For several generations, women have been key to American agriculture and food security. Recently, women have taken center stage in agricultural activities, and their role has evolved to include all areas of a farm’s operation – maintaining a constant commitment to growing quality food and fiber for people across the United States and the world.
The Rise of Women in Farming
In colonial times, 90 percent of agriculture activities took place to support individual families. As the American population grew so did the westward expansion of canals, which introduced new trade opportunities for farmers. With these new opportunities, the focus surrounding agriculture began to shift towards cash-crop production as a source of income for families.
This boom in farming caused American farms to quadruple in 30 years. America went from having just over one million farms in 1850 to nearly four million in 1880.
By the mid-1950s, women had not only helped in the expansion of agriculture as an industry, but they maintained their families’ farmland throughout two world wars and many domestic crises, including the 1930’s Dust Bowl. The immeasurable impact that female leadership had in farming has only recently gained attention and recognition by farm statistics. According to the 2017 USDA census, principal female operators, which are identified as individuals with chief decision-making power, witnessed a 177 percent increase across the U.S.
To put this into perspective, there were only 288,264 female respondents in 2012 but this number soared to 798,500 by 2017. This growth recognition was in part due to changes made by the USDA to better capture stakeholder data and female representation across the farming industry.
By accounting for the various roles within an operation, women’s contributions were revealed to be much larger than originally accounted for. The increase in female farm operators has also empowered many female farmers to set out as trailblazers and become involved in activities centered on sustainable and organic farming, specialty crops, and raising small livestock like chickens, goats, and pigs.
Both female and male farmers face daily challenges like weather disturbances, commodity pricing, land accessibility, financing, markets, and advanced technology and tools. To provide peer support, there are several programs that cater to women farmers and provide resources, education, and networking opportunities through grants, scholarships, workshops, and online training. The access to these resources also increase the number of women turning to farming as a career.
Empowering the Next Generation of Farmers
AgAmerica believes in the vital role women play in agriculture and celebrates their historic contributions. Their strength and ingenuity is paving new paths in agriculture and increasing our nation’s productivity. As an agricultural lender, it’s our responsibility to understand and learn as much as we can about the farm and ranch operations that come to us for financing.
Knowing the farmer is at our core and allows us to create flexible land loans that meet the long-term needs of the American farmer and rancher. We’ve observed that many farms and ranches across the country have at least one key female operator playing a significant role in the day-to-day operations. Women have been prevalent players on the operation as the demand for technology and financial sophistication has increased.
Based on research performed by the American Farmland Trust, over the next 20 years, around 371 million acres of farmland are expected to change hands as farmers begin to pass down their land to the next generation. Today, more than 301 million acres are farmed by female operators and industry experts agree that this figure will continue to rise along with the percentage of women in leadership roles.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Philpot, CEO of AgAmerica and Principal Owner of AgAmerica Lending, with headquarters located in Lakeland, FL. His background includes extensive experience in real estate investing, agriculture lending, real estate law, market analysis, and negotiation.