March 2, 2021

Ag Business 101: Annie’s Project Provides Knowledge, Peace of Mind

Sandra Laubenthal

Sandra Laubenthal discovered new resources for her family’s farm through Annie’s Project.

Although Sandra Laubenthal works full-time as a sales associate at Pharmacists Mutual Companies in Algona, she wanted to gain a better understanding of her family’s farm business. She wasn’t sure where to start, however, until she heard about Annie’s Project.

“I have a vested interest in our farming operation. My husband, Al, has been encouraging me for years to learn more about the bookwork so I can help him out, and also, so I have a better understanding of the business, in case something would happen to him.”

Laubenthal is glad she signed up for Annie’s Project, a six-week educational program dedicated to strengthening women’s roles in the modern farm enterprise. During the three-hour classes, which were coordinated through Iowa State University (ISU) Extension’s Kossuth County office from mid-January through early March, guest speakers covered a diverse array of ag business topics, from grain marketing to insurance to estate planning.

For Laubenthal, the greatest value came from making new connections and discovering resources where she can find additional information, including ISU’s Ag Decision Maker website. “I learned so much,” said Laubenthal, whose family farms near Whittemore, where they raise approximately 1,500 acres of corn and soybeans, manage a 400-head hoop barn for cattle, and care for a flock of 100 breeding ewes. “Not only was it great to complete hands-on training with financial documents and crop insurance claims, but it was beneficial to meet the specialists my husband works with on a daily basis.”

Farming smarter

Inspired by an Illinois woman who spent her lifetime learning how to be an involved business partner with her farmer husband, Annie’s Project emphasizes problem solving, record keeping, and decision-making skills. The curriculum empowers farm women, said Melissa O’Rourke, an ISU Extension farm and agribusiness management specialist based in northwest Iowa.

“The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture shows women have a growing presence in agriculture, from running more farms to owning more land. Annie’s Project emphasizes that women have an important role to play in the farm business.”

In 2012, ISU Extension in Palo Alto County and Kossuth County teamed up to offer Annie’s Project, which attracted the maximum number of 25 participants. The success of this program sparked a lot of interest throughout the area, said Carrie Gatton, the office manager/program director for ISU Extension in Kossuth County. “Women kept asking about it, so we decided to offer Annie’s Project in Algona this year.”

Kim Wiemers, a territory manager for Murphy-Brown LLC in Algona, didn’t hesitate to sign up. “I was intrigued by Annie’s Project after hearing from other ladies who had attended the series,” said Wiemers, whose family raises corn and soybeans in the Whittemore area. “I play an integral part in our farming operation and enjoy learning about agriculture in any way that can help improve our business.”

In today’s fast-paced world of agriculture, there are a lot of changes that women want to understand, said Patti Guenther, MaxYield Cooperative’s education team leader. “They also want the peace of mind that this knowledge can provide,” added Guenther, who noted that MaxYield reimbursed the $75 fee to 12 MaxYield clients who attended the class.

Annie’s Project is designed to help farm women manage all five areas of agriculture risk: financial, human resources, legal, marketing, and production.

“The most beneficial aspects of Annie’s Project include analyzing your financial position, gaining an understanding of grain marketing, and learning about crop insurance,” said Wiemers, who was one of 23 women in the class. “My husband, Kevin, and I had many good discussions about the topics we covered in class, and this has given me an even better understanding of our operation.”

Sandra LaubenthalThe learning continues         

Laubenthal’s husband was pleasantly surprised when she signed up for Annie’s Project. “Al was very supportive and helped out with our boys (Aric, 10, and Nick, 7) while I attended the classes. “He’s glad that I understand our financial statements now when he shows them to me,” said Laubenthal, who is looking forward to the next series of classes, “Managing for Today and Tomorrow,” which will be offered through ISU Extension in Kossuth County this fall.

Wiemers is also excited about this opportunity and thanks everyone who has supported Annie’s Project. “This is a very beneficial program for women in agriculture. It definitely makes you ask questions about your operation and gives you a better understanding overall. I would recommend this class to any woman who wants to be more involved in their farming operation.”

Sign up for “Managing for Today and Tomorrow”

Thanks to the success of Annie’s Project, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension/Kossuth County will be offering a new program called “Managing for Today and Tomorrow,” starting on Oct. 29, 2013.

During the five-week program, farm women will learn about the four components that help ensure a successful farm transition, including succession, business, estate, and retirement planning. For more information, contact Carrie Gatton with ISU Extension/Kossuth County at 515-295-2469, or

Share Your Thoughts