Agronomy in the Field is a hands-on training experience

Agronomy in the Field is a hands-on training experience for women landowners, farmers, conservationists and others.

CLARION, Iowa — Angie Rieck-Hinz, Iowa State University Extension field agronomist, started Agronomy in the Field in 2015 when women expressed an interest in learning more about agronomic practices and scouting techniques.

She piloted the program at the Northern Research and Demonstration Farm at Kanawha, with 8 to 15 women showing up every other week for the program.

“We went through the growing season,” Rieck-Hinz said. “We started in April once the corn came out of the ground. We talked about planting, row and plant spacing, emergence and how to maximize all that.”

Participants learned to stage plants, identify weeds and insects, and diagnose diseases.

“We went through the whole growing season, and they wanted to continue to meet,” Rieck-Hinz said.

So they added meetings through the winter, talking about things like how to read a soil test and how to make fertilizer recommendations.

The program has grown since then.

In the fall and winter of 2017 and 2018, Rieck-Hinz partnered with her colleagues, field agronomists Meaghan Anderson and Rebecca Vittetoe, to offer sessions via ZOOM, a web-conferencing program, to women all over the state.

The last session for this year was March 26. The topic was nitrogen management. In February, Emily Heaton, Iowa State University biomass expert, talked about perennial crops for energy sources.

Another session was about identifying and managing stress in farm families. Seed and trait selection and water quality rounded out the curriculum.

Last year, Rieck-Hinz worked with ISU field agronomist Aaron Saeugling and an equipment dealer to show how to get a planter ready for spring.

“A very popular talk we've done is with Dr. Ruth McDonald, ISU food scientist, talking about GMOS on our plate and what that means for the food supply,” Rieck-Hinz said.

Questions & connection

A lot of women who participate are landowners looking for more information, Rieck-Hinz said. They want to be better informed to talk with their farming partners, whether it's a family member or a renter.

“Some of our women are on the farm, might be involved in certain aspects of farming but maybe not crop production,” Rieck-Hinz said. “Some run their own farms. We have a lot of people from the Farm Service Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, teachers and female seed dealers who take part.”

This year there were several out-of-state participants who joined ZOOM sessions.

During the growing season, topics have included how to make replant decisions after it's been too cold, too wet or there’s been a hail event.

“We bring in our female farmers who are using cover crops and let them talk about their experiences,” Rieck-Hinz said. “I'd rather hear it from the people who are doing it.”

While there is a planned agenda, questions sometimes throw things off track.

“You have to be flexible because I want people to ask questions and get their questions answered,” she said.

The programs give people hands-on knowledge and experiences.

“One women told us she saved a lot of dollars because she didn't have to spray for aphids,” Rieck-Hinz said. “She said she didn't need to because she knew how to scout and her scouting showed spraying wasn't necessary.”

Women get to know each other and build camaraderie.

“When I did this at Kanawha, people often talked in the parking lot until 10 p.m.,” she said.

“I might get home and be totally exhausted from answering so many questions, but I know I've connected with them and it's rejuvenating. Rebecca, Meaghan and I and enjoy this.”

Growing demand

The numbers show there is pent-up demand for such a course, and it’s now designed to reach as many women as possible.

Rieck-Hinz, Anderson and Vittetoe send out a newsletter that reaches 350 and host a Facebook group that has 126 followers.

“We have people all over Iowa,” Rieck-Hinz said. “They can sit at home on their computer and participate. The weather this winter has been challenging and most of the time I could sit in my basement office and present the program.”

This spring, Vittetoe is offering Agronomy in the Field in Iowa and Benton counties. Next year, Rieck-Hinz is planning a program at the North Iowa Area Community College farm in Mason City.

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