Women increase presence in agriculture, change industry


Advocating for agriculture both in and out of the classroom is not only Sarah VanDerVliet’s career—it’s her passion.

Informing mothers and the public about agriculture and healthy food options is something the agriculture educator takes to heart. Advocating is one of the many things women are getting involved in to promote the agriculture industry.

Women have always been part of agriculture. According to Shirley C. Eagan, author of “Women’s work , Never Done: West Virginia Farm Women,” in order for a farm to be successful in the 1900s the women had numerous roles ranging from manual laborer to full partner in the operation. Women today are changing the agriculture industry by advocating for the industry and participating in more research.

There has been a 4.1 percent increase in females pursuing degrees in agriculture and biological sciences at South Dakota State University from fall 2010 to fall 2015, according to the College of Agriculture and Biological Science Academics Programs Office.

For Lacey Quail, senior animal science major, she never thought of going into anything else but agriculture. It just seemed like the natural fit for her growing up on a farm and loving the farm life.

Rose Nold, a professor in the SDSU Animal Science Department, can remember a time when pursuing degrees in agriculture was not the norm. She can remember when parents in agriculture were not encouraging their children to go into the industry because it was a difficult time in the economy.

“I have seen a few ups and downs and it’s really exciting to see the number of people going into it and the different opportunities. Whether it’s farming and ranching, communications and technical services. Whether that is meats or on the agronomy side,” Nold said.

Women are now moving into those leadership roles in agriculture corporations and farm operations. While there has been an increase in women going into agriculture, there are still those jobs that are predominantly male in the dairy industry, said Jill Anderson, assistant professor of dairy science.

While some areas in agriculture still may be predominantly male, one area where women are sought after in the agricultural field is in the swine industry’s sow barns. Women have a different perspective on breeding, farrowing and caring for the piglets than their male counterparts, said Crystal Levesque, professor of animal science. Sow barns that have predominantly female workers are more productive than predominantly male workers barns, Levesque said.

Women have not only had a presence within the production side of the agriculture industry, but women such as VanDerVliet are taking to social media to advocate for the industry.

“One thing that we need to do in agriculture is advocate and educate. I advertise our farm life through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram,” VanDerVliet said.

VanDerVliet has lead tours of her family’s operation and become involved with a program called Commonground. The program’s focus is to have women talk to women and moms talk to moms about the industry. Their goal is to educate the public about food and farming.

Advocating is just one of the many opportunities that VanDerVliet and other women have taken part in.

“The opportunities for women in agriculture are endless,” Nold said. “There are so many different types of jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities where everyone has the opportunity to pick what interests them. What they are passionate about. What they can really put their heart and soul into and excel at.”