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March 11, 2020

The Growing Role of Women in Agribusiness

See how women’s leadership in ag has evolved.

According to the USDA, the 2017 Census of Agriculture showed that over a third of the nation’s farmers—nearly 1.3 million—are women. Women’s presence in agriculture dates as far back as agriculture itself.

In this article, we’ll discuss the growth of women in agricultural leadership positions, the opportunities available to female farmers and ranchers today, and highlights from the upcoming 2020 Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Conference.

From Homesteaders to Modern-Day Farm Operators

For generations, women have played a pivotal role in American agriculture and food security. This role has evolved throughout the years to include all areas of a farm operation, with a constant commitment to growing quality food and fiber for our nation and people around the world. Women have always been a part of agriculture, from working directly in the field to supporting those who do. Yet as time goes on, women are increasingly stepping into leadership roles in agriculture.

During early Colonial America, 90 percent of agriculture was subsistence farming to support individual families. As the population grew and westward expansion of canals introduced new trade opportunities, farmers’ focus began to shift towards cash-crop production as a source of income for their families. American farms quickly rose from just over one million farms in 1850 to nearly four million in 1880. By the mid-1950s, women had not only helped in the expansion of agriculture but maintained family farmlands through two world wars and domestic crises, like the 1930’s Dust Bowl.

As the definition of American agriculture expands, so does the number of female leaders within it. They’re making a difference not just as farm operators, but as scientists, CEOs, economists, veterinarians, conservationists, and more. The immeasurable impact that women have had on U.S. agriculture has only recently gained recognition through farm statistics. According to data from the USDA, 36 percent of U.S. farmers are women. Female producers make up 29 percent of principal operators—a 15 percent increase from 2012. This rapid growth is partly due to changes made by the USDA to better capture stakeholder data and female representation. By accounting for the various roles within an operation, women’s contributions are more accurately represented.

Two modern-day examples of strong women positively impacting U.S. agriculture are Alicia and Virginia. They help run a multigenerational farm in Texas built from the ground up by Virginia’s parents, Lanny and Rita.

Our real explosion of growth came when the kids came on. If it weren’t for them, we’d probably still be on a section and a half,” Rita says. They’ve taken over the farm in the last 5-7 years. Lanny’s out here every day but he’s not making many decisions anymore. And that’s okay with him, too.”

Opportunities for Women in Agriculture

As the number of women in agricultural leadership roles increases, so does their involvement in empowering organizations and programs across the country. These initiatives provide like-minded women with the resources needed to expand their network and expertise in agriculture.

  • USDA’s Women in Ag Initiative. A USDA program that aims to promote women’s leadership in ag.
  • Women in Ag Learning Network. An initiative that offers educational programs and resources for farm and ranch women.
  • Women-Owned Businesses. An initiative by the U.S. Small Business Administration that provides training and funding for entrepreneurial women.
  • American Agri-Women. The largest national coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women who have been promoting and advocating for agriculture since 1974.
  • Farm Bureau Women. A network of like-minded women who provide scholarships for community projects and opportunities for leadership, political involvement, and networking.

Florida Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Conference

The Florida Farm Bureau Federation’s 2020 Women’s Leadership Conference will be held March 19-21 in Melbourne, Florida. This conference is open to all women in Florida who are involved in Florida Farm Bureau Leadership Programs. It provides attendees with the chance to connect with other motivated women in their field and be inspired by keynote speakers like Maria Costa Smith—executive vice president at Costa Farms in Miami, Florida—and Jolene Brown—an award-winning speaker, author, and farmer.

2020 FFB Women Leadership Conference Key Topics

This year’s conference will place a spotlight on strategic leadership and growth opportunities within operations, the topics include:

● Financial Management and Bookkeeping: strategies to maintain records and organize information in an efficient and accessible way.

● Estate Planning: steps to ensure your farm or ranch operation will smoothly transition to the next generation.

● Advocacy and Opportunities: specific ways to get involved with the community, demonstrating leadership in agriculture, and make an impact within your industry.

Supporting Female Farmers as they Reshape the Agriculture Industry

At AgAmerica, we stand behind our nation’s female farmers and ranchers. We are grateful for these remarkable women who are creating legacies for future generations and reshaping the industry as we know it. We are proud to support these women through sponsorships with the AgAmerica Foundation and with our alternative lending programs that offer more flexibility than conventional lending. Speak with one of our knowledgeable team members today to learn more about our loan programs and resources that can help you grow your agribusiness.

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