Leading the way for women in ag and beyond

AMES — It took some convincing, but Madeline Schultz finally decided to add to her job duties at Iowa State Extension and Outreach 11 years ago.

Schultz, who is program manager with the ISU Department of Economics and member of the ISU Extension and Outreach farm management team, added the position of leader of the ISU Extension and Outreach Women in Ag Program back in 2008.

“Like a lot of other people, I would say mentors are important,” she said. “This wasn’t something I was thinking about doing. It was Mary Holz-Claus, assistant director of Extension and Outreach at the time, and this was back in 2008, said ‘I really would like you to start working with our Women in Ag program, particularly Annie’s Project. I said no thank you. But, she asked me again and I said OK, I’ll do it.”

Why was Schultz so hesitant?

“I was just feeling like I was going full steam ahead on other things with our value added ag program and cooperative education and my plate was just full,” she said. “But it has been a really great turn in my career and I am so thankful for her asking me because I have really enjoyed it. I’ve been at this 11 years now. It’s been really great.”

In the beginning, Schultz said she mainly focused on grant writing and trying to bring some additional funds into the Women in Ag program. She got involved with the leadership program for Annie’s Project.

“I provided leadership nationally and statewide so that was a really wonderful opportunity,” she said. “It gave me the chance to meet people all over the country who are working with women in ag programs.”

Annie’s Project is a farm management course for women in agriculture.

“It appeals to women of all ages. All different types of farming whether it’s commodity production, niche production, small, large, beginning farmers, established farmers because we are talking about business management and that applies to everything,” she said.

The multi-session course covers topics in the areas of risk management including finance, human resources, legal, production and marketing.

Annie’s Project has come the cornerstone of the Women in Ag program at ISU.

“Since teaching Annie’s Project, our farm management colleagues have developed 10 other programs for women in agriculture,” she said. “Such as Managing for Today and Tomorrow, a farm transition planning program and that has been quite popular.”

Other programs include women managing cattle and women marketing grain; Heartbeat of the Farm, a human resources management class ;as well as farm finance courses and more.

“At Iowa State University, I feel like there are a lot of opportunities for professional development,” she said. “In some of our agri-businesses across the state, some do, but some they don’t so I really felt like I wanted to give more women the opportunity for professional development. Not everyone has those opportunities. We are a university. That is what we do. We really wanted to expand it and reach out to broader audience.

Schultz works very closely with the ISU Extension and Outreach farm management team, in particular, the farm management field specialists.

“They have been really super to work with, too,” she said. “I’m super, super proud of our farm management specialists because we can’t do any of this without them. They are the key ingredient to the success of our programs.”

Schultz said they were recently awarded a National Institute of Food and Agricultural award from the USDA.

“They gave us an award this year for our Women in Ag programming,” she said. “I thought that was pretty special because it was great to see the farm management team recognized in that way.”

Last summer, Schultz said the team also received an award from the National Association of County Ag Agents for the Search for Excellence in Farm and Ranch Financial Management.

“Those were team awards – for our programming,” she said. “I was happy to see those team awards because it gives our team some recognition for the hard work they do and they’ve been so consistent, year after year, doing Women in Ag programming since 2004 in our state.”

The Women in Ag program has seen a lot of changes since its beginning.

“It’s definitely changed a lot,” she said. “When I first started working with Women in Ag, it was on a part-time basis and now it’s my full-time job as well as Lisa’s (Scarbrough) full-time job. We have been good team. I’m very thankful.”

Working with Scarbrough, Schultz said one of the newer aspects brought to the Women in Ag program is their Women Impacting Agriculture Recognition program.

“We started that three years ago. We are now taking nominations out for our fourth year,” she said. “We have been recognizing six to eight people each year.”

Women they recognize are both farm and agribusiness women.

“They are women in agriculture across our state telling their stories and we recognize them at our leadership conference,” she said, adding this year’s conference is scheduled for Dec. 2-3 in Ames.

Women are needed on the farm

“I believe farming requires lots of people’s involvements because it is very challenging,” she said. “It’s like the old adage two heads are better than one, or 10 heads – whatever it is on your farm business. Everybody need s to be involved. Women, whether they are working as a school teacher, a nurse, a local agri-business, they have the skills to bring to the farm business and farm families are recognizing that more.”

How to get involved

Schultz said she learned during a leadership class that you don’t have to have a leadership title to be a leader.

“Where ever you are at, you can step up and lead and I think that’s how I’ve grown into this leadership role — just by stepping up, raising my hand and saying yes, I will help with that,” she said. “You don’t have to wait until someone appoints you a leader. You can start leading, take on new challenges and every new challenge you learn something new and just keep going forward.”

Schultz began her career with ISU Extension and Outreach in 2003 and earned a bachelor’ degree in agribusiness and economics and a master’s degree in business administration from ISU.

She serves on the board of directors for national Annie’s Project as well as the Iowa Women in Agriculture organization.

She most recently became a mental health first aid instructor and is working with a small team from ISU to train Extension colleagues and community leaders about mental health.

“I feel like mental health awareness is important to people in rural Iowa, so when Jay Harmon, director of Ag and Natural Resources asked for volunteers from the ag team to take this on, I raised my hand. I am looking forward to this new leadership challenge and working with professionals from Extension to Human Sciences on this,” she said.