Women’s role in ag no small one (Editorial)

(June 3, 2014) Have you noticed? There have been precious few women in key posts in the agricultural industry.
Oh yes, there have been exceptions, of course, but they are not the rule.
That has been changing.
According to the 2007 U.S. Census — even then — nearly one-half of all farmland in the country is owned or co-owned by women, with an even higher percentage for leased land — making women the largest underserved group in agriculture.
More than 75 percent of women operators are also the sole owners of their land and the number of women farm operators jumped 19 percent from 2002 to 2007.
American Farmland Trust is particularly interested in this evolving core of the nation’s agriculture.
They bring with them a whole new outlook, a new perspective, about the industry and their role in it.
The Mid-Atlantic office of American Farmland Trust is launching an effort in Virginia and Maryland to engage what it calls “the largest and fastest-growing minority in agriculture — women who own farmland.”
As women are increasingly inheriting farmland from spouses and relatives due to an aging farm population, national surveys report they have a strong conservation ethic but little familiarity with the agencies that typically provide assistance for soil and water quality improvements.
In Maryland’s upper Eastern Shore, through support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, American Farmland Trust will launch what are called Conservation Learning Circles, which provide participants the opportunity to learn from each other and female conservation experts.
In Virginia, the Prince Charitable Trust is funding a planning effort among state, federal and private conservation groups to build on women landowner outreach recently conducted in the state.
During the last several decades, more and more women have been entering agriculture as new farmers, widows or inheritors of farmland.
Whether they lease their land to neighboring farmers or operate their own farm or ranch, thousands of women bring a strong conservation and stewardship ethic to managing their land, according to AFT.
“They are now poised to play a much larger role in U.S. agriculture, marking a historic shift. This demographic change will require a new approach and customized set of tools aimed at educating women landowners today to help them become tomorrow’s conservation leaders, an AFT discussion of the topic reported.
“Women are starting to rise up through the ranks and be recognized,” said American Farmland Trust Research Director Ann Sorensen in a recent USA Today article, “Breaking the Grass Ceiling.”
“Although within the state commodity groups and state farm bureaus there is embarrassingly little representation by women, I think that is going to change.”
Throughout our contemporary culture, and particularly in government and industry, women are increasingly summoned to leadership roles.
They are now being propelled into key roles not only on the farm but in the agricultural industry.
We can all take some comfort in that.