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Organization promoting women in agriculture still growing

The lead organization promoting women in agriculture in Mississippi continues to grow.

Dozens of women came together for a late February conference at Mississippi State University.

The 75-member Mississippi Women for Agriculture organization meets to discuss important agricultural developments and to draw encouragement from shared experiences. Mary Jane Coign, who owns a cow and calf operation in Oktibbeha County, is the organization’s 2014 president.

“We started this organization because we found many women were inheriting agricultural businesses but not being able to manage them properly,” Coign said. “We feel like our goal is to educate women so they will be able to manage their own operations and keep their farms viable.

“We also want to encourage young women to feel like they can farm and have a career in farming without having to plan their life around a career off the farm,” she said.

Sylvia Clark, the MSU Extension associate who coordinates Mississippi Women for Agriculture, said the organization started in 2011. This is the third year the organization has held an annual conference. The MSU Extension Service hosts these conferences in partnership with the Alcorn State University Extension Program and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. Conferences are held either at MSU in Starkville or at the MSU Central Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Raymond.

“We alternate between Raymond and Starkville every other year to be centrally located some years to attract a different group of ladies,” Clark said. “We think it is important to come to campus often to keep the university connection alive and well.”

This year’s conference started with a session that focused on financial planning to ensure the sustainability of women’s agricultural enterprises. A second panel session updated the women on the 2014 Farm Bill, Mississippi’s overall agricultural situation and state legislation affecting the industry.

Carolyn Banks, interim project director of Small Farm Outreach for the Alcorn State University Extension Program, spoke about this university’s efforts to help small farms with financial planning and marketing.

“Many people lack the knowledge and resources to start a farm, but any time you’re going to start a business, you have to have an idea of what you’re going to do,” Banks said. “People may have land but don’t know what to do with it. We help get them access to people who can help them decide what to do with the land.”

Penny Newsom from Glen Allen in Washington County farms with her husband, Jim. She has spent her entire life in agriculture, starting as a child helping her father with a custom harvest business that took them as far away as North Dakota.

She and her husband got their own combine in 1973 and then got into the hauling business when they purchased an 18-wheeler in 1979. Her husband started hobby farming around that time and now has a large row-crop operation.

“We turned the trucking business over to our daughter, and we’re doing the farming,” Newsom said.

The 2015 Mississippi Women for Agriculture conference is scheduled for late February in Raymond. Visit msucares.com/womenforag/ to learn more about this organization.

The organization has received support and sponsorships from the Mississippi Poultry Association, Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, Farm Credit System and local businesses, including Eddie McNeal of Ameriprise Financial in Starkville and Black Prairie Tractor and Equipment of Columbus.


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