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Women farmers and ranchers wanting to learn more about transition planning will benefit from a program that recently received USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funding. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the winning proposals for the 2011 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grants on Sept. 30. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Annie’s Project proposal, Farm Transition and Business Management Training for Women Farmers and Ranchers, was awarded $675,750 for curriculum development and delivery of courses. FCS Financial, the Farm Credit Council and ten other Farm Credit Associations also are providing $188,865 in support of the project.

Annie’s Project, an agricultural risk management education program for women, was started by Ruth Hambleton in 2003 when she was a University of Illinois Extension farm business management and marketing specialist. Hambleton recognized that the unique learning preferences of women often are not served through traditional farm management education programs. Annie’s Project, created in tribute to Hambleton’s mother, Annette “Annie” Fleck, sets up multi-session courses in farm communities. The sessions focus on five areas of risk management from production and marketing to finances, legal issues and human resources. Annie’s Project has successfully reached more than 8,000 women farmers and ranchers in 26 states.

“Women have always been a part of American farms and ranches; through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Annie’s Project will emphasize the role women play in getting farms started,” Hambleton said. “Today, more women are beginning farmers as well as living the traditional role of helping transition farms from one generation to the next.”

The Farm Credit Council is an Annie’s Project partner on a national level. Gary Matteson, Farm Credit Council Vice President for Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs, calls the organization’s support a tremendous opportunity for helping farmers succeed. “Nationally, we can generate enthusiasm for Annie’s Project and encourage partners to get on board,” said Matteson. “Locally, the Farm Credit Associations bring knowledge of community financial issues to the customization of this course that allows women to learn in the best possible environment and form networks with people that can help them solve problems.” The Farm Credit National Contributions Program is providing additional project support for participant materials and risk management awareness campaigns.

The funding announcement is good news for beginning farmers like Lorilee Schultz of Mil-R-Mor Farm in Orangeville, IL. Schultz and two aunts took the first level Annie’s Project course and found it helpful, but she recognizes the need for a second level course. “The Annie’s workshops gave us valuable information that we incorporated into our farm and which helped us became more efficient and profitable while controlling our risk,” said Schultz. “To ensure the success of our dairy farm into the future, it is critical for us to increase our family’s knowledge and awareness of farm succession planning.”

There is a significant need for education designed specifically for women farmers and ranchers to help them manage business risks, enhance the financial viability of their family farms and ranches, and strengthen the potential for beginning farmers and ranchers. The 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture identified 306,209 women as primary farm operators; their average age was 59.

Charlotte Heidelberger, of Coin, Iowa, understands how Annie’s Project classes are customized to meet local needs. She has been sole manager of her farm since her husband Gary’s unexpected death in 2006. In 2005 she enrolled in Annie’s Project to learn more about farm finances and marketing – sensitive areas where the couple sometimes had differing opinions. “We were looking for an objective class approach where I could learn and better relate to the issues involved,” Heidelberger said. “Going and meeting with the other women energized me. Having time to ask questions always stimulated my thinking. After Gary died, Annie’s Project materials became my crutch. I took it again in 2010 because I had many more management decisions to make. The educators were always knowledgeable and enthusiastic.”

Many FCS Financial staff members teach pieces of the Annie's Project curriculum. Missouri is hosting several Annie's Project courses this fall and winter. Visit their website to find a course in your area.
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