Female farmers pave the way in agricultural lifestyle, enterprise

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Ila Jean Taylor (right) and her husband, Dan, farm row crops, 40 ewes and cow/calf pairs and 15-20 sows on their family farm.
A piglet on the Taylor farm between Minburn and Bouton.

“She” may not be the first pronoun that comes to mind when you think of a career in farming. But the fact is, females are vital to the farming industry. As farm business partners, women help make business decisions, carry their own weight in field and livestock chores, and help assure continuity with succession and estate planning. Some of these women are born to the farm life. Others adopt the lifestyle. In either case, the learning curve starts on day one and continues for a lifetime. For the last decade, women of the farm have had a very special resource to help educate themselves on the business aspects of farming.

“Annie’s Project is an educational program dedicated to strengthening the woman’s role in the farming enterprise,” Ila Jean Taylor, who is a Dallas County farm business partner, says. “A few years ago, when I first took the course, my mother-in-law and I took it together. Now we can talk about things that came out of Annie’s Project.” Taylor took the class again last winter. “My family changed, my parents passed away and I found myself owning their farm with my brothers and sister,” she said. “I wanted to offer the best information I could, so I took Annie’s Project again. You get the information you need, and resources to find and use. “You learn that sometimes the solution is as easy as finding someone you can communicate with.”

According to Madeline Schultz, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach National Co-Director for Annie’s Project, the project focuses on five risk areas of farming — finance, human resources, legal issues, marketing and production.

“Highlighting these five areas of risk gives a big picture of the farm and how all of this fits together,” Schultz said.

It clarifies, for instance, where to focus management time, how to reduce grain marketing risks, and why financial planning relates to succession planning. All from a farm partnership perspective. Classes include a wide variety of women, from those new to farming, to female agriculturalists with 50 or more years of farming experience. “Women in Iowa are major land owners,” Schultz said. “They have a broad impact on food security in our nation. These women are making decisions about commodities and small-scale agriculture. “They are finding value in traditional markets, and they are making a big impact in our local food system.”

Growing up on a farm, Ila Jean Taylor saw the successful partnership between her parents. She replicates that partnership with her husband, Dan, on their farm located two miles north of Minburn and three miles south of Bouton on Highway 169. “We work really well together,” she says. “I’m more drawn to the livestock.” In addition to row crops, their family farm includes about 40 ewes and as many cow/calf pairs, plus 15 to 20 sows. “My son wanted to raise show pigs for 4-H,” she says. “Now he is at college, and I have the pigs.” At an average of eight piglets per sow, taken from farrow to finish, that 4-H project has really blossomed. “Women look at things a little differently,” Taylor says. “We see a different aspect of it. That’s good, because the partnership can look at it from both ways, and that enhances the farming operation.” For more information about Annie’s Project, contact your local extension office or refer to http://www.extension.iastate.edu/annie/.

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