Raising Hay and a Little Hell in a Man’s Field

It’s a man’s world, or at least that is a popular belief when it comes to farming. But today approximately half of Midwest and Great Plains farm and ranch land is owned or co-owned by women.

Phyllis McCain of Norfolk, Neb. is one of those women landowners. She recently attended a Women Caring for the Land workshop organized by the Center for Rural Affairs. It is one of several workshops being hosted this summer designed to empower women who own land.

Women Caring for the Land offers a peer-to-peer format of informal discussions to allow women landowners to talk about their individual land stewardship goals. It is facilitated by women conservation experts who can share resources available such as USDA conservation programs, state initiatives, and other tools.

Phyllis (pictured seated in the photo above) had been renting out her family farm near Norfolk. She was unhappy with the way her land was being managed by the tenant. Phyllis didn’t approve of the way her land was being farmed and was especially concerned over the lack of conservation.

"I either had to move there and fix it up or sell it, because it was getting in bad shape," said Phyllis. She could see the neighbor’s farms blowing whenever the wind blew. "One of the first things I did was seed it all down to grass," she said.  "Having the wildlife is more important to me than making a bit more money renting it out for row crops. That was rough going; I had no income off of it for four years."

Now Phyllis raises hay ... and a little hell on her farm. "I've learned that this is my land, and I'm the boss. I'm sure they think I'm brazen, and I don't care." 

Other women landowners also attended, learning how to manage farms, soil health, and conservation practices on their land. Each one has a slightly different situation, but they all have the goal of improving their land. 

The workshops offer a safe environment where women from all different backgrounds - no matter their experience, whether they are fully engaged in their farming operation or have just recently taken over management - can learn from each other. Women gain the power to confidently answer an important question: How do I talk to my tenant about the farming practices that I want implemented on my land?

"It gives me the courage to be a woman in a man's field and to stick up for myself and say, 'No. This is my farm. I'm the boss here,'" said Phyllis.

The Women Caring for the Land  workshop was supported by the Center for Rural Affairs and the Women Food and Agriculture Network. The next Women Caring for the Land workshop will be held on June 10 in Pender, Neb. Find out more here.