Episode 11: Not Your Grandmother's Ag Industry
From the combine to the boardroom, women are a critical part of farm operations. In Ohio alone, there has been a significant shift in the role women play on the farm.
According to data from the United States Census, in 2012, women accounted for 8,700 farm operators in Ohio. This number increased to 43,000 female operators in 2017.
Women have experienced tremendous progress within the agriculture industry. But, there is still space for women in ag to feel acknowledged, heard and empowered.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we flip the script and interview our two female podcast hosts Brenna and Libby about their earliest memories of being involved in agriculture, the most influential people in their lives growing up, and the challenges they have overcome as women working and living in the ag industry.
Here’s a glance at this episode:
- [04:22] As women in the agricultural industry, our hosts Brenna and Libby say that they feel like they constantly have to try to prove themselves and their knowledge in order to be taken seriously.
- [08:31] Brenna and Libby both recount that when they were growing up most of the people who played an influential role in their agricultural careers were not women.
- [10:11] Our hosts agree that there has been a significant shift in the industry. From FFA officer teams to college classes and farm operators, what once might have been predominantly male, is female.
- [12:07] Today, most women play some role in the farm operation, whether it’s financial record-keeping or managing the operations.
- [18:05] In 2012, there were 8,700 female operators in Ohio with an increase to 43,000 female operators in Ohio in 2017.
- [21:32] Brenna and Libby share their best advice for young girls wanting to pursue a career in agriculture.
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Guest Libby Wixtead
Libby has been an account officer for seven years serving AgCredit members in Marion County. She grew up on a 200-acre grain farm and was very active in 4-H and FFA. Today, Libby and her husband operate a 2,400-head swine finishing barn. Her favorite thing about working at AgCredit is working with local farmers from the same area where she grew up and seeing their operations thrive. She loves working in agriculture and helping her customers be successful year after year.
Guest Brenna Finnegan
Brenna has been an account officer serving Lorain County for three years. She’s worked in the agricultural industry for over 16 years with experience in livestock production, specialty crop production, seed production and processing/distribution. She grew up on a small family farm raising row crops and cattle. She currently has her own herd of beef cattle that she breeds and sells as show stock calves for 4-H and FFA members. At AgCredit, Brenna enjoys being able to work directly with the local farmers and especially helping young farmers achieve something that they didn’t think they could.
Host Matt Adams
Matt serves Paulding County as an account officer at AgCredit. He has worked in ag lending for over three years and previously worked in farm equipment sales for 11 years. He and his wife farm in northwest Ohio with their two daughters and son. His favorite part about AgCredit is the people. From the member-borrowers to the internal team at AgCredit, every day keeps getting better. Matt hopes to bring insights to ag lending and some laughs to the AgCredit Said It podcast.
Host Phil Young
Phil is an account officer for AgCredit serving Van Wert County. He’s been in ag lending for over three years but his agricultural background goes back much farther. He grew up on his family’s farm where his father raised a large herd of sheep. Currently, he helps with the family farm raising corn, soybeans and wheat. Phil likes working at AgCredit because he can help people achieve their dreams. Whether that is purchasing a new piece of farm ground, updating a piece of equipment, or helping a borrower understand their financials, helping his clients succeed is always his goal.
Speaker 1 (00:02):Welcome to AgCredit Said It, the podcast for farm newbies and seasoned professionals alike. In each episode, our hosts sit down with experts from across the agriculture industry to bring you insights, advice, and must-have information on all things rural living, from farming to finances and everything in between. So, let's get to it.
Matt Adams (00:27):Welcome back to AgCredit Said It, March is Women's History Month, so we thought it was fitting to talk to some of our women in agriculture here at AgCredit. And we are lucky enough to have two wonderful women in ag on our podcast crew, Brenna and Libby. Phil is here with me. We are going to be the host of this and let the girls be our guests today on this. So, first give me some background on your guys' ag involvement and how long you've been in the ag field?
Libby Wixtead (00:58):Well, I guess I'll start. I'd say my earliest memories of being involved in ag was following my dad around, showing hogs at the state fair. So, you can say I've been involved in ag for a long time. I've grown up in it. I started off in 4-H and then into FFA and then went to Ohio State, again, to major in ag because that was my thing. Ag is my thing.
Libby Wixtead (01:27):I worked at a bank for a little bit in agriculture, and then now, obviously here at AgCredit and I've volunteered in 4-H, volunteered in FFA, been involved with Farm Bureau, been involved with some other groups like Ohio Agribusiness Association and things like that. So, really anything ag, I've really been attracted to and tried to be involved with because the world is run by those who show up. So, that's what Dusty always says, so we try to follow in with that.
Phil Young (01:55):Question for you, actually, when you went to Ohio State, I guess, in the ag school, how many females were there, how many women were in the ag? I mean generally, I mean, what was the ratio or mix? Yeah.
Libby Wixtead (02:06):So, the interesting thing was I started off in ag ed, so the majority of people in my classes were women, obviously to be teachers. Now, when I switched my major to agri business, that was fewer. There was a lot fewer women in those, or ladies, whatever you want to call us, in college, but there were a lot fewer of us. But I would say, you would probably be 50/50 at the college, if not a little bit less, but once you switch from a more female field of being teachers, into a more business field or a crop field, it was more of the guys that you were in there with. Brenna?
Brenna Finnegan (02:48):I guess, I could say ditto. No, I actually did the same, started off in 4-H and FFA and showed cattle and helped on the family farm and things like that. But went to Ohio State, majored in ag ed. However, I did not start in ag ed. I actually started college in civil engineering, went a year and I thought, "Oh, these are not my people." So, switched over and just fit right in. And like Libby said, the number of women in it really shifted, I think, while we were even there. I noticed more men there at the beginning and then towards the end, it was the classes became more female oriented type classes, I guess you could say. After graduating, I spent 12 years in the production ag arena, I guess you can call it. And now three years here at AgCredit.
Matt Adams (03:41):Now, Brenna, let me ask you, on the production side, were there a lot of females in your role doing that with you or was that more of a male dominated industry?
Brenna Finnegan (03:52):Male dominated industry. I worked at a swine facility, a large swine operation out of Bucyrus and worked inside the sow units, so doing all the breeding. I actually interviewed a lot of the new employees and did the screening to make sure people were coming in and doing their jobs and things like that. Did training.
Matt Adams (04:12):Did you feel like there was more challenges in that side than versus when you came to AgCredit?
Brenna Finnegan (04:18):Oh, definitely.
Matt Adams (04:19):As far as being a female in the industry?
Brenna Finnegan (04:22):Definitely. There's a whole thing about having to prove yourself, I guess, or your knowledge, that you do know what you're talking about and being taken seriously, I guess, is one way to put it, that comes into play. And when I first went into the swine world, I didn't really know much about swine because I showed cattle, we had cattle growing up. So, it was a total learning curve for me from the get-go. But I had to pick up on it quickly because I got asked those questions of, "Well, what about this? What about that?" And then when I switched from there over to the crop production side, I had to teach myself all over again, because like Libby, I went into ag education and the joke down at the college is, "You're a jack of all trades, master of none."
Brenna Finnegan (05:08):So, you take all these classes and all these ag things like, I mean, you took power machinery classes, concrete classes, construction classes, engine classes. I mean, I could put an engine together, just give me some time to do it. But I mean, we had to take all of those things, and in those classes, on the production side, those were all mostly men inside those classes. And then going out into the world, it was mostly men in that whole arena there too. So, when I switched over to do the crops, like I said, I had to teach myself everything. I mean, I would call my dad, "Does this sound right?" Because I had to make sure I was really paying attention to what I wrote down.
Brenna Finnegan (05:54):We had another female rep had put down, oh gosh, what was it? It was a disease in corn and they put it down on the field report. Well, it just so happened to go to a grower of ours that was an actual ag educator. So, it was nothing that was ever found here in Ohio and, oh boy, that was, "You don't know your stuff," and everything. And then it's like, "Well, hold on, let's walk through this, what was it?" And I had to go back out and smooth it over like, "Hey, she's still learning the whole thing and what diseases are, where the presence are in the state and things like that." So, I mean, there was definitely some cushioning or finesse or whatever you want to call it, had to go into how we handled certain situations.
Matt Adams (06:53):So, we talk about that and some of the challenges you guys have seen in your career thus far. Growing up, I'm sure there were challenges being young girls in an ag community, coming up through, I'm guessing 4-H, FFA, were there some influencers for you guys growing up, that really pushed you to be the best you could being a female in the environment?
Brenna Finnegan (07:24):I'll be honest, actually, mine wasn't necessarily a female, my ag teacher and I will name drop him, Mr. Craig Norton, from Firelands FFA, he's now retired and what not, but I actually almost went into the civil engineering field in order to avoid ag at first.
Matt Adams (07:43):Which I would guess, civil engineering to me was probably going to be a more male dominated industry.
Brenna Finnegan (07:49):Yep. And well, the joke with my brothers was, "Oh, you just want to get paid more, because you're going to be the minority of it." It's like, well, I didn't really think about it that way, but if that's the way it's going to work, I don't know. I didn't really look into it that much. But he kept asking me to switch over to ag ed for the longest time and I refused and refused and refused. And finally, I was sitting in the class and I distinctly remember sitting there, looking around, thinking, "These are not my people." And I had to get out of it. I literally, next day switched over to a whole nother field and the rest is history, I guess you could say. So, what about you, Libby?
Libby Wixtead (08:31):Yeah. And I would actually say that my influencers were not female either. I would say first and foremost, it would be my dad. He always treated me like my brothers of, "You can do anything that your brothers can." And that's the attitude that I have regardless of if it was sports, ag, whatever, it's like, "I'm going to be better than you guys." And that's just the way they raised me in that. So, my dad being a previous ag teacher, he really pushed me in FFA and really said, "You can do it." And it's funny to see, when I started my ... I was involved with, I would say, involved with FFA through my brothers being involved, of seeing the changes of the whole officer team would be males. And then by the time I got up there, and by the time I left, your officer team, at least at our high school, was mostly females.
Libby Wixtead (09:25):So, I mean, that was the neat transition that they had. I will say, once I started to decide what my career was going to be and then also, working with AgCredit, I had somebody that I had worked for. He was actually also a 4-H advisor and I was defiant on being an ag ed teacher and he's like, "Libby, I don't know if that's really the path that you should take. I really want you to think about having a family and what you're going to want to do, being, once you get into your professional career." So, I blame him for making me take calculus and chemistry in a summer semester, because that was the year that I decided to go into ag business.
Libby Wixtead (10:11):And then, once I got into the ag business field, it's like, "Okay, what am I going to do now?" And that is where I would say, I'd be more influenced by some people in college that might have been females, but yeah, absolutely, I would say it was really more males that were pushing us and influencing us. And I think there's also a transition of the farm's not always going to go to the son now. I think there's a lot of fathers that are looking at their daughters to take on operations as well. And I think that transition happened as we were growing up, recognizing the daughter of like, "Oh, your husband's not just going to come into the farm, you can actually have a piece of the farm and do something on the farm." And I think that transition happened and is still happening now.
Phil Young (11:01):Yeah. The high school I went to growing up, the last number of years, all the officers have been females. So, that's been fun to see. Yeah, when I was in high school, it was a mixed bag, but yeah, just fun to see that there's a lot of young girls that are getting involved with FFA, and I would say that predominant-
Brenna Finnegan (11:17):Well, look at the amount of teachers, I guess you could say from when we were younger, were mostly male ag teachers. And now, looking at it, I mean, I don't know the number specifically or anything like that, but it seems like there's a lot more female ag teachers out there.
Libby Wixtead (11:32):Yeah, I would agree.
Matt Adams (11:35):I think that brings me to my next question here, with your guys' time in the industry and growing up in it, what would you say has been the challenges, and maybe has the role of the female in agriculture changed from when you guys grew up seeing your mothers to where you're at now, where Libby talked about and you both are, you're producers on your own farm? What have you guys seen as how the roles have changed?
Libby Wixtead (12:07):Oh, absolutely, I would say they have changed. I mean, you look at, I'll even go back to our grandmothers. I mean, their role was to make sure the dinner was on the table at five o'clock and you took care of the kids, and the guys were out in the field taking care of whatever they needed to do. And now, the changes are, you have ... And I think, when you look at an earning statement, you like seeing that off-farm income and that insurance cause coming in from the wife having an off-farm job, and most of the wives do have off-farm jobs, or are in the operation as the record keepers now, while also being mothers, but also getting meals out to the field. Yeah, I mean, it has greatly changed over the years and I even see that in my own family and a lot of our customers now. It's awesome to see that women are recognized now within their farms.
Brenna Finnegan (13:10):Well, I think the challenges of it all, I think the big thing is probably being taken seriously and having to earn the respect that we know what we're talking about and understand the industry. I mean, in my own family, not to bring my family into this or anything like that, but I can remember being outside at one point in time and not to throw my brothers under the bus or anything, but I was also told that there was a toilet to go scrub inside. And I thought, "I don't think so, you can too." Back then, it really bugged me a lot, because it was like, I want to be out here just as much as you guys want to be out here. And it didn't sit well with me.
Brenna Finnegan (13:59):And now looking at it, I'm the only one in our family out of the five kids that is in the ag industry. And yes, we all have our little things, like I have a brother that does hay production and stuff, and another brother works for the guy that we farm with and well, they both do kind of, but physically being in the industry as my primary job, I am literally the only one in it. So, I mean, it's definitely a shift in comparison to what we thought would happen, most likely, I would think. I mean…
Matt Adams (14:29):Do you think some of those situations when you were growing up, comments were made to you, maybe pushed you a little harder?
Brenna Finnegan (14:35):Oh, even further, yeah. And I mean, I'll be honest, it was like, I wanted to stick it to him. I mean, really.
Libby Wixtead (14:40):Absolutely.
Brenna Finnegan (14:41):It's just like, watch me. And I mean, I've got the cows down in the barn. I have a brother that raises cattle with his kids for 4-H and stuff like that, but I mean, I literally am the only one out there doing this, as far as livestock production or things like that. Now, I buy my hay from my brother, my other brother. So, I mean, it comes full circle, I think, but I mean, I'm out there doing the breeding, out there running the cows through the shoot, weaning the calves, breaking the calves, getting my butt whooped, watching it. And I know my brothers have probably sat there and had a beer and watched, I'm sure, but I mean, it did really push me to do it more, I think.
Matt Adams (15:28):Well, and I look at it just from the experiences I've seen, though women agriculture, the new role we have now, especially on the financial side of things, the management side of things on the farm, seems like there's so many more women in ag that are probably more of the manager on a farm than what their spouse is, and to a point probably more diligent.
Matt Adams (15:51):I mean, I know my personal experience on our family farm, my wife is a much better grain marketer and bookkeeper than me and a lot more organized. You guys can do all that and then go out and hop in a grain cart and also raise the kids. It's just, you become so much more, you're just as much a part of the operation as the guy is, from where, probably even 20 years ago, it was a very, I'm guessing, probably a very small amount of females that really took the role that you guys do now in the industry.
Brenna Finnegan (16:27):There is a really big shift that's occurring, I think. And I don't, or we can't identify, I should say, a particular cause or anything like that, but the ability, I'm going to say, the women can multitask. Not to say men can't, I'm sure men can.
Matt Adams (16:43):I can't.
Brenna Finnegan (16:46):But the multitasking part of it all, I mean, there's things like I could be working on three things for three different people at the same time, because it's just the way I think our minds are constructed. I don't know. Who knows if there's some scientific numbers or study out there for that? But I don't know-
Matt Adams (17:03):Phil, are they trying to say that we can't multi-task?
Brenna Finnegan (17:05):I didn't say that.
Phil Young (17:07):But it's true, I can't. But no, I've shared before, in our first episode, I used to work in a university setting, so I worked for about 10 years for a university and I would say ... And that's why I was curious what your experience was at Ohio State and just the demographics for all universities, no matter what field it is, it's shifting female in a big, big way. And there's a lot of studies out there, why are males not going to college?
Phil Young (17:37):It's super fascinating to learn, but yeah, I think women just 10, 20 years from now are going to be the dominant workforce. I think you're just going to see more and more leaders, and whatever industry it is, just be dominated by women, because I think women are motivated and they're getting educated, they're putting the work in and they're becoming the masters of their fields, and you'll see that now. So I think, in another 10 or 15 years, this is going to be a boom.
Matt Adams (18:05):Yeah.
Brenna Finnegan (18:05):Well, just looking at some of the numbers, I did a little bit of research before we all met and pulled up some of the census numbers from 2012 to 2017. And the number of females as operators I should say, was 8,700, and this is for Ohio, not the nation. So, 8,700 female operators in 2012 and this shift went to 43,000 for Ohio in 2017.
Phil Young (18:38):Oh, wow.
Brenna Finnegan (18:38):So, from 8,700 operators to 43,000 operators being females. Now, men have increased as well too, or the male side of things. So, 66,000 up to 85,000. So, I mean the shift from 8,700 to 43,000.
Phil Young (19:00):Little bit bigger variance there.
Brenna Finnegan (19:01):Yeah.
Phil Young (19:01):Yeah. Right. Bigger variance. Yeah.
Brenna Finnegan (19:06):I think it is becoming more dominant to the female side of things and the ability to keep track of all of that stuff. I think everybody has their qualities that they can bring to an operation, whether it's fixing equipment or sitting down at the computer and crunching the numbers. I mean, there's a…
Matt Adams (19:26):And I feel like maybe our industry in agriculture has tried to promote women in ag as much as they can. I know there's conferences now specifically designed just for women in agriculture out there. I know just from experience working here at AgCredit, a lot of our branch managers are female. You really don't feel it's a male or female dominated, it's everybody can do the same job. It's not that one is better than the other, I think.
Libby Wixtead (19:58):Yeah. I'd say, I agree. I mean, I agree with that. And we're very unique in our office that we are only an office of three, but we are an all female office. And this change had just happened this past year and it's been amazing the comments and I think the scarcity, I think, of some of our customers that had just been nervous of not having a male in our office. And again, I think that goes back to we having to prove ourselves and knowing what we're doing. And I think that's across the board for any women in ag of that challenge. But I mean, I agree 100%.
Matt Adams (20:41):Libby, at your office, I mean, and I guess I'm just thinking maybe the older generation of farmer, do you sense any nervousness when they come in, that they are dealing with an all female staff at our branch there now versus what they were used to? I mean, can you tell, is there a nervousness or, I mean, are they feeling that it's the new norm?
Libby Wixtead (21:03):Yes. They are nervous, number one, because the gentleman that was there before was there for 40 years. And so, I think it's the nervousness of, "Okay, oh gosh, this is all female, but then also these are young women who are green in their career."
Brenna Finnegan (21:20):"Do they know what they're talking about?"
Libby Wixtead (21:21):Yeah. Do we know what we're talking about?
Brenna Finnegan (21:23):I mean, that's really the question.
Libby Wixtead (21:24):Can we understand their needs of their operation like my previous bosses could? So yes, they are nervous.
Phil Young (21:32):I guess now that you guys are a little bit more seasoned in your career, education, looking back, if you could talk to a female that's young in 4-H, young in FFA, or maybe just starting out in their college years or early in their career, what advice would you give them?
Libby Wixtead (21:49):Don't listen to the voices in your head. Do not let imposter syndrome come into your head, because just because somebody is questioning you, you do know what you're talking about. As long as you've done the work, as long as you have the knowledge, go with your gut and your intuition, because that is one of the number one things that women are best at doing.
Brenna Finnegan (22:11):99% of the time it's going to be right.
Libby Wixtead (22:13):So, don't let somebody just try to put you down or put control over you because you are a woman.
Brenna Finnegan (22:23):I have the personality of dishing stuff back, I think. So, I am the type that's going to dish some of it back if it's given to me, not in the derogatory or putting down type way, but even jokingly. Obviously. I mean, I like to joke around a lot. So, that's the mentality. And my piece of advice mainly I think would probably, let stuff roll off the back. My dad even told me, he goes, "That's going to show their ignorance if they say something to you or anything like that. So, don't take it as an insult to you. Just let it go and proceed with your business." Because one, in this industry, we're here at AgCredit, they need us as much as we need them kind of thing.
Brenna Finnegan (23:08):So, it's about the position that we're in and being able to maintain it and trust, like she said, our instincts going forward. So, I mean, I've had guys try to pull wools over my eyes and it hasn't worked. I mean, having a guy telling me his average bean yield is 90 to 95. Well, no, it's not. I just know the area. I mean, I was a soybean and wheat production manager for a period of time. I know what this stuff is going to be able to do for you. And I find myself actually explaining my background a lot more than-
Libby Wixtead (23:45):Yeah.
Brenna Finnegan (23:46):I don't know about you, but I really do, because-
Phil Young (23:48):Almost like, provide a resume or state your credentials.
Libby Wixtead (23:51):Yes.
Brenna Finnegan (23:51):Yes.
Libby Wixtead (23:52):Yes, absolutely. And that's the one thing where in my boss and I's office, I have a picture of my family farm. My boss, she has her American degree out, she has her diploma out. Whenever we're introducing her to some of our customers that she doesn't know, it's, "Oh, hey, I was in FFA, my dad farms, my husband farms." Or if I'm talking to somebody who's putting up a hog barn and it's like, "Oh, well I have a hog barn as well." It's always like we have to throw that information out there, so it does build confidence and trust that, again, we're proving ourselves. We do know what we're talking about.
Matt Adams (24:37):And I think, when I talk to a lot of our female members, I don't hear a lot of, "My husband farms. My dad farms." It's, "Our farm." And I think that's really setting the precedents there that it is truly a joint operation.
Brenna Finnegan (24:53):Well, it identifies the shift in the industry. It really does. And it has come a long way and there is something to celebrate. Actually, I was talking with another account officer before coming here to record this, and we literally were saying how far things have come with women in the industry and it is something to celebrate, whether it's just with us females or with everybody, it is something to celebrate and to acknowledge that it is changing and we are worthy of being here and sitting at the table and having those discussions and things like that.
Matt Adams (25:30):So, I have two young daughters at home and both of them want to be farmers. They're only four and seven right now. What do you say to that little girl when she comes to your office and sees women like you in the position you're in, "I want to be that someday."? What steps do you tell a little girl to take? Is it better to be involved in 4-H, FFA or what?
Brenna Finnegan (25:58):Get in the tractor.
Libby Wixtead (25:59):I was going to say-
Brenna Finnegan (26:20):Go get in the tractor, ride with dad as long as you have to ride and beg and beg and beg to be the driver. Really.
Libby Wixtead (26:08):Yeah.
Brenna Finnegan (26:09):I mean, I can remember sitting there and be like, "Dad, can I drive? Dad, can I drive? It's auto-steer. I can do it." We were your original auto-steer system. So, I mean, literally if you came into the office and you were sitting there and I struck up a conversation with her, I'd be like, "Go ask to ride with dad." Go out there and do the stuff. I mean, get your hands dirty. I mean, on the weekends, I'm covered in cow poo 90% of the time. So I mean, really, if you're not going to go out there and do it ... I mean, if they're out there with you right now, their odds are that's probably the route they're going to take because they're already hands-on at that age.
Libby Wixtead (26:48):I would definitely give her a high five and say, "Go get it girl." Because I mean, that is exciting that they ... There's something special, I will say, between fathers and daughters. So, you already have that good connection with her. And if she wants to get in the tractor or she wants to get involved in 4-H and have that, I would totally push them towards that and tell her, "Just follow your heart. If that's what you want to do, follow your heart, get involved." I mean, I'm a very competitive person so I would tell her to beat all the boys, but just get involved in 4-H and FFA, absolutely 100%, and get involved in as many ag things as you can, because by the-
Brenna Finnegan (27:32):She will appreciate you more too.
Brenna Finnegan (27:39):I think. I mean, look, not to cut off Libby, but I've called my dad almost all day long saying, "Hey, does this sound right?" Confirm that I am still correct here and having that boost of confidence in order to get it done. And I mean, we still talk about all this stuff every day now. And I can sit and have a conversation with my dad all day long about farming, all day long, probably.
Libby Wixtead (28:02):Yeah. And I mean, I still ask my dad, "Do you need help? Do you need me to drive the tractor?
Brenna Finnegan (28:06):Oh, yeah.
Libby Wixtead (28:07):Don't tell my brother, tell me. I can leave my husband at home with kids, I'll come work crop for you.
Brenna Finnegan (28:15):He can bring dinner to the field.
Libby Wixtead (28:16):Yes.
Matt Adams (28:18):That's right. Well, I want to thank you guys for being our guests today on this, and really great information from two great women in ag, in our industry. So, thank you guys very much and we'll catch you on the next episode of AgCredit Said It.
Speaker 1 (28:36):Thank you for listening to AgCredit Said It. Want to talk ag in between episodes? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @AgCredit. For more tips and resources, visit agcredit.net, and be sure to subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. Catch you next time.