Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Women in agriculture

Fall crops had been delivered to the Mid Kansas Coop at Castleton when Tina Collins started cleaning machinery and building fence in preparation for the cattle she would be bringing home for winter on her Reno County farm.

Dixie Mattas and her husband, Gary,
farm near Lindsborg.
At Dixie Mattas’ farm the routine is about the same, down to the waxing of the combine. While Mattas farms with her husband Gary, just north of Lindsborg, in McPherson County, Collins works solo, having taken over her family farm four miles south of Pretty Prairie.

Collins and Mattas make up about 26,800 female farmers out of Kansas’ nearly 70,000 farm operators according to the recent Census of Agriculture. Meanwhile Collins is part of an even smaller group of 7,943 women who are considered the principal operator of the farm.

Despite different farming operations, the two women share a passion for their work and an appreciation for MKC and how the cooperative has enhanced their lives in several ways.

Both women were raised on farms, and helping out was just always a part of their childhood.
“I loved it,” Mattas said of growing up on her parent’s farm near Bridgeport. The granddaughter of Swedish immigrants who lived in a dugout near Bridgeport, she says her roots run deep in central Kansas.
Mattas was thrilled whenever she could help out, running to the cooperative elevator to pick up the feed or picking up the parts to repair the tractor in town.

She learned at an early age how integral the cooperative was to the farming operation. Her early memories were of her father serving on the Lindsborg Co-op board back when it was the Farmer’s Union Elevator. That was the place where her mother brought her eggs to sell and her dad butchered meat in the locker plant.

Her father served as secretary of the Co-op board and she would hand-write the minutes for him, because her family didn’t own a typewriter.

Today she continues serving an integral part of the farming operation with Gary. He considers her a huge asset with her record keeping skills and tenacity with balancing the books.  But, she also continues working as she did growing up, helping where ever she is needed on the farm. However, Gary says her forte is managing the operation. 

He attributes the couple’s successful farming operation to his wife’s excellent bookkeeping skills.

“There’s a lot to know and she does all the bookwork,” Gary Mattas said of their operation that includes 1,500 acres of both dryland and irrigated wheat, corn, beans, milo and alfalfa.

Every decision the couple makes is done jointly.

“The implement dealer knows he’s selling the equipment to both of us,” Mattas said. “Gary looks at it from the perspective of what the equipment will do; it’s size and how fast. For me, it’s how much will it cost?”

Prior to retirement Dixie worked for 30 years for General Motors Acceptance Corporation. At one point she traveled to eight states for her work. Back then she even took vacation time to help Gary during harvest.

“I was always the truck driver,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder how I did it all. I drove the truck, but I made sure that we had a noon meal. Then I would stop by the house about 5:30 p.m. and pack up meals.”

Now, retired from GMAC, her full energy goes 100 percent into the couple’s farm.

For Mattas, the MKC webpage enhances her farm work in a very positive way. She appreciates the fact that she can use it anytime. Even late at night, long after the elevator is closed; she can pull proof of yields off the computer or download ledger sheets for the landlords.

“I dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T,’” she said. “I can’t be off a penny. Everything must balance and be reconciled.”

She has been using a computer software program known as “Farmworks,” which allows her to keep track of all the expenses in each field.

“Even when we disk a field we can determine the cost of disking per acre,” she said. At the end of every month she prints off profit and loss records so Gary can go over them and know their profit and loss for the month and year to date.”

Tina Collins and her
daughter, Copper.
Tina Collins shares Dixie’s passion for farming. However, on her Reno County farm she is a one woman show except for during harvest when an aunt comes to drive a grain cart and a neighbor lends a hand. She has taken over her parent’s, Jim and Trudy Heimerman’s, farm since her father’s death in 2007. In 2009 she bought equipment from her mother, and now she’s going it alone overseeing three irrigated circles of corn and soybeans and dry land wheat.

“I’m really thankful that the landlords have given me this opportunity,” she said.  

Collins, who is raising her 6-year-old daughter, Copper, admits she has just experienced her toughest year because of the drought.

She recalls when she was about Copper’s age that she did everything with her father.

“He was old school,” she said. He didn’t ever make a big deal about Tina being a female farmer, “I just did it,” she said. Even while she was a student at Kansas State University she came home most weekends to help her dad farm.

It’s not an easy life. She works hard every day, from sun up until sundown. But, as a single mother, she makes a point of taking time for Copper. While Collins and Copper live in Pretty Prairie, Copper rides the school bus out to the farm every afternoon. The first grader works on her homework and tends to her 22 New Hampshire red chickens and kittens.

“There’s nothing I can’t do on the farm,” Collins said. “With dad you just got in and did it. I’m gratefu
l they let me do it.”

Now she’s planning for a future and knows that record keeping is just as important as the labor.
“I’d like to expand with more acres and cattle and update the equipment, Collins said. “But, it will take a few years.”

She has never felt limited as a woman; she can tear machinery apart with the best of mechanics.
She appreciates MKC’s Castleton Elevator which is just 10 miles from her fields.

“The employees at the elevator are helpful,” she said. They treat her with the respect they treat any customer, and they handle all the spraying and fertilizing from the elevators at Castleton and Haven.

“I’m living my dream,” Collins said. “If I had to go to work in an office I couldn’t survive.”

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