The Female Side of Farming – Don’t Underestimate It

April 6, 2010

By Raegan Johnson

Tonya Ball stops from her busy schedule for a photo on her tractor.

They’re there from sun up to sun down, operating machinery, cleaning equipment—whatever needs to be done. Tonya Ball, said they work just as hard—if not harder—than most of the boys. They are female farmers, and their role in agriculture is more significant than some may think.

FAO estimates that women produce between 60 to 80 percent of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.

Ball’s husband introduced her to farming seven years ago. In Plainview, Texas, her family grows corn, wheat, milo and cotton.

“I do all of the financial work,” Ball said. “I drive the tractor. I help water. I help plant. I help with harvest. I do everything.”

Ball said women are underestimated in farming.

“People think a woman can’t get the job done, but actually we do it more efficiently,” she said.  “We tear up less equipment, and there are a lot of [male] farmers now that say so. They are hiring more women because we’re alert and pay more attention to detail.”

Ball said during harvest she is up at 8 a.m., helping to prepare the equipment—greasing and cleaning—and out harvesting sometimes until midnight.

“On just a regular farming day, I handle all of the financial things first thing in the morning,” she said. “The bills, banking, getting reports ready for loans, and making sure we can pay out—I take care of all of that. And by mid-morning, I’m on the tractor and I’m there until about 6 or 7 p.m.”

Just like Ball, Cindy Cunningham of Kempton, Indiana, said when the guys are in the field, she is in the field.

“My father was a farmer, and I married a farmer,” Cunningham said.  “My dad raised hogs, and we would help him with feed and stuff, but a lot of my experience came through 4-H. I used to show cattle.”

Cunningham said she currently doesn’t do any tillage work, but in the spring she hauls anhydrous (ammonia) tanks, chemicals, water, and seed during planting. She said she also keeps the tractors going. And in the fall, she runs the grain cart. She is also responsible for finances and keeping the books.

“I enjoy helping my husband with farming,” Cunningham said. “The hours aren’t always the same, and the tasks aren’t always the same. I like the variety.”

And even with the long days and the hard work, both women say they prefer farming over any 9-to-5 job.

“I think it’s great if a woman has an opportunity to be at home, and help their husbands in their farming business,” Cunningham said.

“The reason I do this is because I enjoy it,” Ball said. “It’s challenging, and it gives me some family time I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t involved in farming.

Raegan has worked on Monsanto’s internal communications team for the past two years. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Saint Louis University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is currently pursuing a PhD in public policy. In her free time, she loves to volunteer with children.

5 Responses to “The Female Side of Farming – Don’t Underestimate It”

  1. As a rancher/wife/mom, I am so pleased to see your blog about the female side of farming. I am the day-to-day labor of our ranch. My husband has a job in town, and I take care of our 500 head of cattle and 5 kids every day. It is the most satisfying job I’ve ever had!

    Thank you for highlighting women in agriculture with your American Farm Mom contest!

  2. Mica Veihman Says:

    Great to see this perspective on a “farm mom.” I’m tired just looking at these womens’ to-do list.

    As a side note, props to Tonya for not only her hard work, but looking good while doing it. That’s a smokin’ look for the tractor!

  3. Dan Says:

    Debbie@ how on earth can you handle 5 kids.

  4. Dan, I have no idea….and I didn’t even tell you that they are all teenagers now! If I have made it this far, I can do it! I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, they are the best cattle working crew I have ever seen!

  5. James Hulsey Says:

    Tonya is a very hard woking lady. I know this because she is my mother :)

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