AMES, Iowa – Four women making positive changes in Iowa agriculture were honored Nov. 30 at the sixth annual Iowa Women in Ag Leadership Conference organized by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
The Women Impacting Agriculture recognition honors Iowans who are creating a more sustainable Iowa by improving economic resiliency and stability; conserving natural resources; and being influential agricultural leaders, family members and community volunteers.
The 2022 honorees are Laura Cunningham of Floyd County, Susan Kuennen of Fayette County, Bridget Mahoney of Iowa County, and Tara Neal of Des Moines County. Past honoree Monica Lursen and extension communications specialist Lisa Scarbrough recognized the honorees at the conference and presented them with awards.
“This year’s honorees are influential women in their respective communities,” said Scarbrough, communications specialist with the women in ag program with ISU Extension and Outreach. “From caring for the land, to incorporating learning opportunities for growers and community members, to expanding farm businesses, to teaching youth about the opportunities in agriculture, these women are leading their communities as positive role models.”
The honorees shared their stories and hardships, successes and hard-earned wisdom with all attendees. A video highlighting the four women can be viewed online.
For more about Women Impacting Agriculture, visit the Women in Ag Program website. Farm Credit Services of America is a major sponsor of the conference and recognition program.
Laura Cunningham operates SkyView Farms with her husband, Aaron, and young son, Wyatt, in Floyd County. Laura raises Angus cow/calf pairs and spearheaded a new hoop barn to double the herd size. She received a grant from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and worked with ISU Extension and Outreach to create a food hub for pork, poultry and eggs sourced from area farms, as well as her own direct-to-consumer beef. Cunningham was instrumental in integrating reduced-tillage practices and rye cover crops for feed. She served as the chair of the state Farm Bureau Young Farmer Advisory Committee, where she worked with ISU Extension and Outreach to bring more young farmers to local programs. She was a recipient of the Young Farmer Leadership Award in 2020 and participated in the Transatlantic Dialogue Consumer Engagement Study Trip to Germany in 2019. Cunningham served on the Iowa USDA Farm Service Agency committee, as well as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture’s Butchery Innovation Task Force. She is a graduate of Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business, and a member of the Iowa State Curtiss League of Awesomeness. Her passion for ag literacy stems from her grandfather, who chartered the first FFA Chapter at Rockford Senior High in 1950. In 2019, Cunningham started Central Springs AgEd Boosters to raise $400,000 to charter an FFA chapter at Central Springs High School. Through Ag in the Classroom, she gives elementary students virtual tours of her farm. She held an open house in partnership with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers to share insight on the benefits of calving barns. Cunningham has long been a proponent of women in leadership. She is a past presenter for the Women in Ag Leadership Conference, Common Ground ag advocate, and member of the Zion Lutheran church’s sisterhood to advance women’s education.
Susan Kuennen recently retired from her career as a staff nurse at Mayo Clinic and manages her 160-acre farm in Fayette County. When she lost her husband due to illness in 2011, she sought out and built a team to assist her in farm decisions. With an artistic flair, she established conservation practices on her highly erodible farm to include fields, wetlands and upland wildlife. In 2016 Kuennen received the Iowa Conservation Woman of the Year award. “My reward is to know that I am able to make a difference on my farm and be an example to others,” she shared. This past spring, she participated in the Annie’s Project farm management course for the third time. With the constant changes in agriculture and tight margins, she appreciates the helpful resources and connections with like-minded landowners. Kuennen served as the Fayette County representative to the Norman Borlaug Iowa State Research Farm board of directors. She is part of the Iowa State Master Gardener clubs in Chickasaw and Fayette counties and is a Master Conservationist. She donates her organic produce to the Hope Lodge in Rochester, Minnesota. Several varieties of willows are planted on her farm for use in making baskets. Her Plow’n Snow willow and antler basket earned her a solo exhibition in the Macnider Museum in 2021. Kuennen often jokes that she bleeds green. She received the 4-H Alumni Award and 25-Year 4-H Leader awards. “4-H gave me the pledge to live my life accordingly,” she said. After working in substance abuse and addiction treatment for 20 years, Kuennen attended college and graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the age of 46 in 2000. She is involved in her faith community at St. Peter’s Catholic church and served as the Dubuque Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women executive board secretary, 2014 to 2018.
Bridget Mahoney is an agriculture teacher and FFA Advisor and operates Walridge Cattle Farm in Iowa County. She is a powerhouse in the FFA and teaching world, impacting thousands of students, educators and agricultural community members annually. She taught 10 years at Lone Tree High School and is in her second year of revitalizing the Williamsburg High School ag program. While at Lone Tree, her students won a National Chapter Award (Gold) and advanced to nationals in 2020 and 2021. Among her many accolades, Mahoney received a U.S. Presidential Scholars Program Distinguished Teacher award. As an agricultural educator, she teaches students how to manage risk and plan for their future. She sees her ability to get students involved in the community, even if they are not sure about participating, as one of her greatest accomplishments. This has a multiplying effect as they now see value in giving back. At Iowa State, Mahoney earned a bachelor’s of science in animal science and a bachelor’s of science in agricultural education – communications. She led the Science with Practice program while earning her master’s of science in agricultural education. She serves on the advisory committee for Ag Ed Pre-Service Teachers and founded the Mentoring Program in Iowa for agriculture teachers. During the pandemic, Mahoney saw an opportunity to help people access affordable and high-quality beef products. She worked with customers to buy animals from Walridge Farms and find lockers to harvest the beef. From designing marketing pieces to creating solutions for her customers, Mahoney is constantly innovating and adapting to serve her community and honor the legacy of her family’s farm. She is focused on raising the best Angus beef and was named the Seedstock Producer of the Year. She stated her proudest achievement is raising her daughter, Anastasia, on the same Century Farm that she grew up on.
Tara Neal is an administrative and sales assistant at Nutrien Ag Solutions and operates JAC Farms and MCTA Pork with her family in Des Moines County. She has supported the chemical, fertilizer and seed sales at the Mediapolis location for 18 years. She organizes events incorporating learning opportunities for growers and community members. She works with ISU Extension and Outreach on farm safety day camps and hosts local high school and community college agriculture students for agronomic lessons at the Nutrien retail facility. Together with their parents, Neal and her sister, Amanda, carefully researched how to successfully transition the farm business. The daughters and their spouses now are responsible for day-to-day operations and long-term decisions for the grain and swine farm. Staying innovative is important to Neal. Her family uses solar panel electricity generation and precision farming practices such as grid soil sampling and variable rate fertilizer. She and her family practice no-till on the highly erodible acres and work with USDA-NRCS to create land management plans such as building terraces. Neal graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in agricultural education in 2002. She served on the Des Moines County Extension Council from 2013-2016, contributing as secretary, vice president, and president. Neal is a big supporter of 4-H and FFA in her community and served on an advisory board that started the Mediapolis FFA Alumni Program. She is a member of the Southeastern Community College Agriculture Advisory Council. Neal recently started a homeschool cooperative in Mediapolis where she develops many agricultural themed lessons. She is a leader for her church’s Kid’s Club and serves on the community fellowship committee. She is most proud of being able to manage home, farm and work by creating a culture of care for each.
Shareable photos: 1. Madeline Schultz (left) and Laura Cunningham. 2. Madeline Schultz (right) and Susan Kuennen. 3. Madeline Schultz (right) and Bridget Mahoney. 4. Madeline Schultz (left) and Tara Neal.