When I called Heidi Flory to interview her for a story, I had every intention of asking her what it’s like to be a woman in agriculture.
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Flory and her husband operate a 4,800-hog nursery barn along with a herd of Hereford cow-calf pairs on their farm in Schuylkill County. She also founded PA Farm to Family Table, a Facebook forum that links farmers and consumers. Flory has a master’s degree in homeland security — agricultural biosecurity and food defense, and she speaks to schools and groups on animal agriculture topics and is a vocal advocate of agricultural practices.

So yeah, after I originally planned on writing about Flory’s perspective of being a woman in agriculture, I shifted gears after learning about all she’s involved in. I just felt that a story centered on her being a woman on the agricultural landscape wouldn’t completely reflect who she is and what she does.

In Flory’s case, being a woman in agriculture isn’t what’s impressive. Her knowledge of all facets of agriculture and her dedication as a farmer — that should be the focus. That’s the real story.

Sometimes I think we tend to get too caught up with labels when it comes to agriculture. It’s fine to identify someone based on what they produce — grain farmer, dairy farmer, produce grower, etc. — but sometimes when the labels are based on race or gender, I think it masks the extraordinary achievements and work ethic found in every farmer. It narrows the scope from a broader angle that can be much more interesting.

Still, there’s another reason why simply being a woman in agriculture doesn’t always need to be the main topic.

It’s really not uncommon.

Growing Numbers of Women in Ag

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, there are 1.2 million female producers in the United States, accounting for 36% of the country’s farmers. The figure represents a 27% increase from 2012, and in states such as Arizona, Alaska and New Hampshire, nearly half of all producers are female.

Also, according to the 2017 census, more than one-third of Pennsylvania’s 90,000 producers are female. That’s an impressive percentage, yet it still doesn’t rank in the top 10 states for female producers.

It’s important to note that the 2017 figures are based, in large part, to a change in the way USDA counts producers from 2012 to 2017. For the 2017 survey, farms were allowed to report multiple individuals involved in the operation. Still, the number of women involved, to varying degrees, in a farm operation is significant.

When I look back at the stories I’ve written for Lancaster Farming, female farmers are a common topic.

They’re a very diverse group, when it comes to what they produce. I’ve interviewed women who milk cows, raise beef, pork, poultry, produce and hemp, operate butcher shops and farm markets, and others who are seed dealers, crop specialists, large animal veterinarians and forage consultants.

There are plenty of women who manage Farm Service Agency offices, work in conservation districts and oversee programs for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Chances are, if you’re a farmer, you either know a woman that farms, work with one to implement programs on your farm, or both.

Even though women in agriculture are no longer an anomaly, it’s still an important topic. When there’s a particular demographic that stands out and makes strides within the industry, we need to recognize them. More importantly, they need to be treated as part of the norm, and not an exception to the rule.

After I interviewed Flory, she contacted me to ask if women in ag was going to be the main topic for the story. I glanced through my notes of our conversation — pages and pages on a variety of ag-related topics — and told her if I focused on that angle, I was worried it would take away from everything else she does. Flory agreed.

While I don’t think the women in ag angle is necessarily unique, that’s not to say I’ll never write a story with that focus. It wouldn’t be hard to do. After all, with so many women involved in agriculture today, finding something to write about isn’t a problem.

Regional small, organic dairy farm industry had been rocked by Horizon Organic nonrenewal.

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