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Women on the grow

CHERYL TEVIS 04/14/2013 @ 9:34pm

Lori Lang doesn't hesitate to try her hand at something new. That includes downhill skiing, scuba diving, ice climbing – and farming. As a high school senior at Vinton, Iowa, she rented 15 acres to grow soybeans for her FFA Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE).When her crop was ready to harvest, she drove their 1660 combine 5 miles to the field. Her mom, Pauline Grovert, wasn't sure her daughter was road-ready. Her dad, George Grovert, didn't try to talk her out of it.

Today, Lang, 38, sets and operates a combine with a 30-foot head. Together, with her older brother, Paul Grovert, and their parents, she farms 2,000 acres of seed corn, seed beans, and commodity grain.

After completing an ag education degree and an agronomy minor at Iowa State University, Lang worked in agribusiness and later taught ag ed. Five years ago, her parents offered her and Paul the opportunity to return home to farm full time.

Lang returned as a single mom. "I jumped in with both feet, bringing my two girls with me," she says.

She grew up watching her mom and dad work together. "I called myself a farmer," Pauline says. Three decades ago, women who farmed with their husbands received little recognition for their roles.

Men still operate the majority of U.S. farms that produce commercial crops and require capital-intensive assets of land and equipment. USDA statistics reveal that women operate 14% of the nation's 2.2 million farms. Of all ag producers, more than 30% are women. That's up 19% since 2002.

The 2012 census may mark greater gains. Trends in demographics, technology, and consumer food choices are converging to carve out a larger role for women in production agriculture, niche local foods, agribusiness, and landownership. Ag women truly are on the grow.

Lang and her brother bought their first farm together as she was finishing college. Since then, they've purchased two other farms. They also rent family ground.

Lang's early struggles with cultivating seem irrelevant today. Her reputation for straight rows no longer yields bragging rights because farmers can achieve the same results with GPS. Her major challenge, marketing, is gender-neutral. "When I was growing up, Mom and Dad talked about missing the market by a nickel," she says. "Today, there are 80¢ market swings. I love growing plants, and driving tractors. Every time a semi leaves here, though, I can't help but think about the profit or loss."

Lang's personal history as a woman farmer is mostly positive. "Very few people are gender-biased," she says. "Some customers tend to call Paul even if he's told them I'll be handling the situation. They don't realize I'm his business partner."

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