Brett Goligoski knew she wanted to pursue a career in the agriculture industry, but reconsidered because agriculture is highly male dominated. Despite the importance of women in ag, stereotypes make it hard to be seen as viable partners. Goligoski says there’s a common belief that women aren’t knowledgeable about farm operations, equipment, and product, among other things.
“It’s always been a male-dominated field, so when a woman comes in, men often look at her differently,” Goligoski said. “That’s just something women have to deal with every day in this industry.” Because of this, she decided to take her career in a different direction. Now, Goligoski brings her agriculture experience into her role as a credit analyst at Community Bank of Missouri.
She’s among great company. Women are involved in every aspect of agriculture. “Women in agriculture have a powerful story to tell – one of stewardship, resilience and leadership – from everywhere from the combine to the boardroom,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA reports 31 percent of American farmers are women and account for more than 300 million acres of land. Together, these women generate $12.9 billion in annual agricultural sales. Women are the unsung heroes on many of America’s farms. Like Goligoski, they often gracefully balance their education, careers and families, while shaping the future of agriculture.
Goligoski had many influences that fostered an interest in agriculture. She grew up in rural Ray County, Missouri, where she helped her parents work their hobby farm. She has vivid memories of cattle, pigs, horses and chickens roaming their property. While attending school in Richmond, her eighth-grade agricultural science teacher, Adam Brock, inspired her even more. “If I didn’t have Mr. Brock, I don’t think I would have pursued a career in agriculture,” Goligoski explained. “He taught me so much and grew my love for it.”
Goligoski began her studies at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. “Originally, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I soon realized I hated science,” she said laughingly. She graduated with an undergraduate degree in animal science with a minor in commercial agricultural.
While pursuing her degree, she met Thomas McCorkendale. The two quickly learned they had a lot in common. McCorkendale also grew up on a farm in Ray County. After the completing his undergraduate degree in farm operations, he joined the family farming business his father, Mark McCorkendale, began in his 20s.
This father and son duo work as a dynamic team to manage McCorkendale Farms in Hardin, Missouri, a 800-acre property of soybeans and corn crops, along with 40 goats. “Before it was just mostly Mark, and Thomas would fill in when he could,” Goligoski explained. “After he received his degree, Thomas has stepped up and he combines, too.” During fall harvest, one will operate the combine while the other drives the truck to the Ray Carroll co-op. McCorkendale’s brother-in-law, Alex, also helps when he can. “During the busiest times of the year, sometimes sitting in line takes anywhere from two to four hours,” Goligoski said. “Luckily, our house is right next to the grain elevator.”
Goligoski plays an essential role at McCorkendale Farms. She manages her career, while pursuing a graduate degree in business administration, and supports McCorkendale with the family farm. Whether it’s making meals, making sure her partner has clothes ready for the day, or keeping him company in the combine, Goligoski provides as much support as she can. Sometimes she’s even tasked with driving the pickup truck to get the combine or tractor to the next field. “These are really huge things when he’s busy,” she explained.
Like McCorkendale Farms, most farms and ranches in the U.S. are family owned and operated. USDA classifies family farms as “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation.” Under this definition, the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Census of Agriculture reported that family farms account for almost 96 percent of the 2,204,792 farms in the United States.
The importance of family is a driving force with farmers. Every member of the family plays a role to help manage the farm. Individuals raised on a farm know the everyday struggles of farming all too well. “Those with little to no experience in farming, often don’t know how hard it is, because it’s not an 8 to 5 job,” Goligoski explained. Farmers often work from the time the sun comes up to the time the sun comes down. “If they have lights, they might keep going anyway.”
Farmers, like most other professions, are no strangers to stress. “Thomas often says ‘farmers don’t like to gamble, and being a farmer is one of the biggest gambles you can take,’” Goligoski said. Farmers, ranchers and agriculture workers face factors that are beyond their control such as financial uncertainty, varying commodity and yield prices, rigid schedules, animals dying and weather.
Last fall, the drought took a toll on Missouri crops and cattle. In August 2018, the U.S. Drought Monitor map depicted nearly all of Missouri experienced drought, with several counties in the northwestern part of the state facing “exceptional” conditions. This was the direst classification assigned by the monitor, according to the Associated Press. McCorkendale Farms experienced a tough time as well. “Anytime they were able to get to the crops, they did. They worked until they couldn’t work anymore,” Goligoski said.
Although farming tends to be stressful, it comes with rewards. Goligoski believes one of the biggest rewards is the outcome of all the hard work. “When Thomas first started, he didn’t have an acreage…now he has 40 acres.” And of course, the new babies on the farm are a bonus. “Just to see new eyes and life on the farm is really neat.”
Through the highs and lows of farming, it is important to support farmers. When asked how spouses and family members can support the farmer in their lives, Goligoski has a simple answer, “Just be there for them because there’s going to be unexpected things that come up.”
Although family farms account for almost 96 percent of the farms in the U.S., the USDA reports only 58 percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms. The best way to support local family farms is to purchase their produce. “In the spring and summer, buy the fruits and vegetables from the farmer on the corner or at the nearby farmers market,” Goligoski said. Another option is to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Here’s how it works: a farmer provides a certain number of shares to the public. Each share, or subscription, typically includes a box, bag or basket of seasonal produce weekly throughout the farming season. Many deliver right to customers’ doors, or can be picked up from the farmer. To find local CSAs, visit localharvest.org/csa/.
Goligoski’s experience in the agriculture industry has come full circle. “I have seen what I’ve grown up with, what I see with Thomas, and now I have seen it from a whole other perspective…a business standpoint,” she explained. As a credit analyst at Community Bank of Missouri, she conducts agriculture reviews. “I analyze credit reports, financial statements and tax returns of local farmers within our bank.” She often conducts farm visits to see what equipment the farmer has bought and what type of farm they have. She finds her work fascinating. “It’s really neat to see that side of it, and the parts I’ve never even thought about before.”
Women, like Goligoski, have been an important part of farms and ranches across the globe for centuries. They continue to thrive in the agriculture industry and shape the future. Women in agriculture can be the change they want to see in the industry. The USDA has a Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network which helps connect fellow women in agriculture. The goal is to promote the image, role and leadership of women. To join, email the Network at email@example.com.