Back to her roots: female farmer takes the lead

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woman in tractor
Vicki Vance, of Gambier, Ohio, works for J&R Farms doing a little bit of everything. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

FREDERICKSTOWN, Ohio — If Vicki Vance had a dollar for every time someone asked her if she was out in the field to drop off dinner or if she was the farmer’s wife, she might be able to pay for her next vacation.

This is her fifth year working for J&R Farms. Her job title?

“We all wear many hats around here,” she said.

During harvest time, she runs the grain cart. In the spring, she plants soybeans. Throughout the year, she handles office work for the company.

“I do whatever needs to be done,” she said.

Stepping up

Vance, of Gambier, Ohio, was working in medical records when she saw an ad for a part-time office worker for J&R Farms, a grain operation in Mount Vernon, Ohio, owned by third-generation farmer, Rich Piar.

She thought she’d apply and earn some extra money. Vance grew up helping with her father’s grain business, so she was familiar with the work.

It turned out the farm needed a full-time employee. She was hesitant to make the switch, but she took the risk, quitting her medical job.

It began as typical office work, handling payroll, human resources and safety.

That was what she did for about three months.

Then when the operations manager quit, Vance stepped up to fill in.

“Someone needed to be brush hogging, so I did it,” she said.

It grew slowly from there. She worked her way up to running progressively bigger, more complex equipment.  She began managing the electronics in the combines.

Piar taught her how to plant soybeans, and now she does all the bean planting for the farm. This spring, she planted 1,400 acres of beans.

Getting started

tractor hauling grain cart
Vicki Vance runs the grain cart as the team from J&R Farms harvests a field of soybeans. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

For this year’s harvest, it’s Vance and two other full-time employees — Bob Seavolt and Ben Artrip.

There is also a handful of truck drivers that come in as needed. They’ve been trying to find another farm operator, but it’s been hard to find a qualified person that would be the right fit with the team, Vance said.

“When the sun is shining, you’ve got to work,” she said.

Things are off to a rocky start Oct. 3 in a field outside of Ankenytown. Harvest started five days ago with corn, but now they’ve switched over to soybeans. They’ll harvest about 3,200 acres altogether in Knox and Licking counties.

Shortly after they start in the early afternoon, a bearing needs to be replaced in Seavolt’s combine. While he waits for parts and makes the fix, Vance and Artrip harvest a leased field across the road.

While she waits for Artrip to make passes in the combine, Vance makes calls and sends texts, lining up truck drivers to take the beans off the field.

Yields are good. Fields are dusty, but at least it’s dry.

Making the best of it

Planting in the spring was a struggle, as it was for many farmers across the state. Some acres never dried up at all.  They took prevented plant on about 800 acres.

“We’d hit it hard for two days and then we’d be out for the field for a week,” she said.

They made the best of the unplanted acres, taking that time to do some needed maintenance and upgrades in the fields.

So far harvest is going more smoothly than the wet harvest of 2018.

Vance said she usually plans a post-harvest vacation to unwind. She planned a cruise for the beginning of December.

But last year, things had been delayed so much that by the time her cruise came, they weren’t done yet.

She went on her trip, but quickly traded sandals and shorts for a Carhartt jacket sooner than she would’ve liked.

“I got off the cruise ship and went straight to the field to finish soybeans,” she said.

 

Back to her roots

Once Seavolt’s combine is back up, they move to another field. Vance goes back and forth with the grain cart between the two combines.

When she has down time in the tractor, she can catch up on emails or other office work. Vance can do almost anything from the seat of the tractor on her phone or laptop.

She worked with her father’s grain business growing up, but admits she was more interested in showing cattle at the time.

She and her mom would load up the trailer and show Herefords all over.

She knew how to run the equipment for her dad’s operation, but he handled most of the mechanical work. So, she never bothered to learn.

Now at J&R Farms, the guys are patient with Vance as she asks questions and makes up for lost time.

Her coworkers treat her the same as anyone else, but that’s not always the case in the industry.

She knows she’s one of the few women in her position. But she’s proud now that she can hold her own, especially when something breaks down.

“I can pretty much diagnose things myself now,” she said.

Taking the lead

Vance has a lot to be proud of. On top of her other responsibilities at the farm, she secured a $40,000 grant from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation to put in a safety system on the farm’s new grain bins.

The system, which was designed for the farm, includes a grain engulfment prevention and retrieval system, as well as tie-off points near frequently accessed areas.

The system won third place in the bureau’s 2019 Safety Innovation Awards.

She also joined the Ohio Farm Bureau’s 2019-20 AgriPOWER program, a leadership program for farmers and other agricultural professionals to learn about public policy issues and become better advocates.

Now that her two sons are grown — one is 18 and the other 20 — she has more time to get involved in the larger agricultural community.

Vance said she wanted to become a more effective leader in both her personal and professional life. She’s enjoying learning from others in the industry and learning more about herself as well.

“Anytime you can become a better advocate for agriculture, it’s a good thing,” she said. “Because there is a such a disconnect between the agricultural community and the communities we live in.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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