Pat Jones probably shouldn't but she takes the decrease in the Texas Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE) membership personally.
“As president of the organization I have to wonder if there is something else I can do to attract members,” she says from the farm she and her husband, David, run near Lubbock.
“It's becoming increasingly hard to recruit new members,” she says. “Some are retiring from active farming; the poor agricultural economy has taken a toll and farm women are busy.”
But she's convinced that the organization still has too much to do to fold up and go home.
“Now, we need to be involved more than ever,” she says. “The image the general public has of America's farmers, that we're all rich and are killing third world agriculture, can't go unchallenged.
“I hear complaints about farmers' big homes, new tractors (with air conditioning) and nice vehicles. Why does the public expect us to live at a lower economic level than other folks? It makes no sense.”
She says new acquaintances have told her: “You don't look like a farmer.” She wonders: “What's a farmer supposed to look like? I don't know what else agriculture can do to change that perception.
“Folks seem to think that we farm because we can't do anything else. But David has always wanted to farm and wouldn't be happy doing anything else.”
Jones says a “Green Acres Syndrome” exists in this country, even among, perhaps mostly among, elected officials. “We've asked our governor about plans to aid rural communities and he says building markets is the key. We already export a good percentage of what we grow, but he doesn't consider the tariffs, 60 percent on what we sell versus about 12 percent on what we import.”
Rural residents have little leverage in government, she says. “If you don't live east of I-35, you don't exist.”
For 25 years WIFE members have taken on local, state and federal officials who tried to ignore them. Recently, they showed up at their annual Washington breakfast with signs stating: “Congress says farm wives do not count.”
The message was a response to attempts at payment limitations in the farm bill that would have limited a farm wife's eligibility.
“We warned congressmen about taking equity away from farmers,” she says. “We asked the government back in 1987 to designate ‘person.’ We were upset with spousal exclusions.”
Jones says since the organization started back in the mid 1970s, women from across the country have met with state and federal officials to let them know what farm families needed to survive.
“We publish booklets for the U.S. Congress and state legislators, outlining key issues,” she says. “We've focused on ethanol in the past and on food security this year. We have a breakfast every year in Washington. We all wear red and march to the Capitol.”
Jones says at the beginning, farm wives organized to take a message to government about the plight of farmers. “Now, 25 years later, we're still talking about the plight of farmers. Not much has changed.”