I recently attended Pennsylvania’s Women in Dairy Conference in Harrisburg. I look forward to this conference each time it’s held, and this year was no disappointment. See more coverage from the event here.

Gwin emily
Former Editor / Progressive Dairy

The conference ended with a panel discussion featuring three dairywomen who have already experienced or are currently in farm transitions. The conversation became particularly lively when an attendee asked a question about farm ownership.

Candice White is part of a third generation transitioning into the farm. She anticipates purchasing shares of the farm, as that’s how it was handled between the first and second generation of her family. The other two panelists, Betty Forgy and Andrea Stoltzfus, are not owners but would be provided for in their respective farms’ partnership agreements and life insurance policies should anything happen to their husbands.

“But think about it for your daughters,” the attendee pressed. “Would you want them to be provided for or do you want them to have the power to provide for themselves?”

“I have four very strong daughters. I wish them the power and the strength to decide for themselves,” Stoltzfus said diplomatically. “I would love to see the farm continue, but all we can do is keep talking about it and explore the avenues that are available.”


“Me personally, I want to be part of the ownership,” shared Dina Zug, a Mifflintown dairywoman. “I think that should be the message here at a women in dairy conference. You don’t want to be just the wife of an owner. If you are actually working on the farm, you want to have some sort of ownership on that farm.”

Read more experts from the panel discussion here .

I kept this discussion in mind as I read, “Where are all the dairywomen?” and “And then there was one: Solving the ‘lack of women’ mystery” for this issue. The authors of these articles suggest that a lack of role models discourage young dairywomen from taking leadership roles in organizations and on the farm. I wondered if the next generation is being impacted by not seeing female farm owners and hearing them describe themselves as “just a farm wife.”

Click here to read how our HERd management columnists give examples of their own role models and discuss what we as an industry can do to encourage future dairywomen. When it comes to do’s and don’ts, a definite don’t, in my opinion, comes from a story shared by the woman on the cover of this issue, Gay Rodgers, who runs a summer farm camp for girls.

In her early years of running the farm, a salesman told her that other local farmers had been making bets about how long Rodgers, an anomaly as a female dairy operator, would remain in business. A shell-shocked Rodgers had no immediate response at that time, but that offhand remark will continue to serve as motivation for her to build up her campers’ confidence and to encourage them to pursue their own dreams of owning a farm.

“These girls won’t have the same hurdles I’ve experienced,” Rodgers told me. “They won’t have anyone betting against them.”

Dairywomen, I encourage you to take ownership of the farm. It doesn’t have to be legal ownership, but do recognize your contributions. “Just a farm wife” or “just a farm mom” as a title is not doing yourself or future generations any favors. Please know that I have no qualms with the titles of “farm wife” and “farm mom.”

Many of my own role models consider those to be their official positions on the farm. It’s the “just a” part I’m hoping you’ll remove from your vocabulary. In full disclosure, I need to take my own advice. I realized that when introducing myself at the conference, I said, “I’m just a helper on my family’s farm.” Let’s not downplay what we bring to the table, even amongst ourselves.

Dairymen, I hope you recognize that you play a vital role in this discussion too. Seek opportunities to ask for dairywomen’s input – not just involvement. If your daughter is the calf expert, have the nutritionist work directly with her. Trust her decisions. Let the buck stop with her.

Encourage your wife to get involved in joining and leading dairy organizations. Invite the neighboring dairywoman to share benchmarking tools and provide feedback to each other. Ask your granddaughter to sit in on farm meetings so she can get a feel for where she might someday fit into your farm’s future.

And most importantly, let’s not bet against each other. PD

  • Emily Caldwell

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