Annie’s Project: Helping Texas Panhandle Women Take the Farming Reins

Nov 18, 2013

DeDe Cummins sits next to an irrigation well at her farm in the Texas Panhandle.
DeDe Cummins sits next to an irrigation well at her farm in the Texas Panhandle.
Credit David Bowser / texastribune.org

Farming is a man’s world.  Despite that, the U.S. 2007 census shows women are a growing presence in agriculture, up 30% from 2002 to 2007.   Out of the 247,000 farms in Texas, 35,000 have principal operators who are women according to recent article in the Texas Tribune.

Women come into ownership in a variety of ways, some after a death in the family, like DeDe Cummins, 53, of Canyon. Her family has farmed in the Texas Panhandle for a century, and six years ago ownership of the land her grandfather grew wheat and ran cattle on transferred to Cummins and her two sisters.

No one expected her to have any interest, but she is the only sister who did not sell her share. Now, she’s scrambling to learn the business. To do that, Cummins took a six-session management workshop for farm women at the Texas A&M AgrilLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo. The series is called, Annie’s Project.  It teaches women across the country about farm management, including topics like:  leasing contracts, marketing, human resources, cash flow, balance sheets, and measuring profitability.

Cummins plans to pass the land to her son and her daughter one day.  She says she sees a bright future for women in agriculture.  She has noticed more girls taking agriculture courses at Canyon High School, where she works. But, taking on farming operations is largely new territory for women, she said.

“We’re sort of the changing face of agriculture,” said Nancy Farrington, 61, of Amarillo, an Annie’s Project participant, fourth-generation landowner and retired teacher, referring to women in general. “I’m never going to ride, rope or get on a tractor with the crop, but as the landowner I want to have a business knowledge.”

Farrington says the course has given her the confidence to walk into a chemical store for herbicides or meet with a United States Department of Agriculture representative to discuss conservation. She is an owner of four properties — three in Foard County and one in Floyd County — that she leases to hunters and to wheat and cotton farmers.

“The first time I went to the chemical store, the agent looked around for a husband — I know that’s what he was doing — and then he said, ‘Oh, all right, how can I help you?’” she said.

Annie’s Project, founded 10 years ago, now offers classes in 34 states. The first Texas class was in 2011, and the program is scheduled at Georgetown in Central Texas next spring.

The workshop is named for Annette Fleck, an Illinois farmer in partnership with her husband. She died in 1997.