Statistics show that women continue to become more actively involved in farming. The numbers describe the average woman operator as someone over age 45 running smaller amounts of acreage that hold some sort of livestock.
What numbers fail to express is why women are moving into the field of agriculture. For some, it may be the opportunity to be their own boss; for others, it is to fulfill a lifelong dream. Still others, like Debbie Huckstep, have agriculture thrust upon them by circumstance.
It was definitely not by choice that Huckstep became the sole owner and operator of JNJ Farms. The Louisiana, Mo., farmer would rather have remained farming in a partnership. That was her lifelong dream.
• Staying involved helps make decisions easier on the farm.
• Debbie Huckstep farms 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat.
• Women are getting more credit for their involvement on the farm, Huckstep says.
However, a telephone call in August 2004 changed everything.
Huckstep was brokering a deal with an implement dealership to trade in the family combine on a newer model. She had been on and off the telephone all morning between the dealership and her husband, Jerry. So, when the caller identification on the phone was Jerry’s work number, she answered — ready to give him the latest update.
Unfortunately, her husband was not on the other end of the line. Instead, it was a representative of the company telling her to go to the hospital because her husband was involved in a work-related accident.
“That is not the type of phone call I was expecting,” she recalls. “It changed my whole world.”At the hospital, Huckstep learned her husband had died.
Ever since they married, the couple was involved in some aspect of agriculture “It was a true partnership,” she recalls. “We did everything together.”
To remain active in farming, Huckstep would defy almost every statistic. She would be managing close to five times the amount of acreage the average woman in America operates. And her farm was solely row crop-based.
Still, it was not a difficult choice.
“I made the decision at the time to continue,” she says. “I wanted to finish what we started. It was something that we did together. And it is something that still keeps me connected to him.”
She recalls spending countless hours running the combine, driving grain trucks and tractors, securing inputs like seed and fertilizer and marketing the grain, right alongside her husband. Now she faced those decisions on her own.
However, looking back, she says that being involved in every aspect of the operation made the choice to stay farming “natural.”
Still more decisions to make
Her biggest concern after her husband’s death was finding a mechanic. “I know parts and what to order, but I do not know how to fix the equipment,” she admits. “I needed someone to keep the equipment running.”
A longtime family friend, Mike Colbert, stepped in to help. In addition to Colbert, Huckstep’s son, Jerod, and Trenton Turner also work on the farm. “There have been so many people who have been there for me over the years,” she says.
But the management decisions for the farm fall squarely on Huckstep’s shoulders. She secured the lease for the 1,000 acres the couple had been farming, and continues to make seed and fertilizer choices, as well as equipment buys and marketing decisions.
“I think being involved in every aspect of the farm prepared me for this,” she says. “I just keep going and building on what I have learned year after year.”
After all that Huckstep endured, she remains optimistic about the future for women in agriculture.
“There are a lot more opportunities out there than when I was growing up, or even started in farming,” she says.
Huckstep says that whether the woman is a primary operator, or a partner with her husband, she needs to stay involved. “I knew every aspect of the operation,” she says. “We need to know what is going on.
“I think women are getting more credit for their involvement as well,” she says.
Ultimately, she adds, it comes down to faith, family and friends. “It is not whether we are men or women,” she says. “No one truly does it on their own.”