Raised on a tobacco farm in southern Indiana, Natasha Cox learned first-hand that farmers must wear many different hats to keep farms profitable and sustainable for future generations. As a child, she joined Future Farmers of America, which she says drove her “direct interest” in pursuing a career in agriculture. After graduating with an agricultural economics degree from Purdue University, Natasha joined Farm Credit Mid America and currently serves as a regional vice president. And, like her farming forefathers, she also wears several hats and currently grows corn and soybeans with her husband, Brent, and their three children, who are fifth-generation farmers, on his family’s farm in Benton County, Indiana.
Land Values sat down with Natasha to discuss the state of farming today and how to empower more women to become interested in agriculture.
Land Values: What are some misconceptions of being a farmer today?
Natasha Cox: Well, unlike previous generations, you’re no longer just selling grain within a 20-mile radius of your primary farming operation. Your throughputs – whether it be ethanol or livestock or other commodities – are traveling hundreds – if not thousands of miles – from continent to continent.
Along with the risk that comes with operating in a global world, I think there is a misconception that farmers are laborers and, while we are proud to be laborers, farmers have to wear many different hats on a daily basis. Farmers must be really business savvy and have an intense understanding of technology in order to compete in the global world today. Farmers must respond to consumer needs. And we are at the mercy, but also the luxury, of every consumer because they set supply and demand and, whatever that demand is, the agricultural industry needs to pivot to meet that.
Today’s farmers are looking at consumer preferences and choices, regulatory compliance and, of course, the environment as we figure out how to be good stewards of the earth.
LV: How is this different than previous generations?
NC: It’s a much bigger, global nation. People want to see the traceability in their food and our consumers tell us that by what they choose to buy. As farmers, we make sure that we’re responding to that and also being out in front of it. But if prices aren’t moving up and yields aren’t responding, you still have to figure out how to make a margin, what the consumer wants and what our environment needs as well. And that can prove to be tricky in both in good times and bad.
LV: What are some challenges women face in this profession?
NC: Increasing awareness of what jobs are available in agriculture that go beyond physical labor is important. It’s up to us to encourage more women to seek out ag-based careers whether it be a role like mine in ag finance or in database ag or ag technology – there are many careers in agriculture other than just operating a tractor.
There was a recent study conducted by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture that found there is a strong job demand for new college graduates with degrees from ag programs, which is exciting because it shows that US college graduates can expect approximately 59,000 job opportunities annually in the next five years in agriculture. So, the ag industry and especially the ag tech industry – when you look at startup funds and those who are willing to invest in agriculture as part of their portfolio – the technology side of that is what is enticing right now.
For women, there is a tremendous amount of diversity in job offerings and we’ve seen an almost 3% growth in job opportunities for those who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in ag-related fields.
LV: What are some ways to bring more women into this field?
NC: Use career mapping to identify different roles in agriculture or careers you can go into with an agriculture degree. There are so many options and opportunities that, if you’re interested in agriculture from really any angle, there is a job – a career – for you. Gather a network that’s comprised of mentors from as many different segments of the agriculture industry as you can.
Talk to your guidance counselor or college advisor to look at niche markets or fields that may be of interest to you. It’s not just all plows and cows. This is one of the fastest growing and most exciting areas in the United States. But it’s very important to have forward-looking mentors in your life that spend very little time looking out the rearview mirror and the majority of their time looking out the windshield.