Women who are helping to shape the agriculture industry say its future will benefit from building community, continually educating the public, and being willing to try new ideas.
Four women who work in the agriculture industry spoke at a Women in Agriculture panel Wednesday during the Black Hills Stock Show. According to panel moderator Kory Keeth, the Women in Agriculture panel was a hit last year that returned this year by popular demand.
The agriculture industry is tightknit and that can be a source of help and support, said Amy Pravecek, who lives in Crook County and works as a territory business manager for Zoetis. Zoetis is the world's largest producer of medicine and vaccinations for pets and livestock.
“The industry is so small and we have wonderful resources. We met a producer yesterday afternoon and (people in the ag industry) get to talking and they have ties and friends in common, and that happens all the time,” Pravecek said. “The ag industry is such a small world. It’s such a tightknit, close industry of people. It’s a feeling different than any other industry.”
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“It’s making those connections with others in the industry,” said Lori Cope, former executive director of South Dakota Ag & Rural Leadership who lives in Rapid City. “I use them as resources. … I don’t have all the answers so I always try to identify those people who can reach out to help me. Never go it alone in leadership. Having a united effort in agriculture is a blessing, and South Dakota does that pretty well.”
Cagney Effling is the director of programs and communications for the South Dakota Pork Council, and she grew up in the cattle industry. Though producers have different specialties, Effling said supporting the industry as a whole is most important.
“We are one big community. Though we may have competitors, the reality is we all have one common goal in the ag industry. It’s important to remember we’re all part of one industry,” she said.
The panelists agreed that one significant way leaders, as well as producers, in the ag industry can help each other is by being willing to answer questions and share their own experiences.
“The biggest thing we need to do as ag leaders is we need to be approachable,” said Suzy Geppert, executive director of the nonprofit organization Beef Logic Inc. and former executive director of the South Dakota Beef Industry Council. She and her husband are ranchers near Fort Pierre.
“People don’t know what they don’t know. You have to be approachable to where if they have a question, you’re willing to answer it. These (leadership) positions aren’t always fun but in that role, you have to be approachable to where people feel comfortable asking (for information),” she said.
“If you’re not telling your story, somebody else is,” Effling said. “It’s that much more important to get out and tell our story. It’s taking time to be approachable and willing to have one-on-one conversations and be open to telling your story and what we’re all about.”
Whether taking advantage of opportunities to speak to people face to face or making use of social media and technology, the panelists agreed ag industry leaders and producers need to talk about what they do and their products. They can educate the public while dispelling myths and misinformation.
“I’m driven by the fact that we need to communicate our story so people understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Effling said. “In my role with programs in the Pork Council programs, I’m communicating our story and that our product that our producers are providing is this great nutrient-dense source of protein. … Our producers are wanting to provide this product and they want to have a good story to go along with it.”
Pravecek was at a South Dakota Women in Agriculture conference in Keystone in 2013 when the group was stranded by Winter Storm Atlas. A group of Road Scholars were stranded there, too. Pravecek seized the opportunity.
“Any time you have the opportunity to talk about agriculture, you have to share your story,” she said.
The leader of the Road Scholars asked Pravecek to talk to the group about agriculture. One of the results was a man who hadn’t eaten red meat for a decade learned about beef’s benefits and planned to have a steak before leaving the Black Hills, Pravecek said.
“That is why I am doing this. You never know what you’re going to be asked. It’s great. I want to answer questions. I want this to be interactive,” she said.
Pravecek added that if she is asked a question and doesn’t know the answer, she turns to the ag community to find someone to help her.
Ag leaders and producers also can serve as role models and mentor the next generation of the ag industry.
“Women in agriculture are very passionate about agriculture and their families and moving agriculture forward and keeping their families involved,” Pravecek said. “Those are the people I get to work with every day with Zoetis. I get to experience next generations coming back to farm and ranch and keeping the farm or ranch going. That is such a huge part of what I do every day. … What I do is educate and promote and talk about amazing products we have to help them with their operation.”
Beef Logic Inc., for example, began as a program to engage youth and educate them about products and the farmers and ranchers that raise it, Geppert said. It began as partnership with Sanford Health’s sports nutrition program that uses beef as a protein source, and expanded to become the nonprofit Beef Logic organization.
Panelists also advocated for being willing to take risks, embrace change and not be held back by past mistakes.
After leaving her position with South Dakota Ag & Rural Leadership, Cole became certified as a life coach and hopes by year’s end to earn certification as a master life coach. Though life coaching may seem a world away from farms and ranches, Cole said it’s useful for helping women, or anyone in agriculture, achieve their goals.
“It’s a different generation. They have different expectations,” Cope said of many ag producers. “I need to bring new information and new knowledge to a group of people and introduce them to what’s trending (and show them) you’re never too old to quit learning. … It will help our people lead a stronger leadership life.”
Life coaching, Cope said, addresses “the soul of folks and finding out what it is that’s going to drive them to deliver their story in the future.” Life coaching also can address a range of skills such as time management, anger management, negotiation, and helping people discover what might be preventing them from reaching their goals.
“It’s finding positive mentors, writing a plan of work and making sure you’re stepping through the plan and not falling back and not saying, ‘I can’t do it,’” Cope said. “People have to make some decisions about how they're going to make (their goal) happen.”
There will never be an ideal moment to start on a goal or dream, panelists said.
“Are you ever going to be ready for what’s coming next? You have to be open to new opportunities and things that present themselves and not wait for everything to be perfect. It’s progress, not perfection,” Pravecek said.
“You learn every time you fail,” Geppert said. “You’ve got to keep trying. … We’ve all made mistakes. Don’t be afraid to tie another knot at the end of your rope and hang on.”
Learning about technology and social media – and using it to tell producers' stories and inform the public about the ag industry – also is vital for ag leadership and producers, the panelists said.
“If you’re not engaged, you’re missing out,” Pravecek said.
Keeth suggested during the discussion that the women start a podcast to continue sharing their ideas for women in agriculture.