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0308 PD: Women in dairying … stand up and speak out

Monica Renfrow Published on 04 February 2008

A lot more women are rising before the sun these days, and it is not to make breakfast, get the kids off to school or clean the house. They are milking cows, feeding calves and doing daily work on a dairy operation.

According to the latest agriculture census conducted in 2002, the number of women involved in dairy operations increased more than 13 percent since 1997. Researchers say that this increased number of women in agriculture follows a trend seen in other industries in today’s business world. As women become more empowered with knowledge and confidence, they are placing themselves in positions that primarily men would have filled 20 years ago. Along with the increasing number of women dairy operators, these females are leading the way, promoting their business and taking the industry to new heights.

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Many dairy ambassador positions, such as Wisconsin’s Alice in Dairyland, Minnesota’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way and individual dairy breed association queen and princess representatives, demonstrate the strength of women in dairying. As enthusiastic and excelling young leaders in the industry today, these women travel across the country to promote and put a positive face on the dairy industry.

According to 2004 National Guernsey Queen Kendy Gable, these positions help encourage women to look for leadership roles in the dairy industry.

“Dairy ambassadors, such as queens and princesses, can be effective marketing tools for the industry, while also serving as a confidence builder for the women involved in the program,” Gable added. “The face of dairying has changed through the years as has the role of women within the industry. Dairy royalty do more than hand out ribbons and smile in pictures; they serve as intelligent and effective activists for an indispensable industry.”

With more women becoming active in the dairy industry, more support programs are being created to reinforce and encourage the success of women in dairying. One program, the International Forum for Women in Dairying (IFWD), supports women in the dairy industry across the nation and the world. Held every four years in conjunction with World Dairy Expo, the forum provides an opportunity for women in the dairy industry to come together, share experiences, tell stories and create lifelong relationships.

The IFWD mission is “to enrich the lives of dairy women by encouraging them to share challenges and contributions to the industry and providing a venue to learn, network and be inspired.” Set for September 28-29 in Madison, Wisconsin, overwhelming participation and opportunities are anticipated for this year’s forum.

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Gloria Edwards, office manager for the Washington State Dairy Federation, attended the 2004 forum and was inspired and encouraged by other dairy women. “The information I gained and friendships I made with dairy industry-related women from all over the world was invaluable. What an opportunity to hear how things are done in different areas and countries,” Edwards said.

Also featured within the forum’s two-day agenda are renowned speakers from across the world, sharing their experiences on how they have enjoyed their successes and struggled through the day-to-day challenges. In 2004, Virginia Ewing traveled thousands of miles from her South Australian home to be a key speaker.

“Attending the 2004 forum was a huge and enjoyable eye-opener,” said Ewing. She also believes that reach-out programs like the forum demonstrate the strength and commitment that women have towards the industry.

“Women are the backbone of leadership in the dairy industry,” said Ewing. “The forum gives us a voice and a place to show our abilities, and allows us to work together for a better future for dairying.” Jane Whaley, editor for a leading Holstein magazine in Canada, shared her experience from the 2004 forum.

“The 2004 conference was one of the most inspiring events I have ever attended in my 31-year career with Holstein Canada. Women were praised for their significant influence and impact in various agricultural sectors. Attendees laughed, listened intently, shared experiences and interacted freely with colleagues – most of whom were new acquaintances. It was an awesome, feel-good experience!”

If women want to become more actively involved in the dairy industry, whether in day-to-day farming or promoting the dairy industry, there are many people and resources to turn to, such as IFWD and the dairy ambassador programs.

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With its 2008 theme, “Many Voices, One World,” IFWD hopes to create a platform for everyone that wants to make a difference. As Helen Keller stated many years ago, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” PD

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