Top Producer Editor Jeanne Bernick, left, leads a panel discussion with Celeste Settrini, Christine Hamilton and Pam Johnson, all successful women in agriculture.
New event focuses on the 1 million women farm operators in the U.S.
The facts about women in agriculture don’t get reported that often: of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators, more than 30%—1 million—are women, according to census data. The total number of women oper-ators has increased 20% from 2002, and today more than 75% of women operators are full owners of their land.
In an effort to support women in farming, Top Producer held its first-ever Executive Women in Agriculture (EWA) event in December. More than 130 women farm owners and operators from 25 states gathered in Chicago to network and hone their business skills.
Christine Hamilton owns and operates a 14,000-acre farm and ranch in Kimball, S.D. She joined a panel discussion about the challenges and successes of women executives in agriculture.
Hamilton says she has always had a deep connection to the land, which has motivated her to spend her life in agriculture.
Agriculture is not always an easy field for women, Hamilton says. "There’s a problem of being taken seriously, and our negotiating skills may not be as valued." But, she says, over time you can develop respect.
Her advice for young women producers is to develop critical thinking skills and focus on being curious about new possibilities.
Pam Johnson serves as vice president of the National Corn Growers Association and will soon become the group’s first female president. She farms in Floyd, Iowa.
"There’s a price to pay for being a strong woman," she says. But that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged. She suggests waking up each day focused on meeting challenges, whether they are big or small. "Treat them as an opportunity and adventure, instead of something to be dreaded."
Johnson says life on the farm can be kind of isolated. "It’s very important as life gets more
and more demanding that you have good mentors. Surround yourself with really strong and smart
people," she advises.
Celeste Settrini, a fresh vegetable commodity broker and partner in her family farm in Salinas, Calif., says she came to EWA to learn from like-minded women. "Agriculture is an extension of who I am," she says, and "women are great cheerleaders for one another."
Become a Better Marketer
Historically, women make good marketers because they tend to take the emotion out of making buy and sell decisions. In this era of extreme volatility, however, everyone can use a few tips on becoming a better marketer, says Kim Burton, a marketing analyst and broker with Top Third Ag Marketing.
Burton’s tips for becoming a successful marketer:
- Spend more time on marketing by developing a marketing plan.
- Combine effective crop insurance with your marketing plan.
- Use options to manage risk: buy put options to protect unsold bushels, call options to replace grain you have sold.
- Don’t become a speculator.
- Quit making excuses.
- Be willing to sell cash grain.
- Develop a consistent plan and follow it.
Define Your Operation's Structure
Do your employees know their exact roles on the farm? Are they spelled out on paper? How happy are your employees with their day-to-day responsibilities?
All of these questions and many more can be addressed and your operation improved through organizational development, which is an effort by all involved in a business to increase effectiveness and viability.
Barbara Dartt is a senior business consultant with Lookout Ridge Consulting, a family business and management consulting firm that specializes in production agriculture. She says organizational development is an often untapped competitive advantage for agricultural businesses.
"Family businesses outperform all other types of businesses," she told EWA attendees. But the dynamics within a family can cause challenges, making organizational development even more important.
Human connection. Dartt suggests implementing organizational development concepts in small steps. First you want to define what tasks or roles are needed for your operation, and then recruit the talent to meet those needs.
Make sure your employees have all of the resources they need to perform their responsibilities.
For new employees, you need to effectively orient them in their roles to improve performance; this training is also known as onboarding. During this time, clearly lay out what each job entails and why it’s important.
Ensure that employees know how to complete their work and how it’s linked to the organization’s success. Making employees feel needed and committed to their occupation is what will determine how long they stay in their job and their level of success.
"Show people how they make a difference," Dartt says. The highest-level employer should outline the responsibility and worth of each employee.
This human connection element, Dartt says, is more important than access to resources, a chance for promotion or safety on the job.
Employers and employees should meet for regular updates on duties and goals. "Two years and five years are key progression points in your career," Dartt says. "That’s when you will decide if this is a place for you or not."
During these checkpoints, Dartt says, it’s important to clarify who has decision-making authority in each area. To clearly display this, she suggests creating an organizational chart and sharing it with all who are stakeholders in the operation.
Four Keys to Strong Farm Businesses
You don’t just want to survive in business; you want to thrive. That was the message Jill Eberhart, agribusiness group leader for Kennedy and Coe, shared with attendees at the EWA event.
Eberhart outlined four key areas farm operators must master to create and further advance a successful business:
1. Clarify your goals. You must have a plan for your operation and work toward it with every decision you make. To truly identify your goals, put them in writing.
2. Collaborate with others to meet your goals. You’re not always going to have the perfect skill set to accomplish your goals. Eberhart suggests finding peers, outside advisers or other business experts to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
3. Think out into the future, but act in the present. To do this, Eberhart says, you must take your outlined goals and communicate them with your team. Together, you can determine a plan for the future while still making smart business decisions today.
4. Set aside time on a regular basis to make sure you’re meeting your goals. Continue to adapt based on your evaluation. "Your strategic plan is a continual process," Eberhart says. The more generations and people you have involved with your operation, the more likely it is you will need to update or modify goals.
Eberhart says agriculture has dramatically evolved during the past few decades—and will continue to do so in the years ahead—to become more productive. She suggests ramping up your business plans to keep up with the pace.
Social Media Etiquette
Farm Journal’s advocacy and social media editor, Anna-Lisa Giannini, and AdFarm digital strategist Libby Hall shared these etiquette tips for social media:
- Post factual information
- Listen more than talk (or Tweet)
- Answer questions honestly
- Encourage transparency
- Whine, complain or rant
- Misuse hashtags
- January 2012