While women always have been part of the family farm, their roles in agriculture continue to evolve, as underscored by data collected from Iowa. Women account for a quarter of all Iowa farmers, according to the 2012 Ag Census, and own 47 percent of the farmland. These numbers could be higher in the upcoming Census if enrollment at Iowa State University (ISU) is any indication. Today, women account for 52 percent of students enrolled in the college of agriculture and life sciences, up from 42 percent in 2002.
It seems only appropriate then to celebrate Iowa’s 100th Annie’s Project class during Women’s History Month. Annie’s Project features a series of six weekly classes on a variety of agricultural business and risk management topics. The goal of the educational program is to empower farm and ranch women who want to be even more knowledgeable about their agricultural enterprises.
When the first Annie’s Project class convened in Washington County in February 2004, Iowa was only the second state to offer the program, which is dedicated to furthering women’s farm business management skills. Annie’s Project is now offered in 33 states, with FCSAmerica sponsoring the program in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.
More than 1,900 women in 80 counties have participated in Annie’s Project since it began in Iowa 14 years ago. Kelvin Leibold, co-facilitator for Annie’s Project in north-central Iowa, is leading the 100th class, a milestone that will be marked on March 19 at the Webster County Extension Office in Fort Dodge.
For Kelvin, his current class is less remarkable for its place in Annie’s history and more for the dynamics it shares with every successful Annie’s class – multiple generations of women supporting each other as they expand their knowledge of farm management.
The youngest participant is trying to get started in the industry after recently completing a college degree in agriculture. At the other end of the spectrum is a landowner – not one of the octogenarians who occasionally sign up, but experienced enough in life to lend insights to the class.
“A lot of times, the women who participate in Annie’s, they want to keep going,” getting together and learning from each other, Kelvin said. “They look for a reason to maintain the network that they have built among themselves.”
Annie’s Project offers 18 hours of agricultural business education, with outside experts often providing information on topics as diverse as balance sheets, estate planning, personality and communication styles and conservation programs. The needs of local women help shape each class.
Over the years, ISU Extension and Outreach has expanded Annie’s to include classes focused on leasing land, managing cattle, marketing grain, moving beyond farm finance basics and more.
Kelvin, one of eight ISU Extension farm managers currently involved in the program, said with every class, his goal is to help participants build skills, relationships and confidence. Often, the women in his class have in-town jobs that help support a farm or ranch but they know little about an operation’s finances. Class presenters give the women the know-how to ask the right questions and to be active participants in the decision-making.
“I tell them, ‘If you are a farm partner, the business will be more successful,’ “ Kelvin said.