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The fifth generation takes the helm of one family’s farming operation

On a bright, warm and breezy June afternoon, Caddo County wheat producer Brittany Krehbiel stood confidently and comfortably in front of her combine parked on the edge of a portion of the family farm called Section 21 and beamed.

They weren’t done cutting, but she was pleased with what she’d seen so far.

“We didn’t irrigate at all because we had a lot of spring rains that really carried the crop through the harvest,” she said. “We saw pretty decent kernel size this year. It wasn’t shriveled as in years past, which I think is mostly due to the rain we’ve had this spring. It’s a really good crop this year, I think.”

This year, Krehbiel successfully maneuvered through harvest for the first time without two of her closest mentors at her side – her father, Jeff, who died seven years ago, and her grandfather, Wayne, who passed away in December.

So, it was a little different crew this time around. She and her mother, Karen, manned the combines while her uncle, Randy, a longtime reporter for the Tulsa World, operated the grain truck and her fiancé, Logan Hukill, trucked loads of wheat into town.

It was an important milestone for her, the fifth generation to grow and harvest wheat on her family’s land near Hinton, and a reaffirmation of her commitment to extending the legacy that has brought her to this point.

“We’ve had wheat for over 100 years on these acres so to be generation five, it means I get to produce a generation six. I get to be here when we pass it on again,” she said. “For me, it’s about protecting what we have but also getting it to grow and flourish so when generation six comes along, they’ll have the opportunity to do exactly what I’ve done.”

Krehbiel radiates passion and carries herself with a confidence and maturity that belies her age. A senior at Oklahoma State University, she’s on track to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a minor in farm appraising.

Although it’s been challenging to help run the family operation from two hours away while completing her studies in Stillwater, Krehbiel is now poised to return to the farm on a full-time basis after graduation.

“There’s a feeling I get when I’m home on the farm. Even on the crazy days, it’s right,” she said. “It’s where I’m supposed to be and I know that. Getting to do that is such a blessing.”

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, 38,673, or 32 percent, of farmers in Oklahoma are women. They are responsible for well over 11 million acres and generate an economic impact of $293 million for the state.

However, the numbers don’t erase challenges in the industry Krehbiel feels are unique to women.

“When I go to the co-op, everybody sees me as the little girl who grew up and rode in the tractor. To me, I never have the same level of knowledge they expect from a male counterpart,” she said. “Part of it is my sassiness comes out and I just go ‘I’m going to prove you wrong. I know what I’m talking about.’”

While she feels a little bit like a trailblazer, she acknowledged she’s not the first woman to farm and she certainly won’t be the last, so she has chosen to focus on finding her own path in the industry.

The good news is Krehbiel feels well prepared to do just that thanks to her mentors, her father and grandfather.

“They did a good job of making sure I was equipped with what I needed and my mom was equipped with what she needed so we could come in the field and have a harvest this year even without the guys who were normally in charge,” she said.

One of the biggest lessons she gleaned from their wisdom was the importance of having a plan.

“What I’ve learned is you start now and you start early. You’re not wishing anyone to die, but if someone is gone or has to be removed from the daily operation, you’re ready to handle those changes,” she said. “You can be more in the moment around those life events that happen during those times instead of being worried about what it looks like on paper to make sure things don’t fall apart.”

Other critical lessons Krehbiel has embraced include having a strong belief in herself and actively practicing the art of continuously learning.

“One of the things [my grandfather] would tell me when I came home was what did you learn and how can you learn it again in a new way?” she said, recalling one of her favorite lessons from her grandfather. “Technologies will change. As long as you know how to continuously learn everyday, you’re going to be fine.”

Krehbiel believes one of the best ways to attract more women to agriculture is to simply encourage them to do so. On this point, she speaks from experience, noting she had both her father and grandfather supporting and fostering her interest in agriculture.

“One of the biggest things that gets women involved is when somebody says ‘you can do it.’ I had two generations before me that were constantly telling me if you want to do it, you can. But, I don’t think everybody has that. There are a lot of people who don’t get that,” she said. “If you can surround yourself with people and mentors, male or female, to support and encourage you, that’s good. It doesn’t have to be a female, though it would be nice if there was one. But, for me, it’s been the guys that have taken the time to believe in me.”

Fortunately, in Oklahoma, there are opportunities for women to get some of that all-important inspiration and encouragement.

The 2017 Oklahoma Statewide Women in Agriculture and Small Business Conference is set for Aug. 3-4 in Oklahoma City.

Led by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and other partners, the event has been a mainstay on the calendar almost annually since 2006, with the exception of 2011. However, interestingly, the conference’s history stretches all the way back to 1989, when Extension originally organized a gathering of women during the farm financial crisis with a goal of providing opportunities to network while learning both from each other and guest speakers.

Over the years, the event has evolved into a pretty hot ticket, drawing capacity audiences of a few hundred and attracting top flight keynote speakers such as Temple Grandin.

This year’s keynote speakers are Pamela Ronald, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, and Lauren Nelson, who was crowned Miss America 2007.

Ronald was part of a team of experts who were instrumental in identifying genes in rice that control the grain’s response to infection and tolerance to stress and is co-author of “Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food.”

Nelson travels the country speaking at women’s conferences and youth retreats as well as serves as a co-host of Discover Oklahoma.

Also, the Significant Women in Oklahoma program, a collaborative effort between the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and OSU, recognizes women representing all areas of the agriculture industry across all 77 of the state’s counties.

Honorees were nominated by peers and chosen by a committee of 14 industry professionals. While several women have already been recognized, nominations for additional honorees will reopen in August.

As for Krehbiel, while she feels the pressure of her family’s long legacy resting squarely on her shoulders, she’s excited about the future and the opportunity to pass down the lessons she’s learned along the way.

“For me, generation five is a blessing, but it also is, not a curse, but a challenge,” she said. “It’s kind of on me to make sure the legacy and traditions that generations one through four have provided get passed on to generation six through who knows what.”

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REPORTER/MEDIA CONTACT:
Leilana McKindra
Communications Specialist
Agricultural Communications Services
158 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078
Phone: 405-744-6792
Fax: 405-744-5739
Email: leilana.mckindra@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
405.744.5000

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