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.

Planting takes specialized equipment on a small scale for research and development efforts.

Friday afternoon I was trying to reach a coworker.  I looked on the office instant messaging system and a rush came over me – there was an out of office message saying he was planting just outside of Corpus Christi, Texas. Immediate reaction? Pick up the phone and call to see how it’s going!

It’s a high tech version of what has happened for generations. It used to be conversations at the general store or maybe the church social.  It passed from neighbor to neighbor and town to town.  Now, the news gets out quickly & electronically – and for those of us on or connected to the farm, hearing it creates a rush of excitement.  Optimism strikes.

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Several years ago, I had the opportunity to host a group of guests from Greece for a tour of the U.S.  The group was made up of cotton ginners, textile mill personnel, a few agronomists and others in the Greek cotton industry.  I ended up being the person who accompanied the group throughout their tour.  We started by giving them a view of our facilities in the Mississippi Delta and then headed to Lubbock, TX for see the largest cotton patch & learn all sorts of things!  On the way back to the Delta from Lubbock, we stopped in Dumas, Arkansas to see a cotton gin.

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Steve Chapman talks to Janice about his life as a farmer.

The landscape differences never strike me harder than when I go to the High Plains. Whether I’m driving or flying into Lubbock, TX the view is staggering.  From the sky, you can make out circles where crops are planted.  On the highway, you notice the dramatic change in altitude as you drive up onto the Caprock.

But for the last several years, my amazement with the landscape has been matched with the welcoming feelings I’ve felt on my visits to the biggest cotton patch in the world.  Cotton has been my “bread and butter” for a long time and the High Plains has become a place I feel so comfortable in.  That’s in part due to people like Steve & Melinda Chapman who farm in Lorenzo, TX.

Lucky enough to call Chappy (Steve) a friend, I was excited to hear the new ideas around our blog while in Lubbock.  I grabbed my cameras and headed out to his farm to see if he’d mind me getting my farmer perspective blogs off to a start.  He was a perfect subject because he is so easy to talk to and I know how passionate he is about sharing information about farming. I’ve seen him tour bankers, tourists, members of the media, scientists, etc.

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By Tyne Morgan

Sorghum is a crop I saw very rarely where I grew up in Missouri. In fact, a few years ago my cousins decided to grow a few fields of it and I had to call and ask them what it was.

Grain sorghum (or milo) is nothing new to the Texas and Oklahoma farmers I spoke with last week. It’s a crop they can plant on the corners of their fields where the irrigation pivots can’t reach. And for some, there is a market for the crop, therefore they will grow entire irrigated fields of it. Also, it provides these farmers with another crop to rotate. But we can’t have Roundup Ready grain sorghum because its closely related to Johnsongrass, therefore it has a chance of crossing with that weed. And we all know we don’t want Roundup Ready Johnsongrass (it’s a pain enough as it is)!

Since I captured a lot of great footage of grain sorghum during my visit and wasn’t able to use much of it in the Harvest Update, I decided to produce a “Sorghum 101” video. A couple of my coworkers already wrote some great stories on the crop, but this will provide you more of a visual to see what the crop is used for and more. ENJOY!

Most of the facts and figures came from the National Sorghum Producers website.

By Tyne Morgan

Tyne with a soil moisture probe in Plainview, TX

Tyne with a soil moisture probe in Plainview, TX

Benjamin Franklin once said: “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”

We all need water to survive, as do our crops. We hear all the time about the depletion of water tables, yet I don’t think farmers in areas where moisture is abundant truly understand its impact.

Farmers I visited with last week in the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma already see the effects of farming with limited water. Although these farmers aren’t farming in a desert, it’s pretty close. Irrigation is a necessity to produce a good crop, yet the growers I talk to see irrigation isn’t a substitute for rain water (nothing beats rain-fed crops).

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