The image that comes to mind for many Americans when they hear the word farmer is an older man in dusty overalls not unlike the portrait painted in Grant Wood’s American Gothic. While that is a quaint notion, it hardly conforms to the reality of today’s diverse and innovative agricultural industry.
Modern farming uses advanced equipment, GPS technology, digital sensors and even robots. It’s also more diverse with women and minorities increasingly making up a sizeable portion of the industry. USDA estimates that 31%, or nearly 1 million, of America’s farmers are women who farm a combined 301 million acres.
We spoke with three young, female peanut farmers who are challenging the conventional stereotype of farmers, and are poised to become the next generation of leaders in the industry. All three are current or former members of the Peanut Leadership Academy with varying backgrounds. What they all have in common is that they are helping to shape the future of the peanut industry, and proving that farming is diverse, technologically advanced, and anything but quaint.
Jan Jones from Climax, Georgia is a fifth generation farmer who graduated from Mercer University and became a teacher, but decided to follow her heart and help run the family farm with her dad. In 2015, she acquired her own 150 acres and began planting peanuts.
How would you challenge the stereotypical image of a farmer?
Jones: Good farmers come in all shapes and sizes, and all different kinds of colors. I'm a words person. I like words. “Farmer” is like “doctor.” It's like “lawyer.” It doesn't have a gender. There is no female version of the word farmer. You're just a farmer. I think that's really beautiful. It's not all overalls, and pitchforks, and men working in the field. Farming looks a lot different now from a gender standpoint, and from a technology standpoint. It's evolved.
How has your teaching background and perspective as a young, female farmer informed your farm operation?
Jones: Whenever you’re in an industry as old as agriculture, it can be easy to get stuck in the rut of “this is the way that we’ve done it, and this is the way that we are going to continue to do it because this is the way that generations before me have done it.” When you’re new to the industry, you’re more open to different ideas and different practices. I’m still kind of new when you look at the timeline of my farming career. I haven’t made a deep mark, but I can tell you we do a lot more research into the things that we do now. I want to know exactly what it is that I’m working with, what I’m doing, and why I’m it doing that way.
Lexi Floyd from Brownfield, Texas began farming peanuts, cotton, wheat and cattle with her husband, Jared, in 2013 after a stint teaching Ag in the Classroom in Chicago. Not only is she a member of the Peanut Leadership Academy, she also serves on several agricultural boards, including the Terry County Farm Bureau, the West Texas Young Farmers Association, and is involved with the Western Peanut Growers Board. She also performs bookkeeping for several farms in her area.
How do you balance being a farmer with your other activities and leadership roles?
Floyd: I’m not sure if I ever have anything balanced, but they all work together. Being involved in several organizations as well as working for other farmers really allows me to be exposed to a wealth of information and diversity that brings about new learning experiences and opportunities for our farming and cattle operation. The constant networking and discussion of farming issues with peers in the industry has led us into some opportunities that have increased our production acres and implement new and more efficient practices.
What’s your point of view on women in agricultural leadership?
Floyd: I think diversity is key to all facets of any industry. Gender diversity in agriculture is extremely important. I think that we offer such different perspectives to farming because our responsibilities have been from a different aspect than our farmer counterparts. When my husband and I discuss new ideas, I am looking at things from a different perspective because I have a closer connection to the inner workings of all of our [booking] paperwork, insurance, payroll, taxes, etc. Encouraging women to take a leadership role will be increasingly important as women continue to be in charge of household consumption. I think it’s key to focus on talking about women in ag as mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. We are consumers just like the general population. We make the same decisions when buying products. Every time someone opens a fridge or pantry, is every time someone is relying on us as farmers. We are all in this together.
Blaire Colvin’s farm is in Marion County, Florida where she grows peanuts, carrots, snap beans, sweet corn and small grains with her father. She recently graduated with a Doctorate in Plant Medicine from the University of Florida. She is also a certified crop advisor and agronomist, and an equal partner in the farm business with her dad.
How does your educational background and other positions within the agricultural industry influence your day-to-day operation on the farm?
Colvin: Being an agronomist absolutely affects day-to-day crop management decisions on the farm. I utilize the science knowledge I gained while in school and apply it practically to my farm to improve yields and efficiency every day. Our farm is pretty progressive and we are committed to trying new practices and technology. We are constantly experimenting with new products, different management tactics, and technology. I think our strong backgrounds in agronomy and science has contributed greatly to our farm’s success. My doctorate degree has helped us significantly with managing plant disease, insects, and weeds.
What do you think people should know about the next generation of farmers?
Colvin: I think too many people have an outdated view of what farmers do, and don’t recognize that we are running businesses utilizing the latest technology and information just like in every other field. Much of the public is unaware of the huge amounts of science and technology that are involved in farming, and frankly how complicated farming actually is. Farmers are extremely committed to protecting and caring for the land and environments so that their farms can be passed down and stay productive. The next generation of farmers are committed to embracing change, technology, and farming in the most efficient way possible to provide healthy and nutritious food products while caring for the environment.