TWIN FALLS, Idaho — The ranks of young women in agriculture are growing but they face unique challenges in balancing the demands of farm and family and need to work together to empower each other to achieve their goals and manage risks.
To address those and other issues, Washington State University Extension held its sixth annual conference aimed at women in agriculture. It was simulcast Saturday to 40 locations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
The conference brought in keynote speakers, women with success in agriculture, to fuel local panel discussions, networking and individual plans of actions.
One of this year’s keynote speakers was Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Appointed about a year ago, Taylor previously oversaw USDA Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services and led USDA’s Women in Ag initiative. Before that, she was a congressional staffer and worked on the 2008 and 2014 farm bills. She also served eight years in the Army National Guard.
Her success has been the result of numerous teachers, supporters and mentors, many of them women, she said.
Growing up on her family’s farm in Iowa, which has been operating for 158 years, she knew from an early age she didn’t want to be a farmer. But she didn’t realize there was so much opportunity in agriculture, she said.
In the next five years, 58,000 jobs will be open to college graduates with expertise in agriculture, natural resources and the environment. Of that, new graduates will only fill 61 percent of those spots, she said.
“There’s great opportunity, but agriculture will have to look outside the traditional venues to fill those needs. It’ll have to look outside of farm youth and beyond traditional male ranks and engage young people to build a pipeline.
“I encourage all of you to use your experience and leadership roles to mentor younger women,” she said.
Agriculture needs diversity in leadership, with women serving on committees and commissions and making policy. Women make up half of the population, and they think differently than men. Having women in the room — asking questions and giving their perspective — could change the outcome, she said.
She encouraged women to lift up other women, setting examples to help them move forward, stepping up to the plate themselves and helping others to step up to the plate.
“We as women need to help other women’s voices be heard,” to help amplify their voices so those voices resonate louder, she said.
She encouraged women at the conference to formalize strategies to do that and to be intentional so that women have an equal seat at the table and are equally heard.
“I’d really like to challenge all of you to seek out a mentor or be a mentor,” she said.