Articles, Blog

Ag Literacy Corps: Changing Roles of Women in Agriculture


Hello, I’m Madeline Schultz, and I’m the Women in Ag Program Manager at Iowa State University
Extension and Outreach. Today, I’d like to talk to you about women’s changing
roles in agriculture. Now women have always had an
important place in agriculture. In 1938, the Farm Security
Administration estimated that women earned 40 to 50% of their annual household income from
poultry and dairy operations. So how has women’s
roles changed over time? One of the nation’s first
extension programs for women began right here at Iowa State
University at the Farm House. Women learned to preserve the food that they grew on the Iowa prairie. Times have changed a bit since then. To understand the reach
of women in agriculture, let’s take a look at some
USDA 2012 Census of Ag data. Nearly 1 million, or one in three, American farmers are women. Here in Iowa, there are more than 32,000 women farm operators. Nationally, the share of
US farms operated by women has nearly tripled over
the last three decades In Iowa, one in five women
are the principle operators or primary managers of
their farm businesses. Increasingly, women in ag
are managing both off farm and on farm jobs. In fact, according to
the USDA Census of Ag, two-thirds of Iowa farm women also have full-time or part-time jobs. These jobs allow them to bring those off farm skills to the farm, as well as to contribute significantly to the finances of the farm
business and the family. Women are also taking on more responsibility for land ownership. Iowa State University Study of
Farmland Ownership and Tenure shows women have owned about
half of all Iowa farmland for more than 25 years, in
partnership with their spouses. Recently, the percentage of women owning land alone has increased. In 2012, women who were not married owned 34% of the land owned by women. Some of you may be able to relate to women in my mother’s generation. She often deferred major
decisions to my father, but today’s businesses are
becoming more and more complex and two heads are
definitely better than one. A recent University of
Wisconsin study showed that 80% of the women surveyed were contributing to major decisions like when to retire or transition
to the next generation, when to purchase land, when
and how much money to borrow, or when to reduce or add to the herd size. Women in agriculture are also taking on more leadership positions. The American Farm Bureau did
a survey about a year ago of nearly 2,000 women across the country. 96% of these women were already advocating on behalf of agriculture. Another 94% said that women
have the skills and abilities to take on more leadership positions in agricultural
organizations and businesses. These women were also
quite entrepreneurial. 44% were already operating a
business that they started, and another 30% were interested in starting a new agricultural business. More young women are pursuing
careers in agriculture. Just 15 years ago in 2001, women were 42% of the undergraduates in the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. Today that number has jumped to 51%. Building on this history,
the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Women in Agriculture program was established in 2015. The mission of the new program is to improve the quality of life in Iowa by providing research-based
educational programs that expand agricultural enterprise, improve natural resource management, and support the community
of women in agriculture. Stepping beyond the farm,
more agribusinesses in Iowa are hiring women at entry levels, and encouraging them to pursue upper level management positions as well. Agribusinesses are offering
more paid family leave, flexible schedules,
women’s mentoring groups and peer groups, all in an effort to help them succeed in
those agribusiness careers. Government organizations like
the USDA are also implementing women in ag peer groups and other programs to help women succeed. In this way, they can better serve America’s farmers and ranchers. Women have always been an important part of American agriculture. Now women are stepping in to exciting new challenges and roles. Women of all ages are managing complex farms and agribusinesses,
innovating food production and land conservation, and with these changes,
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will be there to provide resources and programming for the next generation
of women in agriculture.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *