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A Woman's Work

October 5, 2011

More women are owning and managing farms today than ever before

Fueled by automated agriculture and a collapsing gender barrier, statistics show, more women are returning home to farm. Of the 3.3 million farm operators in the U.S., more than 30%—or 1 million—are women. "The percentage of farms now influenced by women is significant," says Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M economist and director of The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). "We are seeing more women than ever graduating from TEPAP. They are becoming key decision makers and often the point person for purchasing decisions, as many women manage the books for the farm."

Fast Facts: Women in Ag

  • Of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators, more than 30%—or 1 million—are women.
  • The total number of women operators has increased 20% from 2002.
  • The number of women considered principal operators of a farm or ranch has increased almost 30% since 2002.

Because women statistically live longer than men, they often inherit the farm. A growing number of women are now the nation’s landowners. More than 75% of women operators are full owners of land, reports USDA. In Iowa, women own 61% of the rented land, notes the Iowa State University Farmland Ownership and Tenure study. In Minnesota, farms operated by women rose from 4,205 in 1997 to 7,361 in 2007, per the USDA census. This number jumps to 30,000 if farms where women are joint operators are counted. That’s 40% of Minnesota farms.

As America begins to transfer farms to the next generation, more women will become decision makers and owner–operators. The following women offer insight into the changing roles of farm women.


Growing New Leaders: Pam Johnson, Floyd, Iowa

Authenticity is a core principle for Pam Johnson of Floyd, Iowa. Whether in her role as a farm partner or incoming president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), she strives to convey authenticity, humbleness and a love for agriculture. "I never want to be singled out for a job because I am a woman; I want to be chosen for what I bring to the table. If I stay true to who I am, there is no question of my intentions," Johnson says.

There is a whole new generation of corn producers that Johnson hopes to connect with in her role as president of the nation’s largest commodity organization in 2012. "What motivates me is

the desire to serve and do rewarding work," she says.

She believes women have the ability to build rapport and credibility with a diverse range of consumers, media, state organizations and producers. As a longtime NCGA member, Johnson has built solid relationships with not only corn growers, but key decision makers, legislators and researchers. She notes the number of women filling ag advocacy roles. Women have a unique

ability to connect with people not only in industry, but in grocery stores, churches and school groups, she adds. It’s one reason NCGA is cosponsoring the CommonGround program, which provides access for women to tell their ag story to an urban audience.

Johnson is excited that more women are in leadership positions within commodity organizations. "There are so many opportunities today for women to gain skills, more than when I was a young wife and mother on the farm," she says. "Women have much to bring to the table, and I hope my leadership at NCGA will facilitate more women working in agriculture."


Farming Means Business: Mandy Bryant, Allensville, Ky.

From cleaning out grain bins and bush hogging as a child to running combines and planters as a teenager, Mandy Bryant has been a "jack of all trades" on Long Vue Farms, which spans 5,000 acres in four counties in Kentucky and Tennessee. Bryant holds a master of science degree in agronomy, which keeps her in tune with production issues. But it’s her current management role in land leasing, bookkeeping, marketing and succession planning that challenges her the most.

"With all the volatility in the grain markets, weather and land rental rates, it’s been an interesting year," Bryant says. She and her father work side by side to make marketing decisions and use financial consultants for advice and trading. Lately, Bryant has been seeking business education to fill in the gaps in her financial skills. This past winter, she attended The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP), and she regularly attends industry trade shows and financial seminars.

"It’s a sacrifice to be away from my family, but I feel like I have to constantly look for ways to continue my education to stay competitive," Bryant says.

Her management duties on the farm keep her busy analyzing costs per acre, working with accountants and managing operating loan renewals, cash flow budgets and taxes. This year, she’s been bombarded with paperwork to meet Farm Service Agency requirements and land lease negotiations.

Succession Shifts. During the past two years, the farm has shifted to a team management approach, with both a field manager and assistant manager. Bryant has found this new structure beneficial as her father works with much of the staff behind the scenes and in the field, allowing her to take more of a senior role on the business side.

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FEATURED IN: Top Producer - October 2011



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