For many Americans not directly involved in agriculture, the industry seems very complex and hard to understand. It is one of our biggest industries, with American farms and ranches annually contributing nearly $140 billion toward our gross domestic product. Those directly involved in the industry are subject to volatile weather conditions, fluctuating markets, and financial challenges. There is often more than meets the eye in this industry with so many details and avenues, yet there are three women in the field of agriculture with one main goal in mind to promote, grow and provide the food and fiber we all enjoy.
Linda Taylor, Amanda Harmon, and Mary Jane Buerkle are women who work in South Plains agriculture.
All three women are graduates of Texas Tech University, were born and raised in Texas, and have agricultural backgrounds. However, they did not all have an agricultural career path in mind while attending college. Taylor was a business major, Harmon studied fashion merchandising, and Buerkle followed her roots and pursued a degree in agricultural communications and a master’s in agriculture education.
Experience brings confidence to women in agriculture
While in college, Linda met her husband Dan,
“The general idea was that we would move back to central Texas,” Taylor said. “By the time I graduated from Tech, I was settled in West Texas. We have spent our entire life together here.”
Taylor has always been involved in their family cotton operation, including owning and operating Busters Cotton Gin for almost 35 years. “Currently, I am a member of a partnership that is involved in owning land and seeing that it is cared for. We practice good stewardship and we try to make it as viable as we can.” Taylor said.
As the spouse, she said she is nearly always 50 percent responsible for the financing.
“I became actively involved when I realized that I was responsible for whatever amount of loan we had,” Taylor said. “I needed to know all I could about what we’re doing and how we were financed and all the “regulations” that went into that arrangement. In order to make that effective, you have to be involved.”
“I no longer believe there is not a place for women in agriculture because it has been proven that women are very effective and have the knowledge, the ability and stamina to be successful in agriculture.”
Her experiences bring insight for women working in the industry.
“Determining your goal in agriculture is critical,” she said. “If you want to be an entrepreneur of a business you have to learn to balance life somehow with being a working mother and wife. And you have to be willing to make sacrifices; you may sacrifice things you might not have had to before.”
Taylor said as agriculturists we must be willing to share our story, how we are trying to keep agriculture viable, conserving our soil, stewardship of the land and providing a safe food supply for everyone.
Teamwork makes the dream work
Amanda Harmon is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and agricultural producer. She is an owner and partner with her husband, Scott, and her son, Guy, for Harmon Farms, near Idalou, Texas. She and her family have been farming and ranching for 30 years raising cattle, cotton, corn, wheat and grain sorghum in five counties.
“I feel that family and even friends that work together have respect for one another,” Harmon said. “Although taking care of the cattle is what I love, if they need help, I help them, and they help me, also.”
Agriculture has always been a mainstay for the Texas native raised in Slaton, and aside from raising her children, Harmon’s primary role is taking care of her family’s 400 head of cattle. She is proud to be a member of the Texas Cattle Raisers Association and member of the American Angus Association. Harmon does her work with the kind of passion and commitment of someone who truly loves their occupation.
“I think so many other women have paved the way, like my grandmother who inspired me,
So if this is what I like to do, it doesn’t matter if I’m a man or a woman.
Harmon’s two sons, Jett and Guy, were raised with a strong work ethic and character as they began working alongside their mother and father early on. In 2009, the family lost their eldest son Jett in a tragic farming accident. Much sadness was brought on by this unimaginable tragedy, but the Harmons, being strong in faith and family and having the stamina to keep going, have carried on their successful farming and ranching business.
“Jett was my right-hand man taking care of the cattle,” she said. “When he passed away, at that moment, I didn’t want to get out of bed, but the work I enjoy has kept me going.”
Guy is a main partner in their business and prefers the farming side of the operation. Currently, he is a student in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech.
“Just give women the opportunity and hire more women.” She said. “Like these cows, you have to start really small and it doesn’t come overnight. People have to give women the equal opportunity if they do apply.”
Bringing Community and Agriculture together
Mary Jane Buerkle has never met a stranger. It has been easy for her to bring people together for agriculture through her professional work.
She started her first job working at the Lubbock Avalanche Journal while she was still in college. Eventually, she started writing agriculture stories for the paper, which was her ultimate passion. She began to have a voice through her writing. People noticed and appreciated she was highlighting stories about the most important economic driver in the region. The response was overwhelming, including the support she received from one of her fellow women mentors in agriculture, Linda Taylor.
“I think it’s when we work in jobs outside of agriculture where we can make the biggest impacts,” Buerkle said.
After working at the AJ for four years, Buerkle started working at the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce. This is where Buerkle built a network of people in the agricultural industry. She informed them through events and projects she worked on in the community.
“It’s about finding where you can combine your talents and abilities with an industry need.” She said. “Find out where you can land and build relationships on the way there.”
Buerkle has always maintained her agricultural focus in any job she worked in. For the past seven years, she has been the director of communications and public affairs for Plains Cotton Growers.
“When I applied at this job, the other three people applying for this job were men, and I honestly felt like I was at a disadvantage because I was younger rather than because I was a woman,” She said. “It has a lot to do with earning respect and building your own skill set, personality, and relationships.”
Buerkle said the advice she has for other women who seek employment in the agricultural industry is to just focus on your skills and what you bring to the table and do not think about anything else.