Helping Farm and Ranch Women Succeed

The Women in Agriculture National Learning Network (WIA LN) provides resources, education and networking opportunities to help women farmers and ranchers across the US meet their business and quality of life goals.

Our current focus is on supporting agricultural educators and service providers who work with beginning farm and ranch women. Our goal is to improve and expand education, technical assistance and support opportunities for women farmers and ranchers throughout the US.

Growing Programs for Farm and Ranch Women

Launched in October 2015, the 21st Century Management: Enhancing Educational Programming for Beginning Farm and Ranch Women project is working to expand opportunities for educators interested in improving, expanding and starting outreach programs for beginning farm and ranch women.

This four-year initiative brings together a diverse, national team of educators, research and women working in agriculture to existing programs and curricula; identify gaps in targeting women; and create a central repository where educators can access curricula and training materials.

“We view this project as a way to validate the important work that has been going on around the country for decades while acknowledging that women remain under-served in many areas of agriculture,” says University of Vermont Extension Professor Mary Peabody director of the project.

Project Focus

The project is organized around key topics of high importance to farm and ranch women:

  1.  Leadership and management;
  2.  Business scale and profitability;
  3.  Land access, transfer and stewardship;
  4. Legal Issues; and
  5. Farm safety, mechanization and ergonomics.

Additionally, an evaluation team will see that future educators have peer-reviewed, reliable information available to select the best curricula for their audience. Training, such as the the November 2016 workshop in Portland, OR,  will also be available as we collectively learn best practices in delivering education and technical assistance to women farmers and ranchers.

Why Women, Why Now?

The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture reports women comprise 14% of principal operators and 30% of all farm operators. The number of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over  the past three and a half decades, from 5 percent in 1978 to 14 percent most recently (Census of Ag, 2012).

The increase in the numbers of farm and ranch women is not without some challenges. Many women are drawn to farming as a way to support their family and to strengthen local community yet more than 90% of women-operated farms reported sales and government payments of less than $50,000. Women operators are still not applying for and utilizing agricultural support programs as effectively as their male counterparts and the businesses of many beginning farm and ranch women are not surviving the first five years. Further, the average age of all women operators is 55.6 years with only 8 percent 34 years and under. Clearly this is not sustainable for farm and ranch women or for our global food system.

As the number of women operators increases, so does the number of programs developed to provide education and technical assistance to them. While these programs develop successful tools and techniques for addressing the needs of BFRW, there are many areas where women remain under-served. In addition, while many tools, assessments and curricula related to these programs are available for replication, there is no central repository where curricula and materials can be compared. Nor is there a system in place to determine which materials would be most effective with different audiences (e.g. non-English speakers, urban vs. rural, limited resource, commodity vs specialty crops).

The Leadership Team

The principal investigator on the grant is Mary Peabody, University of Vermont Extension. Other members of the team include Beth Holtzman, University of Vermont Extension, Madeline Schultz, Iowa State University Extension, Arlene De La Mora, Iowa State University, Carolyn Sachs, Pennsylvania State University, Debra Heleba, University of Vermont Extension, Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri, Janie Simms Hipp, University of Arkansas School Of Law and Nadia Navarrete-Tindall, Lincoln University. The leadership team will be guided in their work by a national group of advisers consisting of farmers, ranchers, educators and business owners.