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Women share stories, advice at annual ag conference

Krista Stauffer Published on 18 April 2014

On March 15, 2014, women across Washington, Oregon and Idaho gathered for Washington State University’s third annual Women in Agriculture Conference. The live feed reached more than 500 women in 28 locations. The primary focus was how to manage change in your operations.

The keynote speaker was Heather Darby of Darby Farm from Vermont. Heather is a seventh-generation farmer currently farming on land that has been in her family for 200 years. Her relatives originally came to the U.S. on the Mayflower.

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Their organic farm consists of 130 acres. Her grandfather still used horses and milked by hand until 1965. Heather and her husband are now primary owners/operators of the farm. She purchased the farm from her father.

While it had been a dairy farm, they now specialize in top-quality produce and rotational grazing for local organic dairy farmers. Their farm is very successful, and she gives credit to diversification. She says being prepared for change and figuring out how to use it to your advantage is vital.

After the presentation from Heather, each location had three individual speakers all focusing on change.

The location I attended was Colville, Washington.

Sue Poe, a financial planner, shared a presentation by Northwest Farm Credit. The primary focus was budgets, risk management, business plans and overall financials. Knowing where you stand in your finances is extremely important. The group of 20 women broke up into groups to practice SWOT analysis.

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Jessie Wintur of Win-Tur Bison Farm shared her experience with change in farming. Currently they have 13 bison. They plan to open up a gift shop and are in the planning phase of tours. Her main focus was to plan for the future. Make sure that you have written contracts, a will, life insurance, etc.

If you are putting your sweat equity into something, make sure that your name is on it. You never know when you could lose a loved one or a business partner. Make sure everything is in order for the worst-case scenario. Communication is extremely important to Jessie as well as weekly business meetings with her husband.

Sandra Wilford of Solace Farm also focused on dealing with change. Solace Farm focuses on holistic farming and permaculture. Sandra also shared how the loss of a loved one or business partner can turn your whole world upside-down.

Plan for life changes, plan for the unexpected and work on written contracts. Know that change is hard but you will get through it. Her advice is to find what you are good at and do it.

Overall, this was a great experience. It was extremely helpful for these women to get up and share their tragedies and how they pushed forward. Life happens, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan for the worst. Make sure all business relationships are in writing, put joint ownership in writing, plan a will, purchase life insurance – and communicate.

I strongly encourage women in the Pacific Northwest to attend next year. In the meantime, all farmers and ranchers need to start reaching out to their local resources. Because of this event, I was able to network with local farmers and aspiring farmers and learn of upcoming events.

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My next adventures will be a soil testing class, social media class and another conference this fall. Education is extremely vital for all of us associated in agriculture. Looking forward to the Women in Ag Conference 2015! PD

Krista Stauffer is a dairy producer in Colville, Washington. Visit her blog .

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