Annie’s Project reaches milestone

Webster County ISU Extension hosted 100th class

-Submitted photo
Receiving staff at Iowa State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory process an average of 300 cases each morning to prepare them for testing.

A group of Iowa farm women became a part of history Monday night as the 100th graduating class of Annie’s Project.

About 20 women were in the program, which is designed to strengthen women’s roles in the modern farm enterprise. Annie’s Project fosters problem solving, record keeping and decision-making skills in farm women.

Madeline Schultz, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Women in Ag Program manager, said Annie’s Project began in 2004 in Washington County.

“The program has reached almost 2,000 women over time,” she said. “I think this is just a really great milestone. We’re excited about it because it just shows that this program has some longevity. It continues to be demanded. Women just love to come to the program. They appreciate the learning, especially the networking.”

Kelvin Leibold, area farm manager field specialist for ISU Extension, has been an integral part of the Annie’s Project program in Iowa, bringing it to the state and serving on the national Annie’s Project board of directors.

“Most all speakers are going to be women,” said Leibold. “The other thing is they get connected with each other. So they build these networks with others that have the similar issues they are dealing with. And there is some content in the course that they pick up over time. Those are the things that I think are important and what they gain out of it.”

While the program content of Annie’s Project has seen some changes, the concept has remained the same.

“In the early days, we focused on using the internet and using computers. Everyone has those skills down pretty well,” said Leibold. “The content has really focused on the five areas of risk and the Risk Management Agency, which is the part the USDA focuses on.”

Annie’s Project is made up of six three-hour sessions.

The six educational sessions of the course include topics from the five risk areas.

Those risk areas and topics are:

∫ Financial risk (women and money, basic financial documentation, interpreting financial statements, enterprise analysis, USDA programs and record keeping systems)

• Human resource risk (communication and management styles, insurance needs and succession planning)

• Legal risk (estate planning, farmland leasing and employee management)

• Market risk (access to market information and grain or livestock marketing)

• Production risk (Natural Resource Conservation Service, web soil survey and crop insurance)

Annie’s Project has been localized to meet the needs of farm and ranch women across the country, so topics of emphasis may vary.

“We use ‘colors’ for one of the sessions that talks about personalities and communication, but sessions have some flexibility on what the committee thinks the women there will be interested in,” Leibold said.

“This really allows women to get a big picture, or a whole farm view of the management, which they love, because a lot of times, women are involved in a part of the farm business,” Schultz added. “They might be the record keeper, or the combine driver, or they might take care of the baby pigs. They don’t always see the big picture.”

Angela Reidesel, a Gowrie-area farmer, was one of the farm women that participated in the 100th Annie’s Project.

“The class was a great way to network with other women,” she said. “It provided me with the knowledge to understand the best farm practices. We learned everything from balance sheets, cash flows, marketing grain, leases, being properly insured, estate and succession planning. It covered everything needed to help you understand your farm operation.”

Reidesel said the six sessions not only provided her with a great understanding of what is needed day-to-day on their farming operation, but empowered her to ask questions get involved.

“As women, sometimes we aren’t fully involved in the farm operation,” she said. “We work outside the home or we are focused on raising the family. It was a great way for me to get the basic foundation needed to feel like I understand more and want to be involved more and know the day-to-day; to step up and ask important questions. I wish I would have taken it sooner.”

The growth of Annie’s Project

Annie’s Project has essentially paved the way for more women in agriculture opportunities.

Schultz said. in addition to Annie’s Project. the ISU Extension farm management team has developed 11 other courses for women in agriculture on topics ranging from marketing to human resource management.

“We have 64 other programs reaching around 900 more women,” she said.

Managing for Today and Tomorrow is a second-level Annie’s Project course.

In this course, women will develop these skills to help create a transition plan to make sure a farm continues as a productive, agricultural business.

The Managing for Today and Tomorrow course is divided into these planning areas:

• Succession planning (transferring knowledge, skills, labor, management, control and ownership between generations)

• Business planning (developing goals, strategies and actions that form a road map to business growth)

• Estate planning (management an individual’s asset base in one’s lifetime, at death or after death)

• Retirement planning (designing an enjoyable and productive time in life)

“There are a lot of reasons people come to the program, but we’re really focused on risk management and farm business management,” Schultz said. “We want women, farm owners, to understand better what the key decisions are that they need to make and provide them with the resources to help them make those decisions.”

“That’s really one of the core tenets that began Annie’s Project,” she added. “To help women make good decisions based on research-based information and resources that we provide them through the Ag Decision Maker website at ISU and also through the professionals we introduce to them in the class.”

Leibold said he is looking forward to the next 100 sessions of Annie’s Project, but also how the program has evolved to include other women in agriculture opportunities.

“It’s branching out,” he said. “We have a Women in Ag program as a programming area now at Iowa State University Extension, and Madeline is the director of that. We’re adding agronomy, livestock production.”

“We’re really looking at the whole broad picture of agriculture as it relates to other areas.”

Schultz said they are planning on women in agricultural tours across the state this summer, as well as the second annual Women in Ag Leadership conference planned for Nov. 27.

The conferences are designed for women farmers, land owners and women in agribusinesses.

“We’re really excited about reaching out more to those that are in agribusinesses as well,” she said. “We really want to provide more, especially around leadership in agriculture because it is so important. There’s so many things changing in agriculture and women are being asked to step up into different kinds of leadership roles, whether that’s leading the farm family succession around the kitchen table or becoming the president of an agricultural company.”