A farmer driving a tractor is a common sight in Nebraska. According to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.2 million acres—91 percent of the state’s total land area.
It is often a man driving the tractor, but certainly not always. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census (the latest available statistic), 14 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms had a female principal operator. In total, the 2012 census stated that women account for about 30 percent of farm operators, often as the co-owner of a family-run farm.
These women are working hard to make a difference in their fields, and their field. Hilary Maricle is part of that 30 percent. Maricle has farmed most of her life, currently alongside husband Keith on their sixth-generation-owned family farm. She also teaches agriculture, and was a teacher and assistant dean of agriculture at Northeast Community College in Norfolk. As an agriculture teacher at NCC, she taught young agrarians, who often came from farming backgrounds, ways of improving their businesses.
“To see their eyes light up when they took in a new idea was the best,” Maricle says.
She taught courses such as international agriculture and ag law. She coordinated summer internships and worked with the agriculture department’s college transfer program, which has agreements with University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Wayne State College, and South Dakota State University-Brookings, including developing and implementing online courses.
Beyond teaching agriculture, Maricle is on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s promotion and education committee, working alongside committee members from Utah to Pennsylvania to assist and support state Farm Bureau efforts. She is also the Boone County Commissioner, and answers questions for interested persons, teaching them about the source of their food and how it affects them.
“I am most excited that people care where their food comes from,” Maricle says. “Ten years ago, we didn’t have this interest in where our food comes from. Moms in particular want to know what they are feeding their kids. We need to change our perspective to building relationships perhaps more than just going out and educating. People want to understand agriculture, and to do that, they need to know there’s people behind it.”
Sustainable, local food production is in vogue, and with this movement comes the natural rethinking of how people think about food production. Charuth Van Beuzekom is a local farmer who operates Dutch Girl Creamery and grows a variety of specialty crops on Shadow Brook Farm near Lincoln. She owns the farm with her husband and is also a mother, which she says makes her aware of people’s increased desire for organic food.
“My children grew up right next to me, either strapped to my back or waddling alongside,” Van Beuzekom says. “If you’re in that position, you can’t have pesticides around, you know, because you have little babies right there.”
Jaclyn Wilson is the fifth generation to work a cow-calf operation near Lakeside, Nebraska, that began in the 1880s. In 2013, Wilson began Flying Diamond Genetics as a project of her own while helping on the ranch currently owned by her father and uncle.
Flying Diamond Genetics is essentially a bovine surrogate business. Her clients send embryos, which Wilson calves out, taking the young animals from embryos to birth to weaned calves before sending them back to the client.
She has overseen nearly 400 embryo-transfer calves over five years, which is successful enough that she dropped from nine clients to two large clients, a large genetics company (which she could not name due to a non-disclosure agreement) and McCormick Beef of Caledonia, Minnesota.
Along with working on the ranch and running her company, Wilson is passionate about politics, especially as it relates to agriculture. She was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts to serve on the Brand Committee, a state organization that oversees cattle branding in Nebraska, and has worked with Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association and other organizations. The 38-year-old discovered that while these organizations were sometimes male-dominated, they were more noticeably populated with people older than her.
“Usually I would find out that I’m the youngest,” Wilson says. “Sometimes I’d be the youngest and the only female, but it’s not as novel now as it used to be.”
Through her civic involvement, Wilson has discovered another passion, which is international travel. In 2005, she graduated from the University of Nebraska Extension’s Leadership Education/Action Development program, for which she traveled to Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.
“That opened things up for me,” Wilson says. Because of that trip, I was able to go to Brazil with Rotary.”
Even while traveling, she maintains an eye towards agriculture. She has seen a combination beef/hog plant in Brazil, a poultry plant in China, a small wild-game processing operation Wilson described as “very mom-and-pop” in South Africa, sheep and beef operations in New Zealand, and a beef operation in Australia.
“People always laugh when I travel,” Wilson says. “I’ve been to packing plants in six different countries. It not only helps my business, but it helps you see a different picture. About half of the trips have been because of something that comes up in the industry, and half of them have been because of my love of travel.”
Because of her passionate work in agriculture, in June 2016, she was named in Farm Journal Media’s 40 under 40 list.
As traditional farming practices are being questioned and looked at in a different light, and consumers are taking more charge of where their food comes from, women continue to take charge and build themselves into the framework of agriculture.
This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.