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Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture Highlight: Audra Quay Fenton

 

Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture

Highlight: Audra Quay Fenton

By: Betty Thompson

STIGLER — “Conservation is what farming and ranching is all about.”

In fact, conservation is Fenton’s friend and business partner.

From the time she could walk, Audra Fenton was helping on her family’s cow/calf operation in Stigler with her parents, Bill and Pat, and two older brothers, Greg and Mark. Her investment in agriculture began at a young age.

“I was always working on the family farm,” Fenton said, “I was a tomboy. I would rather be outside helping dad and my brothers than be inside.”

She spent many summers baling hay for their cattle with her parents and brothers in the hayfield.

“I’ve been in agriculture my whole life,” said Fenton.

The importance of preserving and caring for the land and resources was instilled in Fenton as a key to becoming a successful producer.

In 1989, Fenton left the family farm to attend Eastern Oklahoma State College (EOSC) in Wilburton, where she obtained her Associate of Science degree. She went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Education in 1994 from Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater.

Having been an active FFA member growing up, and the recipient of the State FFA Degree, American FFA Degree and the Honorary FFA Degree, it was no surprise that Fenton had envisioned a career in as an ag teacher, like her older brother Mark.

But as fate would have it, she spent the summer between EOSC and OSU working at the Eufaula field office for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). At the time, she had no idea that her career had already begun.

While studying at OSU, Fenton also worked at the state NRCS office in Stillwater. After completing her student teaching, Fenton began reflecting on her future career.

“I had always wanted to teach, having grown up in FFA,” Fenton said. “I had a great ag teacher, Jim Meek, who inspired me, and I still keep in touch with him today. But I started thinking about how much time I’d be gone and wanted to explore what else I could do outside of teaching, so I took the Soil Conservationist position.”

Fenton made the decision to take her career away from teaching and moved to Watonga to become a Soil Conservationist.

Now 25 years later, it is evident that she made the right choice.

As a Soil Conservationist, Fenton helped landowners and farmers with methods to improve their land and provide them resources to implement the plans.

“I love my job, I love helping farmers and ranchers,” Fenton said.

Bill Teel, a former ag teacher and local producer, has known Fenton from the time she was a young FFA member. He feels the whole county benefits from Fenton’s knowledge of agriculture and Haskell county agriculture in particular, as well as her passion for the industry and the people who make it up.

“You could call any producer in our area and they would tell you the same thing I say,” Teel said. “She would help anybody in any way she could for conservation. If you meet the qualifications for a program, she will do whatever it takes to help you accomplish what is it you are trying to accomplish.”

Teel said Fenton never does just the minimum for producers she is helping.

“She doesn’t have to work as hard as she does to help out the people in this area,” Teel said. “But she does.”

Teel is not the only one that has noticed this quality in Fenton. In 2017, she was the recipient of the Extra Effort Award from NRCS.

One financial resource that Fenton has been able to direct producers to is the USDA’s EQIP cost-share program.

“Our cost-share program helps incentivize farmers to reach out,” Fenton explained. “They may be interested in trying out a conservation method, but they aren’t ready to take that financial risk. The cost-share program helps them take that leap.”

Fenton explained that as a conservationist, you tend to move around a bit. She has been in the Eufaula, Stillwater, Watonga, Claremore, Pryor, Sallisaw and Stigler offices.

When she relocated to Pryor, Fenton was promoted to District Conservationist. Though she maintained many of her previous duties as far as planning and mapping for landowners, she also took on supervisory and administrative responsibilities. She later relocated to Sallisaw where she was the District Conservationist for 16 years before finally moving back to her hometown.

She has been the District Conservationist in the Stigler field office for a little over two years and has serve as both the Vice-Chair of NRCS Zone 3 South Technical Committee and as the Team 19 Interim Team Leader.

“Conservation is very important to farmers and ranchers because it preserves and takes care of our land,” said Fenton. “Whether it’s the soils, grasses, or a multitude of various things, conservation is really what farming and ranching is all about.”

Now that she is back home in Stigler, Fenton juggles her career and the family farm. Her mother is in her 80s now, so the responsibilities of keeping the operation running fall mainly to her and her brother Mark, with help and support from her boyfriend, Kevin. 

 “My dad passed away five years ago this December,” Fenton said. “My brother and I both stay busy with our careers, taking care of mom, and running the ranch together.”

Over the years, her father managed various breeds of cattle on the ranch, but mainly focused on Black Simmental. Today, she and Mark have begun introducing Black Angus to the operation as well.

“We take care of feeding, calving and vaccinating the cattle, fencing, spraying, brush hogging, and whatever other basic day-to-day maintenance is needed,” Fenton said.

Fenton said utilizing conservation practices such as cover crops, cross fencing for rotational grazing and stockpiling warm season grasses for winter grazing has helped increase stocking rates, and thus increases their profit margin each year.

 It is evident that she loves helping other farmers, producers and landowners, and wants to help them take the best care of their property.

“Farmers want to do things well, they want to do the best they can by the environment,” Fenton said, “And I just love getting to be part of helping them do that.”

Like most farm operations, it is a full-time job on its own. Though it can be a struggle to balance with a career, Fenton said she loves both the family farm and her job as a conservationist with the USDA and has no intention of giving up either.

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Photo Caption: Audra Fenton, District Conservationist in Haskell County, is being recognized as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture.

 
 


Photo Caption: Audra Fenton, pictured with her boyfriend Kevin, has been working with producers in conservation for 25 years.