Finally, A Seat at the Table

Published online: Sep 17, 2009 Jennifer James-The Hand That Feeds U.S.
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The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry last week named Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) its new chair, making her the first woman in the Committee's history to take the helm. Senator Lincoln herself was raised on a farm in Arkansas and growing up, she would scout rice levees right alongside her father, rain or shine. She understands the importance of agriculture to our country, and she understands the vital role women play in farming's success-a role too often overlooked. In fact, up until the 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture did not even recognize women as actual farmers, but rather as farmers' spouses. And, it was not until last year-in the 2008 Farm Bill-that the law ended discrimination against women under pay limit rules. Once it began accounting for women in the profession, the census showed an astounding presence of females in agriculture and concluded more than 30 percent of U.S. farm operators are women. Like Senator Lincoln, I also grew up on a farm in Arkansas. After graduating from college with a degree in agricultural business, I joined my father and my brother as a field scout. Today, with my husband, I manage the business end of the family farm, juggle my responsibilities as a county board member, and raise my son. I'm not an anomaly. Women have been around the industry a long time and it didn't take the 2007 Census of Agriculture to bring them out of the woodwork-groups like American Agri-Women (AAW) and Women involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) both started in the 1970s and today have thousands of members across the country. With Senator Lincoln set to represent U.S. agriculture on the national stage, it's time for the public to recognize the important role women play in agriculture. When I think of Senator Lincoln and all she has accomplished for American agriculture, first as a farm girl herself and then in Congress for 17 years, on both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, I am reminded of that quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire could do but backwards and in heels. As a woman, a third-generation farmer, and a fellow Arkansan, I am proud to see Senator Lincoln ascend the ranks to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman. Senator Lincoln is a strong advocate for the American farm and ranch family, and a great voice for all women involved.