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In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Alexis Taylor

Posted by Adriane Brown, USDA Office of Communications in Initiatives
Mar 14, 2016
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor

Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading our industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we sit down with Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor to discuss USDA’s Women in Agriculture mentorship network and her personal commitment to making sure the next generation of women is educated, encouraged and empowered to take on the world’s growing food, fuel and fiber needs.

An Army veteran and native Iowan, Deputy Under Secretary Taylor, who assumed the duties of the FFAS Under Secretary in February, leads the Department’s charge in international and domestic farm policy including overseeing commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, and emergency assistance programs that help improve the stability and strength of the agricultural economy. She works to build new markets and improve the competitive position of U.S. agricultural products in the global marketplace, and leads the Department’s Women in Agriculture mentorship network.

How did you end up at USDA? What is your story?

I’m from the northeast corner of Iowa, a small town called Holy Cross. It’s outside of Dubuque right where Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois connect. I grew up on a traditional Iowa farm that’s been in my family for 157 years, so agriculture is a big part of our history. With that being said, I knew from a young age that I didn’t want to farm, but I didn’t realize it was possible to work in, love, and have a passion for agriculture – and not be a farmer.

My sister wanted to work in agriculture too, so in college, she majored in agricultural business with a minor in agronomy, and eventually went to law school to study agricultural law. It’s because of her that I ended up in D.C. She moved to Washington to work at USDA, and when I didn’t want to stay in Iowa, I followed her.

I moved here with no job, but eventually landed on the Hill where I fell right back into the world of agriculture. My boss was on the Agriculture Committee and because I was the only person on staff who grew up on a farm, he really valued my firsthand experience. When it was time to prepare for the upcoming Farm Bill, agriculture became a part of my portfolio.  I’ve been involved in agriculture and trade policy ever since.

I loved seeing my work directly impact the people I grew up with, including my parents. The issues discussed in national policy conversations, I’d experienced firsthand. That showed me I didn’t have to be a farmer to stay close to home.

What advice do you have for young women who are interested in agriculture?

There’s a lot of opportunity in agriculture and it’s not just farming and ranching. It’s accounting, business, journalism and more. There are so many exciting ways to get involved, so many career opportunities within agriculture – it’s taken me all over the world! Working in agriculture also offers the opportunity to work for an important cause – feeding the global population.

What does the Women in Ag network mean to you? What do you hope to see as the network moves forward?

Women in Ag is about connecting women from diverse agricultural backgrounds to nurture the next generation of leaders. Secretary Vilsack and [Former Deputy Secretary] Krysta Harden and have made the network a priority, but it’s bigger than just us. We have to encourage women’s leadership by making sure there are networks in place to support them. I’ve been very blessed to have strong women mentors in my life – Krysta Harden is one of them.

But it’s not just about women. It’s about men too. I’ve had great women mentors, but I’ve had great male mentors as well. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for men in my career who believed in me, pushed me to do better and work harder. It’s important we also encourage men to support women the way my mentors have supported me.

Your work at FFAS has allowed you to spend a lot of time abroad. What have you learned from your travels?

There are challenges to women’s leadership in the United States, but it’s astounding what some women in agriculture face in other parts of the world. In some nations, women are unable to inherit land from their families, even though they are the farmers living on the property. The challenges are very different from what we face here in the U.S. I couldn’t fathom someone telling me I couldn’t inherit the farm that’s been in my family for nearly 160 years. That’s unimaginable. Fortunately, USDA does a lot of developmental work to create economic opportunity for women abroad. It’s amazing when you see these efforts help a woman feed her kids and send them to school.

Have you experienced any personal challenges as a woman in ag?

I definitely experienced challenges early in my career, but I took those challenges and turned them into opportunities. They drove me to work harder than anyone else. I tried to always be prepared to address the issue at hand, and to educate myself on areas I was unfamiliar with, so when people met with me, it was my intelligence and commitment to the work that was apparent, not that I was young or that I was a woman.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I was just at Commodity Classic where I discussed the importance of diversity in agriculture, which can mean a lot of different things. During a Q&A, a man asked ‘My grandmother ran our family farm for 40 years and my mother and wife have both been really involved too. Women are doing tremendous work in ag – why don’t people know that?” I told him “It’s simple. You’re here and she’s not.”  Women are involved in agriculture, but we need to make sure they’re represented in leadership. We need to be the ones driving and making policy decisions, not just doing the work.

To learn more and connect with other women leaders in agriculture across the country, we encourage you to join the Women in Ag mentorship network. If there’s a leading woman in agriculture you’d like to see on the blog, please tweet your suggestions using #womeninag or email

Category/Topic: Initiatives