The face of agriculture is changing.
According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms found that the number of women-operated farms more than doubled between 1982 and 2007. Nearly a third of the nation’s land in farms are now farmed or co-farmed by women. Many have inherited family land, some are just starting out, some are returning to the farm, and many are “non-operating” landowners who lease their land to neighboring farmers.
The study also found that the number of women-operated farms increased in all sales classes, so that means size does not matter when it comes to agricultural opportunity for women.
American Farmland Trust has stated that in the next two decades, about 240 million acres of farmland are expected to change owners as aging farmers retire or leave their land to the next generation. One report predicts that women may own 75 percent of this transferred farmland.
This puts real numbers to a trend that many of us have seen firsthand: there is serious momentum behind women in agriculture. And it is a sign of the growing importance to reach women farmers and landowners.
Women fill many roles in agriculture. They are farmers and farm workers, farm owners and tenants, ranchers, agricultural researchers, educators and agri-business people.
An Iowa study found that women landowners and farmers have a strong connection to conservation and land stewardship. They are deeply committed to healthy farmland, farm families and rural communities. However, they may not be aware of existing resources that can help them.
Women4theLand (W4L) is a partnership of agricultural and natural resource conservation agencies and organizations working together to provide information, networking, education and resources to Indiana women landowners and farmers.
Our objective is to empower women to make good science-based land use and land management decisions that lead to more viable communities and stronger farm enterprises while improving and sustaining the quality of our natural resources.
W4L uses the learning circle model to provide information in a comfortable, informal setting where women learn from professional conservationists as well as from each other. The meetings are facilitated in a way that builds knowledge and confidence. Participants are considered the “experts” on their own production, farmland and conservation needs, and are encouraged to speak about their own experiences and goals rather than simple listen to a presentation.
W4L provides education and information about conservation management practices, new technology, communicating effectively with tenants, financial assistance programs, where to find assistance and more.
Our participants include beginning or established farmers, experienced landowners with several tenant farmers or new to management. They represent all types of farming from traditional crops to organic to livestock to truck crops to forestland. Everyone is welcome.
Regardless of their background, these women all share a commitment to environmental, economic, and social sustainability and conservation learning circles help them translate their values into action.
The Women4theLand project gives the local soil and water conservation districts a new venue to share valuable conservation information directly to the women landowners and operators. In turn, these women learn about the resources and technical assistance that is locally available to them through the soil and water conservation districts. I’m proud of the involvement and excitement by the SWCD’s to engage in this project.
Joe Schmees, Executive Director, Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts
This program is an excellent way for us to connect with women to share information about how they can influence conservation decisions that affect their land and let them know about the services and financial assistance we provide.
Jane Hardisty, Indiana State Conservationist, USDA-NRCS
We had an excellent response from the participants at the Women’s Learning Circles and they have actively been taking the information and applying on their land.
Jerod Chew, District Conservationist