to offer. Look at the policy book and see if the ideas match your interests. Along with having ideas on how to make farming better, this is what having a Wisconsin Farmers Union voice can do when reaching out to our elected officials. We can make a difference and make farming stronger and healthier as a profession.
What do you think are the biggest challenges today’s farmers face?
Hinchley: Extreme weather can make or break a farm. Farmers are facing record-low commodity prices, overproduction and tariffs on exports that directly affect our profitability. Our inputs are costing more and our margins are tighter than ever. Farm bankruptcy, farmer suicide and health-care issues are topics every farmer knows about. They're discussed at local Farmers Union meetings and are brought forward to the annual state convention. Together we can try to find some comfort.
What do you see for your farm and farming in general in 20 years from now?
Hinchley: We'll continually try to improve efficiency by using the newest technology, embracing sustainable practices and looking forward to the future of green energy. Carbon credits will be important as farmers use farmland to feed, fuel and clothe our country. Because of that farming will be part of a solution to the climate crisis. Farmland will be a source of green energy for urban companies looking for a better more-sustainable footprint.
The mission of the Wisconsin Farmers Union is to enhance the quality of life for family farmers, rural communities and all people through educational opportunities, cooperative endeavors and civic engagement. The grassroots organization was founded in 1930 to champion cooperatives, conservation, local food and other initiatives to strengthen rural America. Visit wisconsinfarmersunion.com for more information.
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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.