Passing it Down: A Passion for Agriculture

By: Kayla Wilkins, Communications Intern 

Her days are spent working the ground. As she stares down at her dirty hands, she looks at her watch and realizes it’s time to head home to cook supper. She has spent the last 38 years nurturing a family and raising crops on her farm in western Kansas. Being a mother and a farmer is a tough job, but she is proud to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

Sorghum farmer Brenda Tankersley began farming with her mother in the 1970s and has raised her daughters in production agriculture, as well. Brenda is the owner and operator of her farm and comes from a family where three generations of farm women are present. Contrary to popular belief, the number of female principal farm operators is slowly increasing across the nation, signifying what might be a new era of agriculture on the rise.

The 2014 Agriculture Census indicates 86 percent of principal operators on farms are male. Female farmers in the United States represent less than one-tenth of a percent of the nation's entire population. To put this into perspective, that's one in every 1,000 people. Farming can be a very rewarding career and Brenda said knowing she has a hand is providing for others is something she is passionate about.

“We take care of the land because that’s what allows you to make a living and feed multiple people,” she said. “I just feel that it’s important people realize we as farmers have their best interest in mind.”

Brenda has had a long career in farming and said despite the long hours and hard work, she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

“At the end of the day, I am very thankful I have had good harvests and can be a provider,” Brenda said.

Brenda has shared this passion with her daughter, Kelsey Baker, as well. Kelsey grew up farming with her mom and now farms with her husband and children in western Kansas. Kelsey said she wants to pass the lessons she learned growing up farming from her mom onto her children.

“It is a blessing to be able to spend more time with our kids and instill good work ethics and values in them,” Kelsey said. “They will understand production agriculture and be able to grow crops to feed the world if they choose.”

Both Brenda and Kelsey both grow grain sorghum, among other crops, on their no-till operations and have found many benefits utilizing sorghum in a rotation. They said uses for grain sorghum seem endless for producers today and the demand for sorghum in the food sector has only continued to increase.

Taking action on the growing market for food-grade sorghum, Brenda sought to meet elevated demand, which she said has improved her operation by adding a valuable crop in her rotation.

“I think there is a lot of potential in the white milo, which is gaining popularity,” Brenda said. “We’ll be able to fill niche markets with it, and I am looking forward to doing that.”

Brenda provides grain for Nu Life Market, a sorghum food supplier, but her relationship with Nu Life Market is more than just supplying grain. Her daughter, Kelsey, has maintained a successful career as the chief financial officer for Nu Life while working on the farm with her husband.

Kelsey's unique position at Nu Life enables her to learn more about the food-grade sorghum industry, making her a better farmer and advocate for the food sector. In turn, Kelsey is able to pass this valuable knowledge onto her mother, further enhancing her opportunities with sorghum.

“There are so many things sorghum can be used for,” Brenda said. “It’s amazing what this crop can be made into.”

Brenda and Kelsey plan to continue growing grain sorghum for years to come and take pride in producing this American grown ancient grain for consumers. Kelsey cherishes her relationship with her mom and said she is blessed to have grown up farming and to have an opportunity to continue the legacy with her children.

“With mom, I have a friend for life," Kelsey said," and best of all, we share the same passion  ?  farming.”