Women at ag conference see change as opportunity

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Hundreds of women from around the Pacific Northwest met on Saturday to draw on one another's experiences during Washington State University's conference.

SPOKANE — About 550 women participated in Washington State University’s Women in Agriculture Conference during the weekend. It was transmitted to 28 locations in the Pacific Northwest.

Keynote speaker Heather Darby told participants she took over for her parents on a seventh-generation, 130-acre organic farm in Alburgh, Vt.

In the decade since, the farm has found success diversifying fruit and vegetable production with custom grazing, she said. Darby emphasized the importance of good communication and record-keeping while maintaining high quality to draw customers.

Darby touted the use of hoophouses and netting to protect crops against weather and climate extremes. Though other farmers question the expense, she says she can’t afford not to use them.

Darby wishes she had more time and land to take advantage of the opportunities she sees for women in farming.

“Agriculture is at this critical crossroads at this moment,” she said. “We’re at the point where we’re starting to see some roads that haven’t been taken before — really diversifying our farms and connecting directly with our consumers. There’s never been a more exciting time in agriculture.”

Ione, Wash., rancher Eileen Napier, a speaker at the Spokane session, said she appreciates the emphasis on helping women view change as an opportunity.

“Change happens whether you want it to or not, and it’s just a matter of how you react to it as to what the outcome is going to be,” she said.

Those attending the Spokane location came from a variety of ag backgrounds.

Spokane resident LeAnn Thomas and her siblings are in the process of taking over her father’s farming operation on the Palouse. They’ve hired a farmer as the land transitions back into crops from CRP, but Thomas hoped to learn about farming practices and perhaps offer input.

“I’m just trying to get an overall picture of what it’s like to be a farmer,” she said.

Christine Colbert, of Davenport, Wash., hoped to get tips for a wheat and barley farm, such as using GPS systems. She also hoped to develop networking contacts to talk about raising families on the farm.

“There’s always challenges along the way,” she said. “As long as we can help each other and bear each other’s burdens if we can, we will.”

Moses Lake, Wash., resident Lucia Udlinek is transitioning from her off-ranch job to join her husband on their 60-acre cow-calf operation.

“I thought this would be great to talk to other people who are doing this, to see how they’re doing it,” Udlinek said. “Should I be considering changing the organizational structure of our ranch? How can I craft my record-keeping into a format that might be acceptable to a lender?”

Napier tripled the size of her sheep flock last year. That involved moving from feeding 20 sheep to 60, and learning more about marketing and customer relationships, she said.

“If we can learn from other people’s experiences just through conversation, that saves a lot of time and energy, rather than making mistakes and learning it the hard way yourself,” Napier said.


Women in Agriculture conference: http://womeninag.wsu.edu

Darby Farm: http://www.darbyfarm.com


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