Women in Agriculture
Women-owned and -operated farms and ranches
are an important and interesting subset of
small and home-based business owners in the
U.S. While the total number of farms has
been declining for many years, the number
owned and operated by women is increasing.
Data from the 2001
Family Farm Report by ERS show that
in 1978, for example, women owned 5.2 percent
of all farms; by 1997, that number increased
to 8.6 percent (10.6 percent among non-white
farmers). Today approximately 165,000 farms
are run by women, and demographic, social,
and economic factors indicate that the
number will keep rising.
Women operators are generally full owners
of their farms and live on their property.
Traditionally, many inherited the farms as
widows and chose to continue the family business.
Beginning in 1982, the average age of women
farmers began to decrease and by 1997 more
than 40 percent were under 55 years old.
More women are making the choice to own and
manage their own farms, and one of NIFA's
goals is to provide them with the tools they
need to succeed.
Nearly half of these women regard farming
as their primary occupation, though the financial
rewards are not great. Most women-owned farms
are small, diversified, and financially at-risk.
Nearly 70 percent of them have less than
140 acres, nearly 80 percent report annual
sales under $25,000, and they are more likely
than other farms to raise livestock or high-value
NIFA addresses the special needs of women
and other minority farmers through core funding
to support research, education, and extension
at the land-grant colleges, and through competitive
funding opportunities such as the Agriculture
Risk Management Education and Funding Outreach
and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged
Farmers and Ranchers.
Examples of these programs:
Established through competitive funds in
North Central Risk Management Education Center at
the University of Illinois already boasts
a strong record of support for women farmers.
Center funding and coordination have generated
extension programs in all 12 states across
the region focusing on the needs of women
in agriculture, working with women to identify
the specific risks they face, and providing
them with the necessary information and tools
to overcome these risks.
The programs include educational workshops
and online information and networking through
the “Heart of the Farm” project
in Wisconsin. The education center also sponsors
annual Women in Agriculture conferences in
South Dakota, and grass roots Risk Management
Clubs led by women farmers in Nebraska.
The “Women in Ag” program at
the University of Nebraska provides risk
management education to women farmers, giving
them the tools and information they need
to make informed decisions. NIFA funding
recently supported the program's 19th
Women in Ag conference, and the expansion
of the program's networking capacity.
In several northeastern states, Women in
Agriculture Networks (WagN) provide education,
technical assistance, and networking opportunities
to increase the number of women owning and
operating profitable farms and agriculture-related
businesses. While WagN programs are closely
tied to their state extension office, they
are often strengthened by collaboration with
Through Funding Outreach and Assistance
for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers,
NIFA recently provided substantial support
to the Vermont WagN
program to expand the pre-business planning
program across the state and also reach women
farmers in the early and mid stages of business
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