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Producing Excellence

Mary Fritz

Chester, MT

Quarter Circle JF Ranch

Products Raised or Grown: Cow/calf operation and dry and irrigated crops

Size of Operation: 14,000 acres, 150 – 250 cow/calf pairs

In Business Since: 1970

Farm Credit Affiliations: Farm Credit Council, CoBank and Northwest Farm Credit Services

Farm Credit Customer Since: 1980

Farm Credit Leader Since: 1994

It’s no surprise that agriculture has traditionally been a man’s field. What may be surprising, though, is how this composition is changing: women are now principal operators of 14 percent of our nation’s farms and ranches, a 22 percent increase in ten years.

One such woman is Mary Fritz, a long-time rancher who runs a cow/calf operation in Montana with her husband. Mary is a fourth generation farmer who founded Quarter Circle JF Ranch more than forty years ago. “I wanted to help feed the world,” she says, “and to have the privilege of raising a family on a Montana ranch.” Along the way, Mary has also become a trailblazer for women leaders in agriculture, particularly within the Farm Credit System.

Mary was elected to her first leadership role in 1993, serving as a local advisor to the Havre branch of Northwest Farm Credit Services (NWFCS), a cooperative Farm Credit organization of which she was a customer-member. Mary was later asked to serve on the NWFCS nominating committee, which selects candidates for board elections, and in 1994 experienced an unexpected event: after stepping away from a nominating committee conference call, she returned to discover that they had decided to nominate her. Mary says that at the time, she thought, “That would be interesting, and there’s never been a woman. I think I’ll give it a try.”

Mary won that election, the first woman to do so in the history of NWFCS, but joining the board presented its own challenges. “Some of the board members accepted me readily, but some of them were from the old school,” she says. “I had to prove myself over and over.” That she did, earning first their acceptance and later their respect: Mary was elected board vice-chair in 2000 and then board chair in 2002.

Because of term limits, Mary’s service on the NWFCS board ended in 2008, but she had already taken up another leadership challenge with CoBank, a Farm Credit funding bank. Initially appointed for a 2-year term, Mary has been reelected time and again, with her current term running through 2015. Her contributions have also been recognized by the CoBank board, which elected her as a vice-chair in 2008.

CoBank has a national reach, and so Mary has had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of agricultural producers around the country. When her term was up with NWFCS, she decided to employ this national viewpoint and run for the board of the Farm Credit Council, Farm Credit’s policy organization. The first woman elected to that board, Mary has again been recognized by her peers, who elected her as vice-chair in 2011.

Mary supports other women in agriculture becoming leaders, and believes that such diversification offers significant benefits, saying, “More and more women are getting involved in Farm Credit, and that’s a good thing. Women see things differently than men, and with the combination of the two, we can come up with something really good.”

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