When we envision a farmer, we often see an elderly man, with a sun worn face, in his coveralls thoughtfully looking over his fields. However, for anyone that spends time in online forums, or even the feed store, it is evident that the face of agriculture is changing. More and more, we are hearing about the rise of female farmers. From managing homesteads to being sole owner operator of large ranches and farms, the seeming increase of female farmers is something that cannot be ignored in the agricultural industry.
Even with this shift in awareness of female farmers, the 2012 USDA agricultural census showed a 2% decrease in women farmers from 2012. In a time where many farmers are aging out, family farms are being sold, and farmers are having to face constant battles over land rights, this 2% loss has a lot more impact than one may assume. Couple this with the fact that 2/3 of all first generation farms will fail to be passed on to the second generation, and a real problem emerges.
Despite the reported decline in female farmers, there is some encouraging news on the USDA census. The number of women that worked off of the farm also dropped two percent to 57%. This data possibly indicates that these females have been able to make their farming operation so successful, that they did not need to pursue other employment.
Another encouraging piece of data is that the number of female farmers that had access to the internet at their home jumped from 55% to 70%! This jump means that these farmers have access to more information, support and resources that they did not have before.
However, even despite the data, many females admit that agriculture is a tough industry to be in. It is not uncommon to hear stories of a woman’s role in agriculture being downplayed. Although this is not always the case, we often her stories where people refuse to deal with women on the business aspects, or erroneously believe that they are physically incapable of doing “real” farm or ranch work. With all of these factors against farmers and ranchers, it is vital to understand, and overcome, the challenges that are causing people to leave the agricultural industry.
In order to combat these notions, I have reached out to some successful women in agriculture, that all work in very different locations with very different business models. These women have proven time and again to be pillars of their local agricultural community, and have sage advice for new or struggling female farmers and ranchers.
Can you describe your agricultural experience? “I don’t do what I pictured myself doing at all with my life. I live in my old hometown where my husband and I help my parents with their small Hereford cattle operation. I have a diverse small farm that is my passion. I have about 20 dairy goats, a handful of beef cattle, pigs, chickens, and a large garden. I sell my products locally and use the farm to educate children. I’m also a deputy livestock inspector. I have a home-based embroidery business that specializes in customizing apparel for farms, ranches and rodeos. I’m a 4-H leader, Girl Scout Leader and Cub Scout Leader. Homeschool mom. I’m our local CowBelles Vice President and New Mexico CowBelles President Elect. I wear a lot of hats.”
What do you feel that women bring to the table when it comes to agriculture? “I feel the most important thing we bring to the table in ag is our voice. Everyone from politicians to consumers tend to trust women in agriculture. I think they are more willing to listen to us than our male counterparts at times and we can utilize that to educate and influence consumer decision making and policy. In a world where we are constantly bombarded as an industry with misinformation it’s more important than ever that we use our voices to help our industry.”
What is your best tip, or piece of advice for women in agriculture? “I don’t take no for an answer and question everything. I came back to my hometown after completing multiple degrees and traveling the country and the world for work. The attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is paralyzing for our industry. We need women who ask the hard questions and are persistent in improving the industry to move forward. It’s a hard job and not always pleasant but we owe it to our kid’s future in agriculture. Don’t let people frustrate you with what I call the “little lady” treatment. Be strong, confident, educated and informed and stick to your guns!”
Ashley’s story brings to mind an important piece of the puzzle. Often, male farmers tend to focus solely on the work aspect of farming. However, as a mother, she, and many other females farmers, still have to fulfill that role too. This means that her passion for agriculture, and her role as a mother often collide. Although the specific data is not currently available, there is a great number of female leaders in many youth agricultural programs like 4-H and FFA. The knowledge to lead these programs often comes from their own experience in the field of agriculture. Aside from the education that they can provide, this is also a great encouragement to young aspiring children.
What do you feel that women bring to the table when it comes to agriculture? “Women are detailed oriented, which is something modern farms need in abundance. Whether it’s meeting government regulatory measures or passing audits, farms need people who are natural at keeping details. Most women are just naturally good at that.”
What is your best tip, or piece of advice for women in agriculture? ”My best tip is to take chances. I took some big ones starting my business and there have been a lot of mountains to climb, with lots of patience. Just keep going because if you put enough work into it, things will go your way eventually.”
Allison provides a unique perspective when it comes to agriculture. Not only does she run a successful show herd of Charolais, but she also runs a business focusing on agriculture safety, training and testing. She often reaches out to help aspiring youth in the show ring and with their own breeding programs. Additionally, she helps to combat misinformation portrayed on the internet about the various aspects of farming and ranching. She is proof that women can run successful ranches, and scientifically based businesses to help further agricultural education.
Racquel Rocky Lacey
What do you feel that women bring to the table when it comes to agriculture? “Woman bring so many wondrous things to being a rancher / farmer or any type of Ag because we tend to be focused on things that will make our lives better. We bring a maternal instinct to raising livestock and understand intently the Seasons that come along with Ag. Our lives our run on them in fact …. Breeding season and then of course the delivery season, Seasons of the year winter, spring, summer and fall. Planting and harvesting are our goals We love the simplicity of that but also the structure. We see our children learn from it as well.”
What is your best tip, or piece of advice for women in agriculture? “I’ve learned over the years that things change , they morph to a certain degree and you’ll need to be flexible. As much as there is a constant almost monotonous routine it is often derailed for many different reasons that we must be able to juggle and keep all the balls in the air so to speak. It’s long days & nights. There are moments of absolute bliss and serenity, but the other side of the coin is sadness and despair, that will also rear its ugly head from time to time. My advice is tackle on thing on your list at a time …..
Time management is your best ally. You’ll find a quiet sense of satisfaction when you’ve weathered your storms and survived. Plan your year, but also understand you’ll be making some decisions right in the moment.
Have Grace for yourself and also be sure to take care of yourself. After all we as woman are the hub in the wagon wheel that makes Ag turn. Be proud of that ladies. Hold onto your joys and let the sorrows teach the lessons they need to and then let them go.”
No matter what area of agriculture they may choose, it is undeniable that women play a pivotal role in the future of ag. Despite the setbacks and challenges that they may face, they are a force that offers many unique aspects to our industry. Through determination, strong will, and patience, we can not only raise the future generation of farmers, but run our farms with skill, grace, and success.