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Women in Agriculture Workshop provides valuable resources

By Donnie Lunsford, NRCS public affairs specialist

Today’s farmers, ranchers, and landowners have different backgrounds. Texas is known for being one of the largest producers of agriculture in the United States. Texas leads the nation in the number of farms and ranches covering more than 127 million acres. According to the 2017 Agricultural Census, there are 408,506 producers in Texas with 37 percent being women.

Women historically are out on the farms and ranches with their husbands working to get everything that needs to be done. Sometimes it’s in the pens vaccinating, feeding cubes, or checking water troughs. Oftentimes, many don’t know everything their husband, father, mother, etc. are involved with when the family farm or ranch suddenly becomes theirs to manage due to death or illness. It can become overwhelming and confusing with a large learning curve.

For this reason, Medina Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Hondo Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Field Office Staff held a Women Working in Agriculture Workshop to focus assistance for women landowners and managers to understand resources available to them and to learn, discuss, and network with likeminded women that are in the agriculture business.

“This workshop was a great way to get information to women that might be running the ranch someday and also some that are raising a family while farming and ranching like my family where my children and my grandchildren work on the farms,” said Debbie Benke, Medina Valley SWCD director and farmer. “It was great to see many of these women discuss how they overcame obstacles and kept their farms or ranches running after the passing of their husband or fathers and it was now up to them.”

Farm Service Agency, Medina Valley SWCD, NRCS, and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension were able to each discuss their roles and assistance they each offer. The agency representatives were able to help everyone decipher acronyms and the different technical and financial assistance programs many of the agencies offer.

“With near freezing temperatures, more than 25 women learned about farming and ranching principles and gain firsthand knowledge of techniques to manage their farms and ranches while braving the cold temperatures,” said Janet Zerr, Medina Valley SWCD technician and co-host of the workshop. “Sometimes you don’t know that you will be making the decisions for the ranch and you must know what is available to you as a land steward.”

Katie Haby, member relations and communication supervisor for Medina Electric Cooperative Texas, discussed some of the pitfalls’ women must overcome in day to day life but also as women in the business world. Many of these are societal situations and the ways to sidestep and avoid them entirely.

Associate Professor and Extension Range Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife, Dr. Meghan Clayton discussed how to be a steward of the land while having a family. The focus was how to see your place or role in the farm or ranch while staying busy with your family’s activities to stay connected and encouraging their kids and grandchildren to be involved with the operation.

To incorporate local business and to get everyone ready for the Christmas holiday season, a fashion show was held to learn about local businesses and stores and what they have to offer. It was a great way to incorporate local business that wasn’t agriculture related and exciting for the group.

After lunch, a rainfall simulator demonstration was given by Kason Haby, Edwards Plateau Grazing Lands Coalition rangeland management specialist and Hondo field office staff, James Thiess, NRCS rangeland management specialist and Tony Carrizales, NRCS soil technician. This simulation showed different types of rangeland situations based on grazing intensity and rangeland health and how residue left after harvest and covered range or pasturelands enhance capturing water and water storage in the soil.

 A hands-on demonstration of Individual Plant Treatment methods of spraying brush with a backpack sprayer was given to show proper technique, equipment, and chemical to be effective battling brush. Brush management is one of the biggest issues and cost when it comes range management. Knowing how to combat brush with the right tools, weather, and chemical will save time and money.

“I enjoyed hearing from women in agriculture who provided motivation and information which will help me with a plan for some recently inherited property,” said Renae McNeil, Medina County landowner. “I now have some ideas to pass on to my husband about battling brush to add to our management strategy.”

This was followed by District Conservationist Taylor McCumber and Soil Conservationist Kaitlin Friesenhahn discussing the importance of soil health principles. They shared about the soil structure and gave demonstration of a soil Slake Test to show the differences in the same type of soil in different management systems.

“The basic principles of soil health are: keep it covered by leaving farming and grazing residue including proper grazing heights, do not disturb the soil by reducing tillage practices, use cover crops and crop rotation to feed your soil, and plant diverse crops,” said McCumber. “There is no silver bullet in land management so you must keep your resources sustainable through proper management techniques and it begins with healthy soils.”

To find out more information about the NRCS and the resources available, please visit and contact your local NRCS office.

Women in Agriculture Workshop provides valuable resources, By Donnie Lunsford, USDA-NRCS public affairs specialist, (2019, Nov)