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Published November 05, 2012, 10:20 AM

'Best-kept secret'

Karen Yost, the national president of American Agri-Women, spoke at the 30th annual Harvest of Knowledge Agri-Women’s Conference Oct. 26 in Grand Forks, N.D.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Karen Yost likes to say that she’s part of “the nation’s best-kept secret.”

“Even though we’ve been around since 1974, people hear our name and say, ‘What’s that?’ But when they understand what we are, they’re usually anxious to get involved,” she says.

Yost is national president of American Agri-Women, a coalition of 50 state and commodity affiliate organizations, as well as individual women, across the country. Her group represents about 50,000 women.

Yost, of Billings, Mont., spoke at the 30th annual Harvest of Knowledge Agri-Women’s Conference Oct. 26 in Grand Forks, N.D. About 150 women attended the event, sponsored by North Dakota Agri-Women and Minnesota Agri-Women. Convention topics included opportunities in agricultural exports and activism in ag.

Agweek visited with Yost before her presentation.

American Agri-Women, the members of which include the U.S. Rice Federation and the Women’s Mining Coalition, works on legislative and regulatory issues at the local, state and national levels.

“A lot of our natural resource regulations are coming from people who’ve been educated by 40 years of Walt Disney movies. It’s not really reality. In the real world, the wolf eats the rabbit. They don’t play together,” Yost says.

Currently, American Agri-Women’s most important goal is approval of a new farm bill, she says.

Educating its own members is another priority for the organization, which is why conferences such as the one in Grand Forks are important, Yost says.

“If you’re in agriculture, you want to stay up to date with the newest technology,” she emphasizes. “You want to be able to know what’s going on with regulations. You just need to attend these kinds of conference to stay abreast of changes in your industry.”

American Agri-Women also works to educate students and consumers.

Diverse role in ag

Yost says women have always been involved with agriculture, but that the involvement sometimes wasn’t acknowledged properly.

As recently as the 1970s, “Women couldn’t even sign papers with the USDA. They weren’t considered a legal entity. They couldn’t even say, ‘Yes, I want to sign with my husband’ to get a loan,” she says.

Today, women play an increasingly diverse role in agriculture. Farm children, both male and female, are getting agricultural degrees and working in agribusiness, she says.

“You can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl,” Yost says, adding that women increasingly own and operate their own farms.

Yost and her husband, George, own and operate Nutra-Lix, a feed supplement company in Billings that distributes its product in six states and Canada.

Both the Yosts grew up in agriculture. George’s family sold its ranch, while Karen’s brother took over the family farm.

Karen Yost is halfway through her two-year term as American Agri-Women president. She previously spent two years as its first vice president and, after she’s finished as president, will spend two years as past president.

As first vice president, Yost was heavily involved in recruiting new members, a goal that remains important to her as president.

Women who join American Agri-Women will discover they have passions in common with other members, she says.

Yost encourages women without direct ties to agriculture, but who want to learn more about it, to consider joining.

More information: www.americanagriwomen.org.

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