SHERIDAN — Wyoming women ranchers are the state’s fastest growing demographic, and 11 were recognized last week in Gillette with Heart of Agriculture Honoree awards, including Sheridan County’s Gail Symons.
Whether native born, beguiled as a youth in the Netherlands by Wyoming’s mystique, or living in Boston and hearing the state’s siren call, they’re either managing their own ranches or in equal partnerships with spouses.
The ranchers received the honors May 1 at a University of Wyoming Extension event in Gillette, nominated from their counties for the honors. First Lady Jennie Gordon, who operates a cow-calf operation in Johnson County with husband Gov. Mark Gordon, provided the keynote address.
Women producers is the fastest growing demographic in the state, said Scott Cotton, a UW Extension educator in Natrona County. He cited the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
“Wyoming has an amazing number of professional influential and productive women producers,” he said. “We want the active women agricultural producers in Wyoming to be recognized for the work they are doing. We think that’s important.”
Jim Magagna said he sees an increasing number of women ranchers in the state. Executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Magagna said there are ranches being solely operated by women and there are true partnerships between spouses.
“They each have distinct roles but that includes both of them out there moving cattle, and they are both sitting in the office making financial decisions,” said Magagna at the Gillette event. The 147-year-old association had its first woman president in 2007.
“I think probably there are still a few places in Wyoming where women face the challenge of just being fully recognized for what they do, but this is changing,” Magagna said.
He did not know all 11 women producers recognized but knows many of them.
“The diversity to me is what’s impressive,” Magagna said. “Each in their unique way is making important contributions to Wyoming agriculture.”
Extension collaborated with several producer groups, ranch industry representatives and a committee of women producers to receive and verify nominations from each county and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Extension plans to recognize women producers each year.
Symons serves, with her brother Bob, as a general partner in the Symons Ranch.
According to Symons, in 1883, William Symons arrived in what is now Sheridan County from Wisconsin and set down deep roots.
What is now the Symons Ranch was granted a land patent in 1890 and the document signed by President Grover Cleveland is a treasured heirloom. The Symons Ranch has been recognized by the Wyoming Centennial Farm & Ranch Program for more than 100 years as a family operation and in 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a national millennium celebration of century farms calendar with the Symons Ranch featured for June.
To ensure the continuation of the ranch, Symons said, limited partnership shares are held by the children and grandchildren of Fay and Ed Symons.
Currently ranch operations are being run by the Warren Adams family including Deborah and Trenton.
Gail Symons and her brother, Bob, have been directly engaged with the efforts to establish hemp farming in Wyoming in honor of their father who felt it was the perfect crop. Both Fay and Ed Symons left a lasting mark on the county and state through their volunteerism on various boards. Gail Symons continues that tradition through Civics307, Sheridan County Cattlewomen, Sheridan 4-H Fair Camp, Wyoming Efficiencies in State Government Commission, Transparency Working Group and the Compass Center for Families board.
The timing of the honors — the same year as the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming — is appropriate, said Cat Urbigkit, one of the award recipients. She and her family manage a sheep operation in Sublette County, and she writes, is a photographer, and publishes Shepherd magazine.
“I’m so happy to be associated with these women, and a lot of them are my friends,” she said. “They are strong women leaders and are respected in their communities and in the field in agriculture.”
The UW Extension agriculture/horticulture initiative team initiated the Excellence in Agriculture Symposium and Heart of Agriculture luncheon as a new addition to their regular statewide programs.