From growing up on a hog and cash grain farm in Northern Illinois, as well as, my current role as a financial officer with Compeer Financial, proud member of the Farm Credit System, I am a strong believer of the role women play within the agricultural community and on family farms.
In my role as a financial officer, I get the opportunity to meet and speak with lots of people from all walks of life. A short time ago I met with a more seasoned couple looking for financing for their family dairy farm. They comfortably conversed about their business and the husband did most of the talking so I adjusted my approach accordingly.
As the conversation turned toward balance sheet updates and other financial information it was clear that the husband couldn’t provide the answers needed about what they owned and owed. The wife was able to fill in the gaps, and after a few minutes she stated that she completes all the farm bookwork, but that she wasn’t an active participant on the farm – she “just” did the bookwork. She primarily worked off farm for most of their married life while the husband stayed home and did the farm work.
After hearing this, I looked at her and replied “You ‘just’ do the bookwork?” She looked somewhat deflated at my reply but agreed. I took the opportunity to tell her that she should never discount herself doing the bookwork for the farm again. Doing the bookwork is a notable and very important role in the TEAM that comprises herself, her husband and the next generation. I also mentioned that if she doesn’t stand up for herself, no one else will and that she isn’t just a farmwife, she’s a farmHer. She seemed to appreciate these sentiments, and I could tell I had thrown her husband for a loop as no one had stated that to them before.
I went on to tell them that I was raised on a hog and cash grain farm where my mom had a full time, off-farm job AND did the bookwork for our farm. She did not engage in hog chores often due to her allergies, yet she is an integral part of the team. My dad relies on her to keep track of all of their income, expenditures, assets and liabilities. Just the same way my mom relies on my dad to make sure he tells her when he buys a load of hogs or sells corn.
My parents just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary March 12. My mom was not raised on a farm but throughout the last 41 years, she has become a farmHer. She was the driving force in making sure my sister and I were treated the same as our two brothers growing up. My sister and I were able to learn how to vaccinate hogs at an early age and rose to the challenge when we could haul a wheelbarrow of feed as full as our brothers. On the contrary, my brothers have also learned how to cook and clean, and they have become better husbands because of this.
As a woman in agriculture I do feel the inequality amongst my male counterparts but I hope as we work together we can continue paving the way for the next generation. I was surprised to learn that only 31% of Wisconsin farmers are women (usda.gov) and that amounts to 33,184 farmHers in the state of Wisconsin. I’m happy to work for a company that celebrates women and their achievements on the farm. Within my role at Compeer Financial, I have come across many female clients that fit the demographic of being the primary borrower on their loan. I respect those clients as much as I respect the husband and wife duo working side-by-side whether physically or financially. My hope is that Farm Bureau will continue to work with its agriculture partners to offer programs and events that help decrease the agriculture gap for women.
Alison Kepner serves at the District 2 representative on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Agriculturist Committee. She grew up on a hog and crop farm in northern Illinois and currently works for Compeer Financial.