By Angela Roglaski
Women have been an important part of agricultural history since America’s early days. From bookkeeping to tending to the family garden, the contributions that women made to the business were vitally important to the family operations and the family food supply.
But since the growth of the women’s movement in the 1960s–1980s, women have become an even more integral part of the farming operation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture in the 2017 Census of data collected; while the number of male producers declined 1.7 percent, the number of female producers increased nearly twenty-seven percent, underscoring the effectiveness of the attempt to better represent all people involved in farm decision making. And while many female producers were most involved in day-to-day decisions and record keeping and/or financial management, the Census also showed that land use and/or crop decisions made by females was significant.
Karen Giesbrecht and her husband Anthony own Buckshot Planting Company in Sunflower. Giesbrecht’s husband has been farming for twelve years and she joined him as a full-fledged partner three years ago.
“We farm 3,400 acres of soybeans,” says Giesbrecht. “I’m a primary operator, which means I am actually a farmer. I’m a farmer’s wife, but I’m also a farmer. I plant the beans and then cultivate to get ready for irrigation.”
Giesbrecht adds that her husband Anthony gets the credit for teaching her how to operate the tractors and other equipment that is used almost daily in their work.
“I punch holes in the poly-pipe right alongside my husband to get irrigation started,” she says. “It’s sometimes a push to get through the planting season and then it’s a push to get all the poly-pipe rolled out to start the irrigation process. Harvest is always my favorite time, because you get to hopefully see all of your hard work pay off.”
Giesbrecht says there are many facets to farming, and it all has to come together with perfect timing and weather cooperation.
“But when the combines pull in and the trucks line up, it’s an exciting time,” she adds. “I look forward to that each year. Anthony and I are both involved with the marketing, but keeping up with plant/emerge dates, records of soybean varieties is all part of my job too. During harvest I handle all of the tickets for the truck drivers to make sure everything is accurate.”
Giesbrecht offers this advice to other women who might be thinking about getting into the farming way of life; “Just try to do something that is outside of the box. If there is something that you want to try your hand at, do it. Women today want to find that one thing that makes them feel empowered and this is it for me.”
Candy Davis grew up on her family’s farm in Shaw and remembers the days when she used to do it all, from driving the tractors to the actual planting of the crops.
Today, it’s her husband and her children taking care of the farming business, with Candy handling the marketing and paperwork for the rice and soybeans that they produce.
“I was twelve years old when I first started driving tractors,” says Davis. “So, I had a job every summer when I was out of school. When I was in college, my dad planted wheat. So if I helped plant it and cut it, that was my college money. I majored in Agriculture at Mississippi State, and I loved it. It was what I knew and loved. Being outside was important to me.”
And even today, Davis says she feels the same way about farming. “It’s a wonderful life, especially when it’s family involved. You work really, really hard during the farming season and then when you’re off, you can really enjoy your family. It’s still a wonderful lifestyle even with its challenges.”
Davis offers this advice to any woman thinking about the farming life for themselves, “If she’s doing it herself, she’s probably going to meet a lot of adversity, because it can be a ‘man’s world.’ But if she hangs with it and uses the resources that are out there, she’ll be fine. If she’s married to a farmer and helping him, be sure to try and understand what he’s doing every day, in case she ever has to handle it on her own. From the terminology used to the actual job of farming, work side-by-side with him and learn.”
In Boyle, Frances Garner and her husband, Charles, farmed 640 acres together for thirty-eight years, hand-in-hand, just the two of them. The Garner’s grew rice and soybeans and began their farming lifestyle in 1965.
Garner says that over the years, she helped her husband run Garner Farms enthusiastically. “I drove the tractor; I did all of our planting; I also drove the grain truck; if it was farm equipment, I got on it.”
As a child, Garner was always outdoors and rode with her father on his tractor.
“I grew up on the farm and I loved to be outside. I loved the farming life.”
Since retiring about fifteen years ago, Garner says she still misses the days where she was outdoors constantly and an active part of the growing process.
“I really miss being out there and watching the dirt being turned over. I loved working in the fields. I guess that’s unusual for a woman, but I enjoyed it as much as my husband did.”
The Garners have been married sixty-three years and Mrs. Garner offers this advice to women who may be thinking about starting the farm life, “There’s no better life than this one. Go for it.”
Lisa Barker leases her farmland in Madison County. Barker has grown soybeans, corn, wheat and currently is trying her hand at her first-ever corn crop. This is her eleventh year farming. Barker is on dry land, so she doesn’t irrigate, but she does handle everything else when it comes to her farms.
“As a single woman doing this, I love it,” she says. “And my father does help me a lot. Growing up, we would go from Texas to Montana on the wheat harvests during summers and then come back to the Delta to do corn and soybeans. I left for about ten years after college and got into commercial real estate in Washington D.C. and Charleston, South Carolina. But in 2008, I moved back home, which is Yazoo County, and started with 250 acres and today I have about 1,100 acres in Madison County.”
Barker has seen the ups and downs over the years as a farmer, but she is nothing if not determined and continued on, taking advantage of an opportunity.
“When the Recession hit, real estate took a nosedive,” she says. “My father had some farming equipment and I saw an opportunity and I knew that I needed just a couple more tractors, so I got them. And I knew that I could do this. I’ve been around it all of my life and over the years I have learned so much.”
Barker feels satisfaction with what she does and loves the outdoors. “I would work on a real estate deal for years and have it fall through. But with farming, I can look behind at what I’ve done and see what I have accomplished. It’s a great feeling. Unfortunately, with the weather and other challenges, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but sometimes it does. And that’s when it’s great. Putting a hard kernel seed in the ground and watching it grow is amazing to me. But I could not make this work without the help of my dad in the field and the encouragement of my mom and grandmother to keep persevering in spite of the obstacles.”
Barker offers this piece of advice to any women out there thinking about joining the farm life, “Dig your heels in and get ready to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. And persevere through the madness, because there are times when it’s very frustrating. You need patience, for sure. And don’t listen to the noise you might hear from others, that you can’t do it. That’s just noise and you can’t pay attention to it.”