Initiatives aiming to bolster the role of women in modern farming

In many sectors of today's business world, these industries' expansion and evolution have benefited in no small part from challenges that have been posed to old-fashioned gender stereotypes regarding company leadership. However, this has not occurred in farming and agribusiness to quite the same degree that it has in various other segments of the global economy.

"Women make up 30% of all farm operators in the U.S., but only 14% of primary operators."

Consider the following: According to the latest data from the census conducted by the Department of Agriculture every five years and last completed in 2012, women well-schooled in the ways of country living constitute 30 percent of all U.S. farm operators. While hardly a tiny figure, women only represented 14 percent of the primary operators in the nation. Additionally, those numbers  declined slightly between the 2007 agricultural census and the most recent one. (Specific reasons for the drop were not available in the USDA's data.)

In response to this uncertainty about women's position in the world of one of Earth's most elemental and essential trades, a number of determined farmers - both women and men - have engaged in high-profile efforts to bring greater attention to this issue. Tangential matters, such as the rights of female farmers to maternity leave and related benefits, are also being addressed. Today, we'll take a look at some of these programs, which by no means are limited to America, let alone the agricultural establishments situated on farm and ranch land for sale in Texas. Ladies with an interest in joining the Texas agribusiness community would do well to keep abreast of programs like those discussed below, as well as similar initiatives, to potentially give them a hand with setting up or maintaining a farm. 

The need to change the conversation 
In an interview with Civil Eats, professors Carolyn Sachs, Mary Barbercheck, Kathryn Brasier, Nancy Ellen Kernan and Rachel Terman cited a change in perception among women involved in the farming industry: Quite simply, they asserted themselves as primary facilitators of operations on the land they tilled, which they had not always felt like they were able to do. In fact, in the interview - conducted to promote their jointly written book, The Rise of Women Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture - the authors noted that until 2002, only one individual could be classified as "farm operator" in paperwork filed to the USDA. Men almost exclusively received this distinction, even if it didn't necessarily reflect how operations worked on every farm. 

Initiatives aiming to bolster the role of women in modern farmingWomen have a notable presence in the business world of farming, but their impact has not always been acknowledged.

"Over the last decade, the role women play in broader society has changed; more women are taking on identities as business owners and professionals," co-author Rachel Terman told the news provider. "Because of this, there are more women who have been able to get into farming, and we wanted to look at what role women are playing on the farm and how it was impacting agriculture."

The writers said they spent 10 years conducting the research necessary to complete the book, including a great deal of hands-on work with the Pennsylvania Women's Agricultural Network. They found that the real problematic issue surrounding American women in farming was their lack of recognition as a prominent trend in the agricultural workforce, rather than someone preventing them from doing the work.

"Female leadership in the business world made it possible for women to assume greater roles in agriculture."

Raising awareness through documentary efforts 
To change the mind of the general public - or in this case, the broad population making up the agricultural workforce - it's essential to present audiences with reliable, factual information about an idea, if that particular concept is alien to their understanding. But illuminating the human factor behind an issue is just as important, if not more so, than providing facts and figures. This informed the Female Farmer Project, a public awareness campaign spearheaded by Audra Mulkern, a former Microsoft executive living in the Seattle metropolitan area. Her regular patronage of local farmers' markets led her to realize a significant number of women were involved in agriculture, so about 10 years ago she started photographing them at their labor and conducting interviews.

Since Mulkern started her initiative, it has expanded into a multimedia endeavor, including a biweekly podcast, essays by women farmers and those who regularly interact with them, speaking events at industry conferences and a documentary film (the latter slated to begin production later in 2018). Members span the globe, reaching as far as Australia. Mulkern has always made a point of not shying away from the nitty-gritty of agricultural labor in her work, typically not retouching or otherwise altering the photographs she has taken. 

"Sometimes the pictures are beautiful, I'll grant that, but I wanted them to be unvarnished," Mulkern said in a 2014 interview with Grist. "They're not edited, they're raw. I want people to see what I see ... It's important to me that they're not glamorous. Farming can't be glamorized - people have to know the true cost of their food, the true price of what they eat." 

Action and empowerment initiatives through education 
As important as raising awareness undoubtedly is, it only goes so far. As such, numerous programs to provide resources to women working in farming have been developed both in the U.S. and around the world, or are currently in their formative stages. While their efficacy remains to be seen, these undertakings could serve to encourage greater participation by women in the agricultural workforce, to enough of a degree that the aforementioned low share of female principal farm operators could gradually grow. 

The Empowering Women in Agriculture project, devised by professors from Montana State University and Flathead Valley Community College and bolstered by the endorsement of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, aims to educate women in the essentials of modern agriculture. According to a guest post in AgWeek by Montana State professor Irene Grimberg, the program, which is open to male and female college students, begins with an online course of study that covers the wide variety of roles  women occupy in the farming sector. Participants must also complete a survey regarding their perception of women's position in the field. Students who successfully finish the online coursework and survey can subsequently engage in hands-on internships that delve into specific subcategories of agriculture - farming, administration, marketing, extension and research - and join the EWA's annual summit.

Striving for genuine equality 
Thousands of miles to the east, in Ireland, Lorcan McCabe, deputy president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers' Association, has begun broadly campaigning to encourage greater opportunity in agriculture for women with a passion for the field. According to AgriLand, the frustration he experienced seeing women do a great deal of work on dairy farms and not be granted opportunities to own or manage these agricultural enterprises - often because they were passed over in favor of men - drove him to speak out through his industry platform.

"I have seen the very, very best of girls bringing in and milking cows - and the lads getting the land," McCabe told the news provider. "That is not right. I have no place for that attitude." 

Specific goals of McCabe's include pushing for maternity leave as an industrywide standard, one that would be mandatory under guidelines governing farms that are members of the ICMSA. He also stated a desire to ensure genuine gender equality in farming by trusting women with the same volume of work as men. 

The initiatives detailed above are just a few examples of the many ways in which dedicated women and men have worked to bolster the visibility and breadth of opportunities for ladies whose connection to farming goes far beyond a green thumb. Women interested in buying property in Texas to farm can thus rest assured that fellow agriculturalists will have their backs.