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).