Event celebrates women in agriculture

Allison Wickler

After a University graduate student’s study a decade ago revealed that women were underrepresented in agricultural leadership in Minnesota, members of the Minnesota Agri-Women organized a conference to address the issue.

Today will mark the ninth annual Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference, held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.

This year’s conference will include sessions on the future of rural living, the effect of obesity on agricultural production and Minnesota’s developing wine industry.

Conference chairwoman Doris Mold, a Minnesota Agri-Women member, said the conference presents opportunities for agricultural professionals and students to learn about current agricultural issues and network with each other.

While anyone interested is welcome to attend, Mold said this is the one agricultural conference a year that will attract more women than men.

“We’re starting to see an evolution now,” she said, “but there are certain pockets where women are still underrepresented.”

Environmental horticulture senior Alexis Koester, a member of the Collegiate Agri-Women at the University, who helped organize the conference, said the number of men and women in her classes seems equal.

In fact, University registration statistics show 935 women are enrolled in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ undergraduate program this semester, as opposed to 734 men.

Even in fall 1999, when agricultural programs were housed in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, 487 undergraduate women were enrolled as opposed to 414 men.

Koester said after she graduates she will work at a company that creates plans for biofuel investors. She said her predecessor there told her it can be difficult being a woman in the industry.

“Basically, conferences like this are meant to instill confidence in women,” she said. “So that way when they’re out in the industry Ö they can play a more important role.”

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau will present several agricultural mentor awards at the conference.

Molnau, who also operates a corn and soybean farm, said she thinks women have achieved greater roles in the agricultural industry.

“It’s much more open,” she said, “and women are just much more aggressive, also.”

When she was in college, Molnau was the only woman in a class about grain marketing, but has since seen a female president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

CFANS Dean Allen Levine said, however, he doesn’t see the representation from women that he would like to in the business world, as women offer a diverse perspective on issues across the board.

“I think we’re trying to do our part in that,” he said of the college, “and I’m thrilled that there’s an organization that specifically works toward this.”