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Annie’s Project: Empowering Women in Ag

Even though Cheryl Johnson has long been involved in her family’s farming and cattle operation, the death of her husband and business partner, Dan, left her feeling uncertain about her management skills. The couple’s plan to transition their 600 acres and livestock operation to their daughter and son-in-law suddenly was upended.

One of Dan’s uncles knew Cheryl was struggling with the crop decisions she suddenly faced alone. He suggested she enroll in Annie’s Project, a six-week, 18-hour educational program aimed at strengthening women’s roles in the modern farm enterprise.

Cheryl and her daughter, Cassie, still felt the raw emotions of losing Dan to a farming accident in September 2013 when they walked into their first class. By the end of the evening, they knew they had found the right farm management program for their family operation in western Iowa.

“The biggest and most important thing you learn is to take what you learn in Annie’s Project home and start asking questions,” Cheryl says. “I can’t emphasize that enough. You need to know the details of what is going on.”

A personality colors assessment explained that as a “blue nurturer,” Cheryl needed to discuss decisions and build agreement. Cassie, by comparison, is an “orange” who, after researching an issue, simply wants to make a decision and move on. Having someone explain how their different personalities played out in the day-to-day operation of their family farm proved insightful.

“It sounds really simple, but that was so huge for us,” Cheryl says. “We were hooked.”

In the weeks that followed, farm management experts walked the women in the class through decision-making in key areas of the farm business: finances, insurance and marketing.  Each week, Cheryl’s know-how and confidence in managing her operation grew.

“You feel so much more comfortable making choices for these million dollar businesses,” Cheryl says.

Only four months into the grieving process, Cheryl and Cassie found it uplifting to hear they were doing just fine in managing their operation. Cheryl relished the learning that came with having so much time to explore topics as diverse as soil health, stepped-up basis, human resource management, family relationships and marketing. Cheryl also appreciated the ease that came in an all-women’s environment. Nobody was shy about asking questions or admitting they needed advise, she said.

Cheryl’s only regret is that she didn’t enroll in Annie’s Project earlier in her farming career. She has continued her learning through additional Annie’s programs that dealt with topics such as succession, estate and retirement planning, human resources and legal issues. Cheryl has become an advocate for the program, regularly encouraging women in agriculture to take advantage of the Annie’s Project offerings in their area.

Farm Credit Services of America (FCSAmerica) is proud to sponsor Annie’s Project in our four states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

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FCSAmerica serves farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and rural residents in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. For inquiries outside this geography, use the Farm Credit Association Locator  to contact your local office.