Women in Agriculture: Leadership in the Legislature

Iowa State Senator Liz MathisWith the Second Annual Iowa Women’s Landowner Conference only days away on June 19, 2014, I’ve had the opportunity to interview State Senator Liz Mathis, who has a diverse background including broadcast journalism, non-profit management, teaching at Wartburg University and duties in the state legislature. She will be the keynote speaker from 9:15 to 10:00 A.M. on “Leadership in the Legislature.” Come to the conference for more information!

As a woman who has grown up in agriculture, what do you think the State of Iowa is doing well or needs improvement in terms of supporting women in agriculture?

Farming techniques and technology may have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the amount of risk involved in managing a farm operation, no matter what your gender.

There are several things the legislature has done to alleviate that risk and support beginning farmers, including women. We have passed legislation that increases the cap of the Agriculture Assets Transfer Tax Credit to $8M. Essentially, the legislation says, “the tax credit percentages for cash rent and crop share agreements are increased …and if the beginning farmer is also a veteran, landlords may claim additional eligible expenses.” There is also money available for a new Custom Farming Contract Tax Credit.

The Targeted Small Business Program under the Iowa Economic Development Authority helps women hurdle obstacles in the way of success. The Authority will give loans to businesses that are majority-owned (51% or more). And a new program called “Ascent” focuses on growing those businesses and continuing to give support to women in business years after they’ve established.

There are also farm loan opportunities that have been in place for a number of years through the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) that are specifically designed to support beginning farmers.

As a state senator, what do you feel is the best way for women in agriculture to influence agricultural policy in Iowa?

To identify the unique needs of women who are involved in agricultural production and in agribusiness and to provide the network of resources and expertise necessary to successfully meet those needs.

You’re a strong proponent of supporting disadvantaged children through education and skill learning projects; what is your opinion of programs such as the Master Gardener’s Plant a Row for the Hungry project?

The Master Gardener’s Plant a Row for the Hungry project is a fine example of how communities of volunteers and professionals working together with low overhead to create high returns. The Plant a Row program exists on the premise that many gardeners have produce that is wasted during the height of the growing season at the same time that people are going hungry.

PAR was established nationwide to help raise gardener’s awareness of hunger and facilitate getting produce to those who need it. Locally, we can take excess produce grown by local residents on their own plots, farms, and backyards and donate the surplus to the community’s hungry.

You grew up on a farm, earned your way through college through agricultural pursuits and are involved in your family’s business. What business skills do you think are important to women in agriculture?

More than half of the world’s agricultural producers are women; yet, men still tend to receive more and better training, and women’s training is often inappropriate. In attempting to deal with these issues, the importance of training cannot be underestimated. The skills to improve productivity, increase adaptability to deal with change and crisis, and facilitate the diversification of livelihoods to manage risks are at a premium in rural areas. In many cases, these skills are an issue of survival.

Women face significant barriers in accessing training, including low literacy levels, domestic obligations and training that are targeted primarily at men. Addressing these challenges to improve women access to advanced and more relevant training is an important step in increasing agricultural productivity.

Increasing technology usage is important in enhancing agricultural yields, reducing the amount of time that women spend on tasks and thus freeing up time for other productive activities. Women do however, have different technology needs to those of men and training needs to take into account these different needs and production preferences.

Networking is a must. Research shows women’s difficulties in accessing networks and enterprise support have contributed to a lack of self-employment opportunities.

Senator Mathis was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule during the campaign season to talk with us about these issues. In addition to her duties as a public servant, she is married with two children and serves on the Wartburg Board of Regents.

Have you registered for the conference yet? It’s almost here! Come enjoy good information, food and networking in Brooklyn, Iowa.

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