Women in Ag Program hosts a leadership conference

Iowa State Extension’s Women in Ag Program hosts a leadership conference. The 2018 conference included a tour of the Department of Agricultural Biosystems Engineering.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on programs for women farmers and landowners.


AMES, Iowa — Madeline Schultz began working with women in agriculture at Iowa State University in 2008, and the scope of the programs has been growing ever since.

“We’re very fortunate that our university and Extension leaders recognize the important role that women have in agriculture in our state,” said Schultz, program manager for Extension’s Women in Ag Program.

The most recent Census of Agriculture shows 25% of Iowa farmers are women. There are 7,109 women who are principal farm operators, up from 3,048 in 1978. The 2017 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll found women participate in financial management and estate planning at higher rates than men. Studies show 47% of Iowa farmland is owned by women.

“That is why our farm management team is interested in working with this audience and why this audience is seeking additional information,” Schultz said.

In 1985, women made up 20.3% of undergraduate students in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In 2018, they make up more than half — 53.1%.

“Women are taking on more varied roles in agriculture,” Schultz said.

Growing leaders

In 2004 ISU Extension offered its first Annie’s Project class, a risk management program for women in ag.

“It’s a multi-session, local, small group class,” Schultz said. “That is by specific design because we want to bring women together to have important conversations and get to know other women and professionals and service providers in their community.”

At each Annie’s Project class, there might be a local attorney, lender or other agricultural professionals who speak.

“From the beginning we’ve focused on building this support network,” Schultz said. “We never want to tell women what they should do. We want to provide research-based, decision-making tools to help them make the best decisions.”

Since that first class, programs for marketing grain, managing cattle, handling finances and human resources have been added. Two years ago, Women in Ag started a leadership conference.

“We bring together women farmers, women working in agribusiness and others who are just interested in agriculture and leadership,” Schultz said. “We feel that a really important part of supporting the community of women in agriculture is that leadership aspect.”

Schultz is always looking for ways to partner with other organizations. Two years ago, she teamed up with Landus Cooperative on a grain marketing forum. She partners with other programs serving women, like Women, Land and Legacy, Iowa Women in Agriculture and Central Iowa Women in Agriculture.

Other Extension professionals are also providing women in ag programming which she helps promote. The Extension crops team offers Agronomy in the Field, and dairy and beef Extension specialists present Boots in the Barn geared toward female livestock producers.

‘Crucial part’

Women in Ag offered its 100th Annie’s Project class in Fort Dodge in 2018. ISU farm management specialist Kelvin Leibold taught the class.

“Several women here have been involved in farming for a long time,” Leibold said. “At the same time we have young women who are starting and growing their farming operations. It’s neat to see the sharing and see women building networks.”

Diane Chalstrom, an accountant and farmer, attended that class.

“Women do have a crucial part. We all have something to bring to the business, and it’s good to work together to make that business, the family farm, as productive as we can,” Chalstrom said.

Women in Ag programs focus on discussion and hands-on activities.

“From my perspective, women have always learned from other women,” Schultz said. “We teach each other how to care for our children and how to cook, why not teach each other to farm and lead.”

Schultz likes to recognize expertise in the classroom. During an Annie’s Project class in Sully, a women named Gladys shared the importance of balance sheets.

“She said she and her husband had been farming since 1962, and the single most important thing they’ve done is to sit down every January and figure out their balance sheet,” Schultz said. “Her statement made that real for all the participants.”

To learn more about Women in Ag programming, visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/womeninag/.