By: Jennifer Wade, Staff Member
Scholars look back on farm history and question whether women farmworkers were exploited and powerless.[i] Women’s position in the household was valued, but their contributions to farm work in both the private and public spheres may have been overlooked.[ii] As the landscape of farm size and composition of ownership is changing, the female’s place in the farming industry continues to change dramatically, away from the historical discourse of female oppression.
Female operated farms have expanded by 152 percent in the last 35 years.[iii] Female farms that generate sales of $500,000 to $999,999 have grown by 277 percent, and farms with sales over $1,000,000 have grown by 714 percent.[iv] Contrasting the exponential growth, male-operated farms have declined by 10 percent.[v] This means that fewer men are entering farming as a career, while women flock to the agriculture industry.[vi] Female operators are also better educated than male operators, with 61 percent having greater than high school education compared to 47 percent of male operators.[vii]
Female farmers specialize in livestock, mainly horses and free-range beef cattle.[viii] The bulk of sales from female operated farms are grains, dairy, and poultry.[ix] Women are also more likely to own their farmland than male operators.[x] Furthermore, female operators also accept 40 percent less government payments than male operators.[xi]
Despite this advancement, female operators will not report farming as their main occupation, while half of all male operators list farming as their primary occupation.[xii] Additionally, many more female operators are second or third operators behind their husbands.[xiii] This has led to a push to provide educational outreach to support female operated farms.
Women have begun to outnumber men in specific agriculture programs across the country.[xiv] Women are also seeking to mentor other women to start agriculture businesses, as well as provide advice to young farmers on maintaining profitability in the business.[xv] Female farmers who maintain small grow operations seek to help new female farmers gain a foothold in the burgeoning market of small operation farming.[xvi]
The future of women in farming moves beyond that of farm helper to an operation manager. Women are becoming more educated in the marketing and business aspects of the field and are creating networks of female operators. The past beliefs of women in farming as subservient to men is no longer true, and male farmers have come to take pride in the education and skill that women can bring to the farming industry.[xvii]
[i] Sarah S. Beach, “Tractorettes” or Partners? Farmers’ Views on Women in Kansas Farming Households, Rural Sociology 210, 210 (2013).
[ii] Id. at 213.
[iii] Robert A. Hoppe & Penni Korb, U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms 4 (2013).
[vi] Id. at 8-9.
[vii] Id. at 9-10.
[viii] Id. at 15.
[x] Nat’l Agric. Statistics Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Argric., 2007 Census of Agriculture: Women Farms (2007).
[xi] Economic Research Serv., U.S. Dep’t of Agric., Structural and Financial Characteristics of U.S. Farms: 2001 Family Farm Report 42 (Robert A. Hoppe, ed., 2001).
[xii] Id. at 46.
[xiii] Hobbe & Korb, supra note 3, at 32.
[xiv] Cheryl Tevis, Women on the Grow, Agriculture.com (Apr. 14, 2013, 9:34 PM), http://www.agriculture.com/family/women-in-agriculture/women-on-grow_338-ar30982.
[xvii] Beach, supra note 1, at 225.