The number of women independently operating farms and ranches in the United States and Wyoming is one of the fastest growing demographic groups. Make no mistake, the role of women as agricultural partners in the Mountain West has always been significant. But women who have taken on a lead role have always had “shadow challenges” compared to men, including poor recognition of accomplishments and authority, as well as diminished opportunities.
Fortunately, many of the women in our state have not tolerated the bias and have forced through their resistance. But having grown up watching buyers offer women less for products, having qualified women passed over for leadership roles due to gender and even watching them deal with sexual aggression, I am still frustrated with people not recognizing their strengths.
I have strong women in my heritage, family and marriage. Our families were successful because they were highly involved. In addition, I had the opportunity in my youth to work for several women producers, from whom I learned more about marketing than from men, such as Sarah P. Forbes of Beckton Stock Farm.
Currently, several land-grant universities are trying to conduct educational programs that support diverse producers and train them in dealing with stress, disempowerment, sexual aggression and skills for success. I find this a bit contradictory, since most of the successful male producers would not be if not for a strong partner. But there are significant facts to support my editorial perspective.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service and data from the USDA AG Statistics Service, 31 percent of agricultural producers (969,672) are women, managing 301,386,860 acres and generating $12.9 billion of positive impact each year. In Wyoming, there are 6,745 women producers (35 percent of total) who manage 12,151,085 acres generating $81.2 million in impact. More interesting is that women producers make the most efficient use of resources, often operating smaller parcels and yielding a higher return per acre than male producers. Please bear in mind that 36 percent of operations in the United States have more than one operator, of which one or more is a woman. Over 36percent of women principal operators are over 65 years of age. The majority of niche crops and products, as well as many of the creative marketing approaches used, are sourced to women. The percentage of women operators has increased almost 4 percent annually for several years.
Efforts at removing barriers for women producers by universities, including Annie’s Project, are conducted by many entities, including the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Women in Agriculture Organization and others. Washington State University is also trying to help empower women field workers with sexual harassment training and references after they train. They have developed a Gender Rights card available at http://deohs.washington.edu/pnash/sexual_harrassment. In addition, women producers can contact the Human Rights Commission at 800-233-3247 and join the Facebook community @harrassmentinagriculture.