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America Needs Female...Farmers? One Hampton farmer thinks so
By Maggie Ireland, for The Gazette
Oct. 12, 2018 11:30 am
Farming is hard work. For April Hemmes, it's a labor of love.
Hemmes farms roughly 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and pasture in Hampton, Iowa - about two hours northwest of Cedar Rapids. Her great-grandfather bought the farm in 1901. She has been farming the land for more than 30 years now and has literally become an expert in the field.
'People still assume my husband farms, and I still feel the need to say ‘I farm, my husband works in town,'” she said. 'But once people take the time to talk with me, they quickly realize I am the farmer and I know my business.”
In her role, she's a jack-of-all-trades, delving into every aspect of the business. 'I do everything - banking, planting, servicing equipment, buying, fertilizing, harvesting, marketing,” Hemmes said. 'Decision making is year-round.”
She's had plenty of practice. Starting when she was a child, Hemmes spent much of her time helping out and working on the farm. 'I always knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture but was never encouraged. Girls just didn't do that,” she said. 'I grew up hearing my father tell my brother that someday the farm would be his.”
But that's not the way things worked out for her family's business. Hemmes had her sights set on taking over the farm and worked hard to do just that. 'I knew that education was the key, so I got involved in 4-H and FFA and went on to get a degree from ISU in animal science.”
As a woman, she has continued to face hurdles in a male-dominated industry. 'I am very comfortable being the only woman in the room at meetings. ... I am used to all different kinds of reactions from people,” she said. 'I wish I could say it has gotten better, but it hasn't.”
Hemmes laughs as she shares a comment she has heard from men in her industry for the past several years: Technology has made it easier for women to farm. 'What? I have been doing this all my life. I will call them out on it because if we don't point it out, they think it's OK,” she said. 'It makes men uncomfortable, but I really don't care.”
The questions and comments she routinely hears don't faze her. On the contrary - challenges seem to inspire her. She's passionate about motivating and mentoring other women interested in agriculture.
'Many people, especially young women entering agribusiness, don't think they will encounter any prejudice, but they will,” she said.
'I am encouraged by all the women involved in agriculture and always try to encourage women to get involved in leadership roles. The more women are out in front and leading through their actions, I believe it empowers others to become involved and take leadership roles.”
And Hemmes is certainly leading by example. She serves on the United Soybean board and the Iowa Soybean Association board. She's also a Franklin County Farm Service Agency committee member, a Franklin County National Resource Conservation Service Soil and Water commissioner and serves on the Iowa State University Beginning Farmer Advisory Council.
In these roles, she has had a front-row seat to the evolution of farming over the past several decades. 'Agriculture has gone through so many changes. Most of it has happened through technology. It's gone from horse and plow - which my grandfather started with - to now using autosteer, drones and seed technology,” she said.
Over the years, Hemmes also has heard plenty of misconceptions about farming, and she works to clarify her role and the benefits of her work.
'I would like to help dispel some of the misinformation there is about agriculture and how I raise the food that feeds the world,” Hemmes said. 'I want consumers to know how and why I have used GMO seeds for over 20 years and that they are safe. I may not be able to change their minds, but I want them to at least listen to why I farm the way I do.”
She also advocates for farmers, women and young people all over the world through mission trips. One of her favorites was a Farmer to Farmer project that took her to Uganda twice.
'It has been great to be all over the world to promote U.S. commodities and see what is happening in other countries,” she said. 'Mostly, I enjoy encouraging and pushing young people into leadership.”
Farming is Hemmes' passion. But it's clear that she's also making an impact on the industry and the next generation of women in agriculture.
It may not always be easy, but as Hemmes will tell you - it's a fun, inspiring and worthwhile journey.
'You have to maintain a sense of humor,” she said.