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Research projects more female farmers to take leading roles on US farms by 2027

Kathy Hancock manages a 230-acre family farm in Herndon with her sister.

Kathy Hancock manages a 230-acre family farm in Herndon with her sister. Photo by Meredith Willse

By Olivia Clark
Thirty years ago a woman involved in agriculture looked different than she does today. At that time, she may have been found alongside her husband out in the field, preparing meals at home or being the farm bookkeeper. She was the biggest supporter of her farmer and what he pursued as his career for the livelihood of their family.
Today, women in agriculture are seen in many more roles within the industry. Women are seed and chemical sales representatives, crop insurance agents, agriculture teachers, loan officers, farmers and the list continues. Many of those women live right here in Christian County.
Kathy Hancock, a retired educator, farmer and agri-businesswoman, was born and raised on a 230-acre farm in Herndon. Her grandfather purchased the land in 1933, and it’s been passed down three generations to Kathy and her siblings, who grow soybeans, corn and wheat.
“My father and mother included me in the daily operations from the time I was big enough to help with daily chores until I was an adult,” Hancock says. “I developed a love for agriculture and pursued agriculture areas outside the farm as an adult.”
Along with farming, Hancock went on to teach agriculture at Christian County High School. She rose through the ranks to serve as principal of the school and chief operations officer of Christian County Public Schools.
Since retiring, she helps her sister run a general store in LaFayette and tends to the family farm — something Hancock “hopes to continue until (her) death … It is the best life a person could experience.”
It wasn’t until 1969 that women were allowed to take agriculture courses in high school or join FFA, and even then, it took time for women to join because it simply wasn’t the “thing to do,” she said.
Today, 44 percent of FFA members are female, and the USDA’s Economic Research Service reported in 2013 that the number of female farmers has doubled since 1989. Iowa State University researchers project over 200 million acres of farmland will change hands in 2027, with a lot of those acres being passed down to women.
Many of the women involved in agriculture careers today have a farming background, like Kathy Hancock, and they want to continue in their future.

Hillary Spain is a sales representative for Progeny Ag Products.

Hillary Spain is a sales representative for Progeny Ag Products.

Hillary Spain, a sales representative for Progeny Ag Products, says working in agriculture was something she always wanted to do, so choosing a college major was pretty simple.
“I chose agriculture because I knew I would be working in an industry where you have the opportunity to be stewards of the resources God has given to provide for the world,” she says. “Growing up on a cattle farm gave me the love for livestock, and actively participating in FFA in high school opened me up to other areas.”
Spain has worked in three different agriculture sectors in the last 10 years — equipment sales, crop research and seed sales — but she says all the challenges have been the same
because women are still a minority in the agriculture industry.
“It’s intimidating at times walking into a room full of men,” she says. “On occasion, being a woman in the agriculture industry, I haven’t been taken as seriously as a male counterpart, so I always want to make sure to be twice as prepared and twice as knowledgeable on my products to get the opportunity to be heard by customers.”
The “farmer’s role” has been the most challenging for women to take on, but women are stepping up to the plate as they often outlive the men in their family. In 2013, researchers at the University of Iowa (where 20 percent of the state’s farmland is owned by women) estimated that 200 million acres will “change hands” in 2027, with much of it going to female farmers.
“Women were not recognized as being physically or mentally strong enough to be farmers,” Hancock says. “Most of the time there was a woman that worked beside her husband each and every day making sure chores were completed but was not recognized as being part of the farming operation.”
She went on to say loan officers did not want to loan money to women. Females were not allowed to participate in FFA activities when Hancock was in high school.
“Females could be a member but could not actively participate,” Hancock says.
Women are no longer sitting on the sidelines in agriculture but taking top positions in companies across the nation and becoming frontrunners as farmers.
There is plenty of support for women who want to embark upon agriculture opportunities. Like many states, Kentucky has an organization called Kentucky Women in Agriculture with the mission of “empowering women through education, involvement and action.”
A couple of college females were asked about their own outlook on pursuing careers in agriculture.
Katey Hancock, a sophomore at Hopkinsville Community College, comes from several generations of farming and wasn’t sure, at first, if agriculture was a fit for her. She deliberated her decision for a while, but decided to pursue a degree in the Agriculture Technology Program.
“I wanted to pursue a career with a lot of options, something familiar, and also a career that I could find challenges in,” she says. “The agriculture industry is an industry that is thriving, close knit, ever changing, and something I wanted to be a part of.”
Mary Anne Garnett, 20, credits her interest in agriculture to wanting to know more about the family business. Garnett is an agriculture business student at Murray State University.
“To be honest, when I started high school I enrolled in agricultural classes and joined the FFA just so I could understand what my dad and uncle were talking about when it came to the farm,” Garnett says. “Over the course of those four years, I started learning more about agricultural and the many, different careers it offered.”
There is no true definition of what a woman in agriculture should look like or do but that they simply have a love for the industry. Some may feel it’s their way of “giving back” to something that has taught them about the land or provided for them financially, while others may want a greater understanding of an industry that is ever-changing. Whatever the desire, women in agriculture will be rewarded with memories, lessons and relationships that will last a lifetime. No matter what your gender is, there is no other industry that gives back as much as agriculture.

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