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By Valley Ag Voice Staff 

In the heart of Central Valley’s agricultural landscape, a group of remarkable women is making strides in the traditionally male-dominated field of agriculture. Lorna Roush, former president of the California Women for Agriculture, is a fifth-generation farmer and shares her family’s long-standing history with agriculture, dating back to 1886.  

Roush joined CWA at the behest of her mother when she took the reins of Schultz Ranching – her family’s almond, wine grape, and pistachio operation. She emphasized the importance of generational continuity in farming and revealed her diverse roles, from office management to overseeing safety on the ranch.  

Roush’s generational background and dynamic role in her family operation showcase the multi-faceted nature of women’s contributions to the agricultural sector. She joined the Central Valley Chapter of CWA shortly after taking over the office. 

“I went in actually not knowing anybody and that was different, but it’s a very unique group of women to where you always feel welcome,” Roush said. 

The group was formed to promote awareness of legislation and improve agriculture education, but Roush explained that CWA is open to all women from any industry. 

“We have women from all aspects of industries and what we try to do is give confidence,” Roush said. “We get them knowledge, we educate them and give them opportunities to speak out and be confident when they go into, you know, speaking arrangements or one-on-one conversations.”  

Nanette Simonian, current president of the Central Valley Chapter, further explained that legislative advocacy is a main point of focus for the group. Members of CWA visit the state legislature in May every year to advocate for necessities needed to stay farming as well as opposing bills that seek to harm it. The group also advocates in Washington, armed with a list of bills to discuss and explain the agricultural perspective.  

“You have to talk and visit with the legislator you’ve got to be able to have friendships on both sides of the aisles…[because] I think a lot of legislators don’t understand farming,” Simonian said.  

Like Roush, Simonian grew up in agriculture with her father’s family owning a vegetable farming, rotational crop operation, and her mother’s background in dairy production.  

“I like to say I was born into it…it was in my blood to be on the production side of ag,” Simonian said. 

She began college as a political major before switching to agronomy and plant science, which had become like second nature throughout her life. Simonian explained that the ag industry is seeing increased amounts of women in the industry, a stark contrast from being one of two women in the classroom. 

“When I was starting out in the industry, there might have been a handful of us, maybe eight of us out in the industry — and this is back in the late 80s early 90s — now there’s a whole bunch of us out there,” Simonian said. “So, the climb of women into the ag field has been tremendous in my lifetime. I’ve seen it across the country, and it’s really made a big shift.” 

Roush added that groups like CWA and others such as the Farm Bureau and Western Growers understand that women can perform just as well as men. The proper education and confidence will carry them far in the industry. 

“I walk in with confidence, educated, and if I’m not educated, I ask,” Roush said. “That is something these groups like California Women for Ag have built — that confidence to not be afraid to ask and give your opinion and speak out. Once that happens, the doors start opening.” 

Organizations like CWA play a crucial part in empowering women and advocating for the industry’s interests. As women continue to make significant contributions to agriculture, their impact on the industry’s future is undeniable. 

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