When you picture a farmer, do you envision a man in overalls standing beside a barn? Or, perhaps you envision a huge combine rolling through a field. Multiple studies show Americans don’t really understand much about where their food comes from or the people who grow it.
The truth is, about a third of the nation’s farmers are women, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. What’s more, the majority of these women are working family farms, since 99 percent of all American farms are family-owned and operated. Just under 1 million women farmers contribute $12.9 billion to the nation’s economy and are responsible for farming more than 301 million acres.
More women are seeking careers in agriculture, and they’re breaking stereotypes about what their roles can be. While many women in the agriculture industry are farmers who grow crops and raise animals, others are helping advance agriculture by fulfilling non-traditional roles:
Megan Moll, seed sales representative
Moll grew up working on her family’s farm in central Michigan. Today, as a sales representative for Syngenta, she supports a network of independent seed advisers who sell the company’s corn hybrids and soybean varieties. She started with the company as an intern and has grown into her current role. “If you want to go after it, go after it,” Moll advises women who may be considering a career in agriculture. “Don’t let anything stop you.”
Brenda and Marin Wolgamott, grape growers and winemakers
In 1999, Brenda and her husband, Duane, entered the wine-growing business; and in 2002, they created their own label — Marin’s Vineyard — named for their daughter. At age 14, Marin began delving into the science of winemaking, learning how to test grapes for sugar and pH levels in a lab, so she could provide the service to neighbors who would otherwise have to send their grapes to far-off labs for testing. Today, she is the winemaker for the vineyard. Marin’s experience and career path demonstrate “there are different avenues to get in,” she says. “Whether you want to do chemistry or love to get your hands dirty in the cellar, everyone’s job in the winery is always appreciated.”
Marj Guyler-Alaniz, TV host and photographer
Born and raised in rural Iowa, Guyler-Alaniz graduated from Grand View University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, photography and journalism, and immediately went to work in agriculture for a crop insurance company. Inspired to draw attention to the roles of women in agriculture, she founded FarmHer, an online social community for women farmers. She now hosts the award-winning television show “FarmHer on RFD-TV,” which is sponsored by Syngenta. “I think showing women who are successfully farming or ranching plants a seed in the younger generation,” Guyler-Alaniz says. “Younger girls who are interested in getting into agriculture or carrying on a family tradition can see for themselves that they can do it.”
Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., agrobacterium researcher
At a time when few women went to college, let alone pursued a higher degree in a scientific field, Chilton had the curiosity and drive to bring about major change. When one of her students turned in a paper suggesting bacteria that caused a common plant disease could actually transfer a portion of its DNA to the afflicted plant, Chilton thought his theory was wrong. But in the spirit of the scientific method, she tested it and instead found her student’s theory to be true. Her research laid the groundwork for transforming how scientists conduct plant genetic research. Her work in plant biotechnology has significantly affected the global agriculture industry. “I give young people today the same advice I’ve given throughout my career,” Chilton says. “Pursue what you love and what fascinates you, and the rest will follow.”
To learn more about women in agriculture and farm news, visit SyngentaThrive.com.