Annie’s Project to Develop Farm Transitioning Course with USDA and Farm Credit

AMES, Iowa — Women farmers and ranchers wanting to learn more about transition planning will benefit from a program that recently received USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture funding. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the winning proposals for the 2011 Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grants on Sept. 30. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Annie’s Project proposal, Farm Transition and Business Management Training for Women Farmers and Ranchers, was awarded $675,750 for curriculum development and delivery of courses. The Farm Credit Council,, and 11 Farm Credit Associations also are providing $188,865 in support of the project.

Annie’s Project, an agricultural risk management education program for women, was started by Ruth Hambleton in 2003 when she was a University of Illinois Extension farm business management and marketing specialist. Hambleton recognized that the unique learning preferences of women often are not served through traditional farm management education programs. Annie’s Project, created in tribute to Hambleton’s mother, Annette “Annie” Fleck, sets up multi-session courses in farm communities. The sessions focus on five areas of risk management from production and marketing to finances, legal issues and human resources. Annie’s Project has successfully reached more than 8,000 women farmers and ranchers in 26 states.

“Women have always been a part of American farms and ranches; through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Annie’s Project will emphasize the role women play in getting farms started,” Hambleton said. “Today, more women are beginning farmers as well as living the traditional role of helping transition farms from one generation to the next.”

The Farm Credit Council is an Annie’s Project partner on a national level. Gary Matteson, Farm Credit Council Vice President for Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs, calls the organization’s support a tremendous opportunity for helping farmers succeed. “Nationally, we can generate enthusiasm for Annie’s Project and encourage partners to get on board,” Matteson said. “Locally, the Farm Credit Associations bring knowledge of community financial issues to the customization of this course that allows women to learn in the best possible environment and form networks with people that can help them solve problems.” The Farm Credit Contributions Program is providing additional project support for participant materials and risk management awareness campaigns.

Women request farm transition planning course

The funding announcement is good news for beginning farmers like Lorilee Schultz of Mil-R-Mor Farm in Orangeville, IL. Schultz and two aunts took the first level Annie’s Project course and found it helpful, but she recognizes the need for a second level course. “The Annie’s workshops gave us valuable information that we incorporated into our farm and which helped us become more efficient and profitable while controlling our risk,” said Schultz. “To ensure the success of our dairy farm into the future, it is critical for us to increase our family’s knowledge and awareness of farm succession planning.”

There is a significant need for education designed specifically for women farmers and ranchers to help them manage business risks, enhance the financial viability of their family farms and ranches, and strengthen the potential for beginning farmers and ranchers. The 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture identified 306,209 women as primary farm operators; their average age was 59.

Charlotte Heidelberger, of Coin, Iowa, understands how Annie’s Project classes are customized to meet local needs. She has been sole manager of her farm since her husband Gary’s unexpected death in 2006. In 2005 she enrolled in Annie’s Project to learn more about farm finances and marketing – sensitive areas where the couple sometimes had differing opinions. “We were looking for an objective class approach where I could learn and better relate to the issues involved,” Heidelberger said. “Going and meeting with the other women energized me. Having time to ask questions always stimulated my thinking. After Gary died, Annie’s Project materials became my crutch. I took it again in 2010 because I had many more management decisions to make. The educators were always knowledgeable and enthusiastic.”

Developing a farm transition planning course

To maintain the integrity of Annie’s Project, the newly funded course curriculum will build on the successful educational methodologies of the standard course and the strengths of partners and collaborators. A team from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach including agriculture economics, value-added agriculture and the beginning farmer specialists will partner with experienced extension professionals and Farm Credit Association staff in 10 states to develop the new course and deliver pilot programs.

Angie Loew, Farm Credit Services of America financial officer in Carroll, Iowa, is a member of the curriculum development team. “I’ve worked with farmers for 24 years, know their questions and have seen the need for transitioning information,” Loew said. “Offering a state-level curriculum that involves local professional educators in the program delivery will better position families as they begin transitioning their operations.”

The transition planning courses will help women farmers and ranchers consider generational succession, retirement and estate and business planning. “Farm transitioning is not intuitive or easy to do,” said Tim Eggers, co-director for the Annie’s National Network Initiative for Educational Success. “This course will offer information from knowledgeable educators and experienced professionals to benefit women farmers and ranchers, and the future of agriculture. Receiving funding for a second level Annie’s Project course makes it possible to provide information that women have been asking for.”

The advanced Annie’s Project course will empower women to take ownership of the future of their farms and ranches, particularly as it deals with the human resources and legal aspects of transitioning. Annie’s Project gives women the kind of risk management education that prepares them to ask good questions specific to their farm or ranch needs. Through Annie’s Project, land-grant universities, the Farm Credit Council and local Farm Credit Associations support the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

The course planning team discusses the recently funded project during the Annie's Project video at .


Additional Contact:
Angie Loew, Farm Credit Services of America, Carroll, 1-800-383-0698,


Group Photo Caption:
Farm Transition and Business Management Training for Women Farmers and Ranchers, a second level Annie’s Project course, planning team include: (l to r) Front row: Madeline Schultz - Annie’s National Network Initiative for Educational Success, Gary Matteson – Farm Credit Council and Jim Knuth – Farm Credit Services of America, Iowa. Back row: John Baker – ISU Beginning Farmer Center and Angie Loew – Farm Credit Services of America, Iowa.