Women in ag play vital role in Indiana

In Indiana and across the county, women make up approximately 30 percent of all farm operators. But that’s only one role that Hoosier women in agriculture play. You’ll also find women working in agribusiness or supporting the farm part time, often alongside an off-farm job.

Isabella Chism, Indiana Farm Bureau’s 2nd vice president and chair of the Women’s Leadership Committee, is excited about the increase of women in the industry.

“Women have always been a vital part of the farm team,” explained Chism. “But it’s exciting to see them stepping into new roles and positions of leadership.”

The number of women who own and operate their own farms is steadily increasing. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of female-run farms has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. 

“We have more women in agriculture than ever before and they’re serving our industry in so many ways,” she said. “I don’t see that changing. I’ve met many young women in this state that have big plans for their future in this industry.”

Chism is right. In 2016, 62 percent of the Purdue School of Agriculture’s students were women.

Whatever role they play, women are making a big impact on Indiana agriculture. Here is a look at some of those women, and a bit about their role in the industry.


Women in ag_WagnerJennyJenny Wagner
Owner and Operator, CW Homestead Farms

As the owner and operator of CW Homestead Farms in Jay County, Jenny oversees all aspects of the family farm, including grain, hog and turkey production. The farm has been in her family for more than 100 years.

Why have you pursued a career in ag? I decided to pursue my career in ag, after earning a nursing degree, because the industry is always changing and there are always new challenges. I am able to look around and see that I am making a difference in the world.

When did you start farming on your own? When I was in college, I came home over Christmas break and said to my dad, “We are going to have to get bigger or we are going to have to get out.” We started looking at how we could change the farming operation, including egg-laying houses and hog barns. So, at 19 years old, I walked into the bank and I asked for over half a million dollars. In my mind the likelihood of getting the loan was slim, but I did and it changed our farming operation and our lives.

Any interesting challenges you have had to overcome?  We are currently facing our biggest challenge that we’ve ever had. On Nov. 5, 2017, our turkey farm and hog farm were hit by a tornado. We lost both farms, which are 5 miles apart. My husband and I were in the hog barns when the tornado hit. Though we thought we had it all planned out – two farms in separate locations in different areas of production – we know we’re lucky to be alive, and we’re grateful for our family, friends and our amazing community.

What would you say your biggest business accomplishment is? I am proud that we’ve been able to grow and expand our farming operation. In 1997, we decided to build our hog barn. In 2003, we built a quad hog barn and then in 2007 we purchased turkey barns and started our turkey operation. You know you are truly successful when you have more good days than bad and you love what you do.

 

Women in ag_SchroederBriannaBrianna J. Schroeder
Attorney, Janzen Ag Law

As an agriculture attorney, Brianna helps Hoosiers in the agriculture industry with zoning, contracts, employment and litigation issues. She’s practiced law since 2009 and has been with Janzen since its creation in 2015. She grew up on a small farm in Allen County. 

Why have you pursued a career in ag? I grew up on the farm in Hoagland, Indiana, built by my great-grandparents. I started my legal practice doing more traditional environmental work but soon realized farmers and agriculture businesses had some legal needs that weren’t being met. It is great to be a lawyer in the agricultural world – the best of both worlds!  

What is your biggest professional accomplishment? I’m very proud of the work we do for livestock producers. We work with them through the entire process of building new barns or expanding an existing farm. It is rewarding to see the family build the farm after jumping through all the hoops.

Do you have any advice for other women in the ag industry? Actively seek out female mentors in your industry. Use these mentors as sounding boards and as inspiration. When you start to find some measure of success, be a mentor for those who come after you. Organizations like Farm Bureau, which seek to connect women in agriculture, can be great resources for making connections, finding mentors and friends, and growing your professional network.

 

Women in ag_SwopeClouseJenniferJennifer Clouse Swope
Dealer Management at LG Seeds

As an employee of LG Seeds, Jennifer works with farmers to place hybrids on their farms, checks the crops during the growing season and helps them after harvest to plan for the future. She’s also a sixth-generation farmer on her family’s farm in Bartholomew County where she plays a large role in planting and harvest each year.

Why have you pursued a career in ag? The agriculture industry has made me who I am today, and I hope that I can raise my family in that same way. I love working in the field beside my family knowing that we are doing everything we can to be the best stewards of the land.

What is your biggest professional accomplishment? My biggest accomplishment has been growth. Sometimes sales is a slow process, so it can be hard to not lose sight of your goals. But in the past year, my efforts have really started to pay off.

Do you have any advice for other women in the ag industry? Probably the biggest piece of advice I could offer is to never sell yourself short. My grandfather passed away when I was 2 years old, so my mom became more involved on the farm. Growing up, my dad would plant corn while my mom was planting beans, they both haul the grain, and my mom is the main operator of our combine during harvest. I never questioned whether or not I could do something because I grew up watching my mom do it all. I realized that if this is what I love, nothing could stop me from doing it too.

 

Women in ag_KronJoyceJoyce Kron
Row crops and whitetail deer, Kron Farms

Joyce is a jack of all trades at Kron Farms in Vanderburgh County. Kron Farms raises white corn, yellow corn, soybeans and whitetail deer.

What is your main role on the farm?  At any given time I can be seen driving a tractor or combine, operating the grain cart, running for parts, taking care of the bookkeeping and our livestock, and any other jobs that need to be done.

How has your role on the farm changed over the year?  When we were first married, I worked off the farm full time in order to provide a steady paycheck and health insurance, while working part time on the farm. As our farm grew and we needed to hire full-time help, I stepped into that role while raising two children. When our son graduated from college and came back to farm, I became the part-time helper again. My husband, Randy, was elected president of Indiana Farm Bureau in 2016, and my role reverted back to full time.

Any interesting challenges you have had to overcome?  Over the years, I have had people ask me what’s been the hardest thing for you on the farm and I always say, “It’s hard being a short woman on a tall man’s farm.” But in all seriousness, the hardest part has been overcoming the stereotype of a farm wife’s role. In the beginning, some suppliers weren’t receptive to dealing directly with me. But time and proving my knowledge of our operations has changed that completely.

What is your biggest professional accomplishment?  My biggest business accomplishment is having helped build a successful farm operation. We have now built this farm from scratch into a much larger operation. I’m extremely proud of what we have built and proud to know this operation is here for our son and our grandchildren too if they wish to farm. 

 

Women in ag_SchellerMeganMegan Scheller
Row-crop production, Scheller Farms

Megan is a wound and ostomy nurse at a local hospital, but she still finds time to help on the family corn, wheat and soybean farm in Vanderburgh County.

What is your main role on the farm? During harvest and planting, I help with transportation of machinery between the farm and fields, and also provide meals in the field. I also tend to our small vegetable garden in the summer and assist with machinery maintenance. One of my most challenging and rewarding responsibilities is corralling our 2 ½-year-old son and raising him to love and appreciate agriculture.

What is your off-farm job?  I work at a local hospital as a wound and ostomy nurse. I love my job and enjoy what I do on a daily basis. Nursing is an art of science and compassion, and it allows me to utilize my knowledge to help make a positive impact in other people’s lives.

Any interesting challenges you have had to overcome? The biggest challenge for me has been trying to learn everything that I can about the industry. Most people my age that are involved in agriculture grew up on a farm and have been involved most of their lives. My involvement started just a few years ago when I met my husband. But I think that can have its advantages. When it comes to making decisions on the farm, I am able to look at things from a different perspective.

What would you say your biggest accomplishment in ag is?

My biggest accomplishment so far has been trying to promote agriculture on a daily basis and educating those that may not be familiar with farming.

 

Women in ag_StudebakerEmilyEmily Studebaker 
Egg producer

Emily is in egg production in Whitley County, where she takes care of 23,000 cage-free laying hens, picking and stacking all of their eggs, while managing the office.

When did you start farming? I didn’t grow up farming. We didn’t even have a dog growing up. But when I was 21 years old, my husband and I were offered an opportunity to purchase a chicken farm. The 40-acre farm was a surprising blessing. We knew we wanted to farm, and after much consideration, we committed to this opportunity. I quit my job at the dental office to become a full-time chicken tender since my husband works for his dad on his dairy farm. 

What would you say your biggest business accomplishment is? I am proud to have taken over a "failing" operation and turn it around enough to get 100 percent on our first audit, which came only a few months after we took over the farm. 

Any interesting challenges you have had to overcome? Coming from a non-farm background to caring for 23,000 laying hens has definitely been a challenge for me. Thankfully, there are many helpful people I can call, and I have a mechanically-inclined husband who typically answers "I'll be over" when I tell him "such and such broke but I don't know how to fix it." 

Why have you pursued a career in ag? I definitely did not plan to pursue a career in ag, but at 16 years old I started dating my husband, and I quickly learned if I wanted to see him, I would have to be participating in whatever chore needed done around his dad's dairy farm. My flip-flops and white shorts were soon replaced with boots and jeans. He taught me a lot, and when the opportunity came for me to work for our own farm, I took it. His dream has always been to farm and I now share that reality with him.