The 2017 Census of Agriculture reports that there are more women directly involved in operations than in previous years.
Why does this matter? Because when you can see others who look like you accomplish something, it gives you the hope, drive, and the desire to succeed as well. A quote from FarmHer is, “Images change perceptions. Perceptions become reality. A new reality means equal treatment, pay, opportunities, involvement and recognition.” That is why a 15.47 percentage point increase is such a huge deal.
In the 2012 census women were principal operators of 13.66 percent of farms in the United States. In the 2017 census that number grew to 29.13 percent. Some changes were made in this year’s census to better reflect who serves in principal roles on an operation, but the increase goes well beyond a mere calculating change.
A little more than 36 percent of American producers were women as reported by the 2017 census, which was an increase from 31.5 percent in 2012.
This means over 500,000 more women than in 2012 are now principal producers on their farms or ranchers. And over 250,000 more are women who are involved in agriculture in any capacity than in 2012.
The USDA defines the principal producer as the person who runs the farm and makes the day-to-day management decisions. However not labeling themselves as the principal producer does not mean that women are not involved in the day-to-day decision making on farms and ranches. Almost 960,000 or 78 percent of all female producers, stated they were involved in the day-to-day decisions of the operation.
Record keeping and management was the highest specific descriptor, with 73 percent of all female producers, under day-to-day decisions.
When decisions around commodities were looked at specifically, the number was lower. With 58 percent of women being involved in decision making regarding land use and/or crops, and 55 percent of women being involved in livestock decisions. However, these percentages were overall higher than what was reported in the 2012 census.
Beef cattle operations had both the highest number of female principal producers and any producer being female with over 229,000 and over 355,000, respectively. This means that 28.9 percent of female producers, whether principal or not, are involved in the beef cattle industry.
The second highest commodity group with female producers was “other crop farming,” with the majority coming from hay or row crops. This commodity group had over 167,000 principal producers and over 244,000 any female producers. Row crops account for 19.8 percent of female producers.
The next largest commodities were aquaculture at 13 percent of female producers and oil seed/grain farming at 10 percent.
Overall there are more female principal producers, but that does not mean that women are the only producer working the farm. Over half of the operations with female principal producers had two total producers on the operation. And while they may not be the only producer, they usually are the only female; 86 percent of operations with a female producer had only one female producer.
There were multiple trends that existed regardless of gender: most farms ranged from 10 to 49 acres, more people had a primary occupation off the farm, and the average age hovered at 58.
To summarize the data reported in the 2017 census in one word as it relates to women in agriculture: more. There are more female producers, principal producers, or sharing of the responsibility. More women involved in the day-to-day decisions of the operations, whether that is in terms of record-keeping, breeding cattle, or deciding what crops to plant. That trend will more than likely continue in the future census reports as more women see their female peers succeeding. There are more women being more involved on farms and ranches all over America.
Michelle Bufkin is a freelance communication specialist whose goal is to help producers bridge the farm-to-plate knowledge gap that exists with consumers today. She uses her full-time position as the Membership and Communication Director at the Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association to interact with producers and work on building that connection.