Who Inspires Jennie? The First Female President of the National Corn Growers Association

Ag Leader Jennie Schmidt

Jennie Schmidt noticed Pam Johnson at mostly male meetings. “She knows who she is and what she’s doing. She’s got a quiet confidence that is reassuring. Her actions speak for themselves. It’s something I respect and try to emulate.”

I raise grain, wine grapes and vegetables with my husband and brother-in-law on our farm in Sudlersville, Maryland. I first met Pam Johnson, whom I consider my mentor, at an Executive Women in Ag conference in 2011. Pam was then the first, and so far only, female president of the National Corn Growers Association. To me, that was awe-worthy. She noticed me at that meeting, and encouraged me to step up and be a part of ag leadership because they needed more women. She was the first person who said that to me. That type of encouragement really piqued my interest. These boards have a very competitive process. She went from a state board to the national board, and then became president amongst all of those men from competitive agriculture states. That wasn’t a token position. She earned it. And she thought I could do it. 

So I stepped out and became the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board’s first female board member, and then president. I’m now also the Maryland delegate to the U.S. Grains Council. At our last meeting with 250 people in attendance, about 10-15 of them were women. That’s progress!

My hope moving forward is that we will be able to stop saying “she’s the first” for something in agriculture leadership. In addition, I hope that more women who are born into farm families feel they have the right to inherit and operate that farm. People assume girls can’t run the farm. Women should not sell themselves short in being able to take that on. I like the fact that I am a woman doing what is seen as a “man’s job.” Being able to physically and mentally do the work makes me feel resilient and strong. I get to see the fruits of what we’ve invested in for the season. It’s fun and rewarding! Other women could do it, too, if they put their mind to it.