5 questions with Michelle Erickson-Jones, farmer, rancher and Montana Grain Growers Association president
Tell us about your roles in agriculture?
I am an owner/operator of a farm and ranch in south central Montana. I am a fourth-generation farmer and work alongside my dad and husband. We raise wheat, corn, safflower, sunflower, malt barley, alfalfa and forage grains. My husband and I also have a small cow/calf operation.
You are the Montana Grain Growers Association's first female president. What can be done to get more women comfortable in taking leadership roles in agriculture?
I saw a comment a few weeks ago that stuck with me in terms of women's involvement in commodity organizations. Someone said, it was not that they did not feel welcome; they were just choosing not to. They wanted to devote time to 4-H, PTA, church groups, etc.
I had honestly never thought of it in that regard. There are certainly a lot of organizations that need volunteers and usually not enough time to do it all. I am hopeful, though, that women who do love policy see individuals such as myself, or Whitney Klasna (secretary of U.S. Cattlemen's Association), or Denise Conover (chairperson of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee) or Janice Mattson (past-chairperson of U.S. Wheat Associates) and realize that they can do this, they can be successful, and they can be comfortable in these roles.
I also think it is important for women to step forward if they are interested in these leadership roles. Sometimes we do not make it known that we are interested in an opportunity. If no one knows you are interested, they likely will not think to volunteer you for a role. I honestly elected myself to the Montana Grain Growers Association board in 2012 when I saw we did not have any candidates for director in my area.
Why did you decide to start blogging as Bigskyfarmher?
I have always liked writing and recently I have developed an interest in photography. I thought blogging was a great way to combine the two as well as provide my readers with a window into the life of a farmer. We are only 2 percent of the population, and my story is unique in a lot of ways in that I have spent so much time outside the agriculture community. I felt I had the ability to reach a lot of consumers in urban areas through my many friends from high school, college, and my career at UPS and Amazon.
You've written about your struggle with postpartum depression and the greater issue of mental health in rural areas. What do you see as the most important step to improve the outlook?
I think opening up about our experiences, offering a listening ear for others, and providing support whenever possible is an important step. For me, it was a huge relief just to be diagnosed with postpartum depression, because I suddenly knew that this was not normal, it was not supposed to be this hard, and there were options for recovery. Improving access to local mental health physicians and hospitals will also always be an important part of the equation for individuals who live in rural areas.
What do you see as the biggest obstacle facing your farm?
I think like many producers we are trying to find ways to improve our bottom line, cut costs and make it through the low price environment we currently find ourselves in. It is not easy to add another generation to the farm, and the transition period adds costs to the operation, and we are just working our way through that.
Michelle Erickson-Jones is the president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. She operates a grain and forage operation with her father, Bart, and husband, Travis, in south central Montana. Michelle and Travis also have 2 boys: Will (2 1/2) and Tate (11 months). Michelle returned to the farm full time in 2012 after working for UPS and Amazon.com. She has two master's degrees in business administration with focuses on operations management and mediation/dispute resolution. She can be found on numerous social media outlets and through her blog: