Amy Dowdy Newman and Lee Rhea Thornton of Fayette County, Tenn., are changing the traditional definition of “farm wife,” burning it up in the field and plowing the way for women in agriculture one field at a time.
Newman has been on a tractor since the age of seven. Although Thornton pursued a degree in education, she never lost her passion for her first love, farming.
Both Thornton and Newman had similar farm backgrounds.
Newman grew up on a farm where her grandfather and father both farmed and she learned much of the farm knowledge she uses today in her own operation from them and her uncles. Newman had her first crop of cotton in 1991.
Her father taught her the responsibility of having her own crop by encouraging her to pay all the input costs. She worked for her uncles in exchange for equipment use and when the crop was harvested, the check was in her name.
She says she learned a lot about farming from that experience as well as the advice her uncles gave her. She is now married to a farmer and farms alongside her husband, brother-in-law, and nephew.
In 2008, Newman's personal operation consisted of 133 acres of cotton, 36 acres of soybeans and 75 acres of corn. Her family operation included 627 acres of cotton, 471 acres of soybeans, 264 acres of corn, and 257 acres of wheat.
Thornton grew up on a farm as well with a strong farm heritage. Her father, as well as both grandfathers and great-grandfathers were farmers. She is now married to a farmer and is instilling a strong farm heritage of hard work and dedication to her two young children.
Thornton says that with each crop her commitment and enthusiasm for farming grew and once she purchased her first farm she knew she was in it for life. She now farms 170 acres of soybeans, 60 acres of wheat, 105 acres of cotton, and 85 acres of corn on her own operation in Fayette County while her husband has a separate operation in Haywood County, Tenn., where she and her family reside.
Thornton says it's a challenge to balance being a farmer, a wife and the mother of two young children. Newman says keeping a positive outlook is one of her biggest challenges.
Both women agree that competition with land development, uncertain commodity prices, and the rising cost of inputs are concerns that they share with all farmers.
They want the public to understand that although commodity prices were good in 2008, there is a small profit margin in farming and rising input costs are a concern for them and should be for all Americans.
Both women feel that the farming industry is the backbone of this country, and the success of farmers is the key to keeping food prices low for all Americans and the world.
Newman and Thornton say women have always played an important role in agriculture and often their roles have been unrecognized. There is a need, they say, to develop a better understanding of their place in the agricultural community. With more and more women running their own farming operations, they hope for new opportunities for women in the form of land rental and agricultural-related job opportunities.
Although Thornton believes that people who shape the conservation regulations should be knowledgeable and realistic about placing conservation concerns over human need, she and Newman are committed to the best conservation measures available. Both women view themselves as stewards of the land for the next generation.
“The land is here to provide food and resources for the world,” Thornton says, and “farmers know that the more care and attention given to it, the more potential there is for productivity in the future.”
Newman says they accomplish that with the farming practices they use, such as terracing, waterways, silt dams, rock structures, and by no-tilling 90 percent of their crop.
Farming in general has become a tough way to make a living. With the overall decline or stalling of commodity prices and the continual increase in input costs, the American farmer is “putting it all on the line” for each and every American year after year. Even though Newman and Thornton believe the future for small farmers is bleak, they say it is still a great way of life. They hope the generations to come who want to farm are afforded that opportunity.
They both believe that farming is a great way to instill responsibility for the land and for feeding the world into young people.