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Published July 13, 2011, 07:25 PM

A Field of Her Own: Aneta, ND, Woman Part of Nationwide Trend of More Female Farmers

The number of female farm operators nationwide rose from 847,000 in 2002 to slightly more than 1 million in 2007, according to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

By: Johnathan Knutson, Agweek

ANETA, N.D. – Anne Peterson likes to say that she “went to hair school to become a farmer.”

It was an unusual career path but still a successful one, she says.

“I’m glad I went there (cosmetology school). I just needed to do something else to realize that what I really want to do is farm,” says the 27-year-old Peterson, who farms near Aneta with her father, Mark.

Anne (pronounced “Annie”) Peterson reflects a national trend.

The number of female farm operators nationwide rose from 847,000 in 2002 to slightly more than 1 million in 2007, according to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The census is conducted every five years, most recently in 2007

The number of female farm operators in North Dakota rose from 8,504 in 2002 to 11,071 in 2007, according to the census.

Women are playing an increasingly prominent and diverse role in agriculture, both nationally and regionally.

She’s a farm kid

Peterson grew up on a farm and often helped on it during high school.

Uncertain of what she wanted to do with her life, she attended cosmetology school but often returned to the farm to help.

“They (people at the school) used to give me a hard time about it because I’d take off and come back and work when I could,” she says.

Peterson worked for a short time at a hair salon in Grand Forks before returning to Aneta six years ago.

She considered opening a hair salon in Aneta but decided against it.

“I didn’t really have the desire. I’d rather be out in the field,” she says.

“I can’t imagine not being out in the field. But if I hadn’t been exposed to it (as a girl), would I have wanted to? If my dad hadn’t been a farmer, I don’t know what I would have done,” she says,

Mark Peterson declined, through his daughter, to be interviewed for this article. Anne Peterson says her father prefers to focus on farming.

The Petersons raise soybeans, pinto beans, wheat and sunflowers, her favorite crop.

“I like going and shooting the blackbirds,” which frequently do serious damage to sunflower fields, she says.

Peterson knows some other women who occasionally help out on their family farm but “nobody else who does what I do,” she says.

Some people have trouble recognizing she’s a farmer.

“When I go into implement dealerships for parts, a lot of the time they don’t know who I am. They won’t even acknowledge me or even come over to help me. You’d think the giveaway (that she’s a farmer) would be the grease hanging on my clothes,” she says.

Still, “It’s getting better. People are getting accustomed to seeing me.”

Doing what she loves

Peterson, a third-generation farmer, doesn’t mind getting hands-on and dirty in farming.

“I love greasing, changing (cultivator) shovels. All that’s good,” she says. The one thing she doesn’t enjoy is “cleaning out the yucky (grain) bins.”

She even enjoys reading farm equipment manuals. “Probably my favorite book is a manual for a tractor,” she says.

Her hobbies include cooking and, when she has free time in the winter, knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking and making cards.

Does she have any advice for young women interested in farming?

“Well, I’d say that anybody who wants to be a farmer – you really better enjoy it. You have to love it and know you’ll be putting in long hours. It’s the way it is,” she says.

Peterson says she eventually would like a family of her own. Whatever else happens, she’s going to continue farming.

“I’m not going to stop.” There’s no way,” she says.