A cursory glance at Wendy Yeager shows dark hair in a barrette, a diamond wedding band, blue nail polish, dusty boots and a farmer’s tan.
But an in-depth look at the 36-year-old shows a farmer concerned about rain, her wheat crop and soybean seed delivery.
“I truly believe farming — when it’s in your blood — is undeniable,” said Yeager, the primary operator of 940-acre Bell Place Farm. “It’s not every day you pull up to a farm and see a woman get off a tractor at her full-time job. But that’s me, and I’m proud of it.”
Yeager’s husband of 10 years, Jamie, works on the Dallas County farm, too, but his main job is running Marion Junction’s Black Belt Research and Extension Center a few miles away.
Yeager is one of thousands of moms and wives plowing new ground for females in agriculture nationwide. According to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture, the past 10 years marked a 21 percent rise in women working in ag-related fields. Likewise, female enrollment at land grant universities, including Auburn University, has jumped in recent years.
“If agriculture is something you have a passion for, stay strong when you’re knocked down,” said Yeager, who grew up on a Conecuh County farm. “Get up; dust yourself off, and persevere.”
Yeager’s can-do attitude is something she hopes to pass along to her daughters, Casey, 7, and Lillian, 5, who often join her in the cab of the tractor.
“I want them to know they can do anything they set their minds to,” said Yeager, who has served four years as Dallas County Farmers Federation Young Farmers chairman. “If it’s farming or maybe something else, they can do it if they really want to.”
Likewise, Dale County farmer Monica Carroll tells her 15-year-old daughter, Brittany, she can be whatever she wants — a veterinarian, teacher, farmer — as long as she’s passionate.
Thanks to Carroll and Yeager, their daughters are being raised in homes with strong female agricultural role models.
“Growing up, I never pictured myself farming,” said Carroll, 44. “But somewhere along the road I realized that you eat, wear and live agriculture, and I never looked back.”
In 1995, Carroll graduated from Auburn University, married her college sweetheart, Chris, and began work with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, an organization that actively sought women and minorities.
“Once women in agriculture realize they’re just as effective as men, they enjoy their work,” said Carroll.
Today, the hard-working mom of Brittany and Blake, 13, manages four poultry houses at 4C Land and Cattle Co., while Chris stays focused on cattle and row crops.
Like Yeager, Carroll said she constantly faces new challenges, but both women refuse to let gender define their success.
“No matter what, I take a deep breath, roll up my sleeves and get the job done, because I know it’s a blessing to tend to God’s country,” Carroll said.
Yeager’s biggest challenge may be when an ag salesman visits the farm and asks for her husband, something Yeager said she turns into an educational opportunity.
“I tell them he’s at his job, and I’m at mine,” Yeager said. “If there’s an opportunity to prove someone wrong, I will.”
Delle Bean has experienced some of those frustrations — and the fruit of patience and perseverance — for 40 years.
“Women in agriculture must do a superior job in the same field as men to prove themselves,” said Bean, who operates Del-Ray Ranch in Calhoun County with her husband, Ray. “We’re not accepted until we’re seen in action.”
Through the years, Bean, 63, multitasked as she raised two sons, Rusty and Josh, ran the farm, managed the house and more. Carroll, Yeager and countless other women understand the juggling routine.
“Don’t get discouraged,” Bean advised. “I’m a lot more respected now because people have seen me do my job and do it well.”
Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady is breaking new ground and gender barriers, too. She credits her success as the Federation’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grains Divisions director to her parents and farmers.
“Growing up, I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was a girl,” said Hornady, 38, the only female commodity director. “Many of my committee members are thankful I serve in this position and encourage me. As long as I do my job efficiently and effectively, we don’t have a problem.”
Yeager, Carroll, Bean and Hornady said they don’t see themselves as females in agriculture. They’re simply farmers, commodity directors, chauffeurs, cooks, mechanics, seamstresses and parents — nurturing their families, friends, fields and faith.