Women Shaping Agriculture: interview with Megghan Honke Seidel
Women Shaping Agriculture is an initiative in which MSU Extension educators host conversational interviews that enable women to share their experiences and perspectives about their diverse roles in Michigan agriculture.
This article is part of the Women Shaping Agriculture initiative - a series of conversational interviews that enable women to share their experiences and perspectives about their diverse roles in Michigan agriculture.
For more than 16 years, Megghan Honke Seidel has served the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Michigan State University Extension, where she helps coordinate events and programs of all sizes and manages the college’s events management system. In addition to her role at MSU, Megghan, her husband, Bruce, and brother-in-law, Mike, own and operate a 1,000-head beef feedlot and 1,500 acre cropping operation. They have recently converted a portion of their operation to organic crops and have opened a self-serve meat and dairy market to diversify their portfolio following a transition out of the dairy industry after nine years.
We interviewed Megghan and here are her answers to our questions:
What do you do on the farm on a day-to-day basis?
I help with calves, run the combine, the chopper wagons and help feed and sort cattle. I also help with the finances and the marketing. My goal is to fill in the holes that need to be filled as we don't have any employees.
How do you manage the balance between farm work, Extension (off-farm) work and your other daily activities?
I truly love both aspects of my life. I have a passion for my job at Michigan State University – it challenges me in a way that the farm doesn't. Then I have a passion for agriculture and the farm – it’s not a chore or a hardship. In addition, my husband is OK when I say I need some time for myself and I adore that. He'll be like, “what do you need?”, and sometimes it's as simple as going for a walk, spending quiet time at the house, cleaning, or baking and throwing on some music. Sometimes they'll ask, “could that time be in a tractor by yourself?” And there are days that I'll say “sure,” I can disappear into my head and not worry about things. There are other times when it's like “no,” I just need to walk away from all of it for a little while.
What do you consider a successful year at your farm?
While we’re not looking to make a fortune, we strive towards that break-even. We have to evolve and be creative because the industry is changing. You can't rely on $2.50 per bushel of corn and make money. We really struggled with the dairy and were always behind. Now we typically focus on an area of the farm and work on it. For example, timeliness – from planting and harvest, to pushing steers out. The last couple of years it has been agronomy. For next year, it’s feed management. Those small goals have allowed us to get new roofs on a couple barns. But in the big picture, it’s being able to be here and to be happy with what we get. If you're miserable doing this every day, there's no point because there is no magical rainbow of money at the end of this – you do it because it's in your heart.
What things have you learned to do since getting involved in farming?
For those who know me as an event planner, you know that I'm pretty structured and pretty rigid, yet I married a husband just the opposite. Everybody jokes about “Seidel” time and knows that Bruce will be two to three hours late if he shows up at all. So things are pretty loose on the farm and that has actually benefited me as it encourages all of us to be very adaptable. I like learning technical and scientific aspects; but I think the biggest thing I've learned is flexibility. Life is going to change. How are you going to adapt; grow and roll with it? This has actually helped me on the work side of my life. Part of why I can be a good event planner is that yes, I have planned, and I have 32 scenarios for you, but I'm flexible and can adapt if something goes wrong. I think it's a good balance.
From your perspective, what has been the most significant change on your farm over time?
When I first started farming with Bruce and his dad, the operation was a small cash crop farm with a few cattle that were custom raised for a neighbor. They were like, “We just plant corn. It's no big deal. You just put it out there, it'll grow.” Then we looked at the stability of dairy and thought that it would be an opportunity for us. We put together the right cows, even in 2009, when people looked at me and said, “Why do you want crosses? Why do you want Jerseys?” We were looking toward that future. Things were pretty good for quite a few years until the low prices hit. I am bummed that we couldn't make it work, but we thought that we could survive. We also modernized and we're not afraid of technology. Bruce’s dad would struggle with that. We're not to the point where we can afford a precision planter because Lord, I would love one, but we do look at matching up the right varieties to the soil. With all of that in mind, I would say the most significant change has been looking at the details to make the farm better and adapt.
If you could share one piece of advice with the future generation of women in agriculture, what would it be?
You have to have your heart in it. And if you want to do it on your own, do it. Because there are going to be a ton of women standing behind you, pushing you, encouraging you. There's still a cement ceiling that really irritates me. If you do want to go into partnership with someone, make sure they're a partner who sees you as an equal, and that you can build on each other.
When you think about the community you live in, what would be at the top of your (wish) list to advocate for?
I wish that they truly could understand the economic, physical, and mental stress and wear and tear that producers experience to raise the food that they eat. It would be huge for me if the community would understand where their food comes from, appreciate it and be willing to pay for it.
What keeps you awake at night?
Debt. We have a lot of it from the dairy. When we started, we agreed even though it’s in our heart, it still has to make sense on paper. I'm not looking for that fancy vacation...well, maybe one day…. but I do want to get it to a point where it's sustainable if we need to slow down a little. We don't have kids, and that was a decision we made. We have nieces and nephews that may want to take the farm over, but it has to be in a financial position so that it is an opportunity for someone – family or otherwise – who is passionate about it.
What is one thing that makes you truly happy?
Spending time on the farm with my family. I enjoy spending time outside with my husband and having odd duck conversations. It's the simple things in life. You know, it's not about the fancy stuff, it's about time spent together.
Favorite food and who makes it? I love to bake. It’s part of my stress relieving so pretty much anything I make that's a dessert, usually includes chocolate.
Texting, talking, or video chatting? Talking, especially three-way calls.
Who is your best follow on social media? I love the “Science-based Women in Ag” group I follow on Facebook. It's a safe environment where there is good conversation.
Who do you lean on most, family, friends, or community? Family. Definitely my husband. I also have a best friend that I’ve known since kindergarten and I happen to work with her at MSU. She and I are just connected in a way that you wouldn't believe. She also understands agriculture and lives on a dairy farm.
What do you want to be when you grow up? A role model for others.
Each interviewee gets to ask a question to the next one. Here is the question posed by the previous interviewee (Lisa, our practice interview): What brings you the most joy about being a woman in agriculture? Working towards breaking that ceiling. I really want women to feel like agriculture is an environment that they can be in; that they can thrive in; that they can make a difference in.
And finally, what question would you like us to ask the next person? How do you see agriculture in the next 20 or 30 years from now? Especially for women?
If you have ideas for specific activities within this initiative, please email Florencia Colella (firstname.lastname@example.org), Mary Dunckel (email@example.com), or Melissa McKendree (firstname.lastname@example.org).