Like Men, Women Are Farming Longer

Rather than retire, women choose to stay on the land and farm.

Published on: Dec 20, 2013

When her husband passed away in 1984, Mary Oberle had to make a choice, pursue a job in town or continue to operate the family farm. She was 52-years-old and raising corn, soybeans, and hogs in Jefferson County would be a daunting task for a single woman. However, Mary wanted to continue the couple's dream.

Today, at 81, she is still pursuing her passion—farming. However, the path to making her dream a reality was not always straight or stress-free.

Beginning a new life

Her opportunity came when she married into a farm family. Her then husband, Edward Oberle, recognized his wife's work ethic. "I always wanted to learn new things," she admits. "Farming was interesting." The couple would run combines side by side to cut beans or pick corn. She was involved in the marketing aspect of the operation as well.

HER NEXT MOVE: Mary Oberle is not ready to retire. The 81-year-old woman is still driving the harvesting the crops and caring for the hogs and cattle on her Jefferson County farm.
HER NEXT MOVE: Mary Oberle is not ready to retire. The 81-year-old woman is still driving the harvesting the crops and caring for the hogs and cattle on her Jefferson County farm.

Mary was also raising her three children, Eugene Stark, Dwayne Stark and Doug Stark, from a previous marriage. When Edward died, Mary never wavered on her decision to remain in agriculture. "At first, I did rely on my boys for help in making some decisions." Then she learned to navigate the business through a series of trial and errors. However, through it all she just knew, "I wanted to farm."

Finding her way

Mary admits she is well past her retirement years, but is not ready to hand over the combine keys just yet. Today, Dwayne works alongside his mother. "She still drives a combine and delivers grain to the local elevator," he says. "She makes all of her own decisions with regard to her farm."~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~

HARD AT WORK: Women are finding that farming is a good alternative to a job in town. Mary Oberle says that the time spent with her grandfather and husband taught her the importance of working hard, as well, as the love of agriculture. "I cant imagine doing anything else."
HARD AT WORK: Women are finding that farming is a good alternative to a job in town. Mary Oberle says that the time spent with her grandfather and husband taught her the importance of working hard, as well, as the love of agriculture. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

While Mary owns the land where she house hogs and cattle, she rents the cropland. However, she has decreased acres over time. Rather than renting as many as 10 parcels, today she rents three. Half of the acres are farmed using no-till practices, the remaining are conventionally tilled, all within a two-mile radius of her Festus home.

With seed technology continuing to advance, Mary relies on her son for input as to soybean variety and corn hybrid selection. "We talk through the choices and come to an agreement," Dwayne says. "But, the final decision is always mom's." Mary keeps some grain back for feed; the other she markets through the local elevator.

One aspect of the farm that is now more diverse is livestock. Not only does Mary run a farrow-to-finish hog operation, but she also raises cattle. The small homestead has room for 10 cows and roughly40 sows that farrow twice a year. While she markets many of the hogs to Tyson and private individuals, she also sells a good portion to the local Knights of Columbus Hall.

Finishing strong

It seems like a lifetime ago that Mary would fetch the mule and hitch it to the plow. Much has changed in agriculture since she was a young girl in the 1930s. And Mary changed with it. She replaced the mules used for fieldwork with a truck, tractor and combine. She learned to raise and market crops and livestock in an ever-volatile industry over five decades.

More importantly, she overcame what seemed like a series of personal setbacks that would squash her farming dreams. But she did not let it dissuade her. Ultimately, Mary says that with hard work, determination and passion for life women can learn to farm, at any age.

For more on what Mary Oberle overcame in her fight to farm, read the complete article here.