Farm women take on changing roles

2016-03-17T05:18:00Z Farm women take on changing rolesBy Phyllis Coulter, Illinois Farmer Today Illinois Farmer Today

SORENTO — Sometimes it can be frustrating for a farm woman to go shopping. Especially if she wants to buy a tractor or other farm equipment.

But that is changing, said Susan Wall, who farms with her husband, Don, in Bond County in Southwest Illinois.

“Two years ago, my husband and I went shopping for a loader tractor,” she recalled. “The dealers were just looking at my husband and explaining the details to him and handing him the brochures.”

She would be using the loader most often and needed to know the specs and the cost. One dealer in Litchfield talked to both of them, showed her the details and gave Wall her own brochure.

“I really appreciated that. We bought from his company,” she said.

Today, she and Don farm about 1,000 acres, including corn, soybeans and beef cattle, and have a hay business.

A photograph prominently featured on the family room wall in their home features Don and Susan, their three children and grandchildren and the hay trailer. Hay has always been a big part of the farm they bought in 1973.

“During the ’80’s the hay business kept food on the table,” said Wall.

Her ancestors also experienced the highs and lows of farming. A 1915 photograph of her grandmother hangs on a wall in their home. During the Depression, Wall’s grandparents lost their farm. They decided not to buy again and instead sharecropped.

Wall remembers her grandmother doing the heavy lifting and warning her to be careful so she didn’t suffer as much later in life from work injuries. Wall said her generation and those who follow have the advantage of using technology and equipment to make some farm jobs easier.

All three of their children were active in 4-H and FFA and have chosen agricultural related careers. Their son, Don, is the vice president/manager of a local bank and farms part time; their oldest daughter, Leah, has her master’s of agronomy; their youngest, Audrea, is the cheesemaker for Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville and is a helicopter pilot instructor. 

“I couldn’t go to FFA in high school because girls weren’t allowed then,” said Wall, 60.

As she and her husband work together on various tasks on a typical March weekday, it’s easy to see they make a great team.

“We’ve been through floods, droughts, tornadoes and had animals die. I’ve been right there with him. I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said.

Wall has worked on the farm all 42 years of marriage, with a particular skill for working with animals, especially newborns. When their three children neared college age and needed a little financial help, she considered working off the farm. But instead, she turned to the farrowing barn since she was skilled at caring for pigs.

“The farrowing (operation) helped pay for their college,” she said.

Wall is the president of Illinois Agri-Women, which holds an annual agriculture career discovery event for high school and college women.

She has seen the changing opportunity for careers in agriculture today with her own family and likes to pass that on to other young people.

Also on the executive board of Illinois Agri-Women, Mary Meinhard, of Montrose notes the many opportunities for young women today.

Meinhard, like Wall, was raised on a dairy farm and married a pig farmer. She was active in the Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) when the women’s division was initially separate. In the 1970s, the women’s role in IPPA was to promote pork.

Both women have seen changes in women’s roles in commodity groups.

“More women are on agricultural boards,” Wall said.

More women are confident enough to take leadership roles today, she noted.

Copyright 2017 Illinois Farmer Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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