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6th Annual Women in Ag conference informative time in Rapid City, S.D.

by Melissa Burke Rapid City, S.D.
Melissa BurkeKeynote speaker Matt DeMarco interacts with the audience during his presentation of "He Said - She Said: Exploring How Men and Women Communicate."

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Approximately 50 women from South Dakota and surrounding states were in attendance at the sixth annual Rural Women in Ag Conference, held September 26-27 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Spearfish, South Dakota. The event was made possible through the Rural Women Conference Committee, which consisted of several County Extension Office employees plus a number of volunteers. Over a dozen additional sponsors helped contribute to the program.

The keynote speaker on Friday morning was Matt DeMarco of the American Farm Bureau. In this workshop, called “He Said, She Said: Exploring How Men and Women Communicate”, DeMarco examined the research of Dr. Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University.

According to Dr. Tannen, conversational gender differences begin in early childhood and continue through adulthood. This can affect productivity in the workplace.

DeMarco compared the behavior of boys and girls as they interact. He indicated that boys tend to play more frequently in groups, and generally with other boys. They also tend to be more competitive with each other, whether it be on the playground or in conversation, such as comparing what their fathers do at work. Girls, on the other hand, try to connect by finding a common experience.

DeMarco described two forms of lenses that people perceive things through. One is the status lens, and the other is the connection lens. People may misinterpret another’s statements based on which lens they are looking through. For example, a man may tell a woman he’s sorry she didn’t receive a particular promotion. The status lens may tell her that he’s suggesting she isn’t qualified for it, while the connection lens suggests that he’s being sincere and really is apologetic.

In addition, Dr. Tannen’s research indicates that instead of giving direct orders, women often ask for options as to what might or could be done. A woman in authority can get caught in a double bind, in which she has the choice of whether to be nice or to be assertive. In other words, can she be “nicely pushy”? It should be noted here that expectations of how people in authority speak are based on how men in authority speak.

Colorado beef producer Troy Marshall was the next speaker, with “What’s Happening in the Ag Industry – Current Topics.” Marshall writes an e-newsletter through BEEF magazine called Cow/Calf Weekly.

His message stressed change in the ag industry and how to cope with it. He listed five trends (which he labeled “Mega Trends”) that producers need to be aware of.

Mega Trend #1: The ag industry is increasingly becoming consumer driven. The response to this is to get big or get very specialized. Marketing locally grown, organic beef with a story behind it is a good strategy. Consumers are changing as well. Baby boomers are aging, there is increasing ethnic diversity, continued emphasis on convenience and health, plus a generation of youth that has been raised on poultry. Also, there are those people who have more disposable income who can afford to be choosy.

Mega Trend #2: Avoiding the commodity trap. Put some kind of classification on your product to indicate quality. Examples would be Certified Angus Beef or Certified Hereford Beef.

Mega Trend #3: Your ranch is your brand! What do you stand for, and how are you unique?

Mega Trend #4: Societal issues will continue to impact the beef industry. Food safety is a big concern, and so is the perceived impact on the environment. Animal welfare issues are always a factor, although Marshall is encouraging when he adds that most people like the idea of “the West” and ranching, and so may be on our side more than we know. Also there are nutrition concerns; one is that beef contains too much fat and is a cause of obesity.

Mega Trend #5: The competition will be fierce.

Marshall says that people farm and ranch because they love it and the lifestyle it offers. He adds that continued success demands that producers manage for the future. He truly feels this is the best of times!

Another topic covered at the conference was “From Pie Socials to Palm Pilots – Exploring Social Networks.” This interactive workshop was conducted by Kari Freuchte, SDSU Community Leadership Development Specialist.

Social networks can be part of a community’s greatest resources, explains Freuchte. Social capital is that network of connections between individuals, community organizations, and even other communities. It is the glue that holds a community together. People enjoy feeling connected and included, which can lead to other benefits such as trust, shared knowledge, and decisions that are made by the majority. Even labor can be shared with the surety that the effort will be returned.

There are many ways in which we can increase social capital. A new neighbor can be made to feel welcome through an invitation to dinner. Join a sports team or a bowling league. Play cards with friends and neighbors. Vote at elections and attend town meetings. Make it a point to visit with a local public official and voice your opinion. Go to church. Attend your children’s activities and get to know their teachers. These are just a few of the things we can do to give ourselves and others a sense of belonging. Plus, it works wonders for the entire community.

“In-Laws, Outlaws, and No-Good Brothers – How to Start the Succession Discussion and What to do When You Open the Floodgates” was presented by Joy Kirkpatrick, Outreach Specialist at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Center for Dairy Profitability.

Farm succession can be a touchy and downright hostile discussion, but with proper planning it can be handled so that all parties are in agreement.

In 2005 the Wisconsin Farm Succession and Retirement Survey was conducted in four counties in southwestern Wisconsin. After the results were tabulated it was found that 29 percent of respondents planned to retire, 44 percent planned to semi-retire, and 21percent planned to never retire. An average age of retirement was indicated by the respondents to be 65. Thirty-eight percent claimed to have not discussed their plans with anyone (family, lawyer, etc.), and a full 60 percent did not plan to move from their current home. This survey was repeated in several other states with similar findings.

Kirkpatrick showed the audience some brief video clips of conversations between an elderly farmer and his son, and between the son and his non-farming brother. One scenario showed the son talking to his dad about wanting him to slow down (an example of paternalism, or taking care of someone.) The father, however, wanted to remain his own boss (an example of autonomy, or wanting to retain independence.) Another scenario showed the two brothers talking about the farm. In one clip, the farming brother asked his non-farming brother if he ever saw himself coming back to the home place. The second brother answered that he always assumed the first one would take over. Nothing else was said about the subject, and therefore nothing was accomplished.

In a subsequent clip, the farming brother already had his mind made up but was met with resistance from the second brother. Then in the last clip the decision making was shared between both of them.

Other things to consider when starting the succession discussion are to perhaps use a neutral setting (not the older generation’s house), to think about the parent/child relationship vs. the partnership relationship, and to consider obtaining a facilitator to help get the discussion started.

It is also wise to be aware that when assets are divided between heirs, sometimes the goal must be that everything be fair to everyone rather than insisting that everything be equal.

Additional topics covered at the seminar included a culinary class by the NCBA, an explanation of the different Medicare plans, discussions about keeping kids involved and how to become an agriculture entrepreneur, plus a workshop about understanding the different segments of agriculture from the banker to the elevator manager to the producer.

The seminar was not all work and no play, however. On Friday evening after supper there were chair massages available in addition to scrapbooking and quilting activities. All were well attended and gave the women a chance to get to know one another outside the classroom setting.


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