Finding inspiration in young woman’s journey into leadership

View from the Hill: Michelle Erickson-Jones has herself been inspired by the women in ag who have mentored and encouraged her.

"Outside of policy discussions, it is simply empowering to see more women in the industry, taking on many different roles, breaking through barriers and adding more diversity to our industry."  — Michelle Erickson-Jones, president of Montana Grain Growers Association.

Michelle Erickson-Jones loves agriculture. Her passion for country life began early as a child and it shows in everything she does; as a farmer, a business owner, an advocate for agriculture, a wife and a mother of two energetic boys.

I met Michelle and her husband, Travis, one morning while taking a break from meetings at the National Association of Wheat Growers conference. Intending to grab a snack and coffee before heading off to yet another committee meeting, I sat down to chat for a moment, and we visited for nearly an hour.

This was not just an ordinary meeting discussing the weather and such. Although new to the job, Michelle was focused on the task at hand; representing Montana wheat farmers and Montana Grain Growers Association as their newly elected board representative at NAWG.

While Michelle grew up in a farming and ranching family and knew her dream was to become a farmer one day, her career actually began outside of agriculture. After graduating from college, her work experience includes stints at UPS and Amazon, while also graduating with a dual degree in operations management and mediation/dispute resolution.

In 2012, her dreams became reality. Michelle started farming at Gooseneck Land and Cattle LLC, near Broadview, Mont. She married Travis in 2014, and together they comprise the management team on Erickson Farm.

One attribute of successful farmers is the ability and drive to take the initiative in order to accomplish specific goals. Recognizing a need to become a voice for agriculture, Michelle nominated herself to a position on the MAWG board and was elected.

As Montana's first woman to hold the office of president, she is mindful of those who mentored and encouraged her along the way.

"I am inspired by Pam Johnson, the first female president of the National Corn Growers Association. The National Association of Wheat Growers is set to have their second female president, Nichole Berg, in several years," Michelle says. "I am also encouraged to see more women attending leadership conferences, participating in policy discussions and influencing policy. No matter how women choose to be involved in agriculture, they are an essential part of our industry, and hopefully continue to be a growing segment of our industry."

Her list of models for leadership includes Krista Harden, former deputy secretary of agriculture; Angela Marshall-Hofmann, founder and president of World Strategies; and Lola Raska, executive vice president of MAWG. Past presidents of NAWG Bing Von Bergen and Gordon Stoner also round out her list of mentors.

As with any endeavor, farm and family are at the top of the list of priorities. Family members step up and take care of things when travel is a must in order to fulfill the duties of advocacy. Michelle has a loyal, dedicated group, ready to step in and fill in the gap.

For me, it is inspiring to see more women who find not only the opportunity to take on the mantel of leadership in agriculture, but I also am encouraged that members of my own family are moving forward in that direction as well.

Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is [email protected].

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