With the aging population of America's farmers and questions of where ag’s next generation will come from, one group has shown rapid growth: women. In fact, the number of female farmers in the U.S. has almost tripled over the past thirty years, with women now representing 30% of American farm operators. Coming from diverse backgrounds, some of these women grew up on the farm and other women are being drawn into agriculture from vastly different backgrounds.
One place many new women farmers are coming from is college agriculture and environmental programs. Looking to create a connection with the land, many in this new generation are attracted to small farming operations in non-traditional farming locations. For example, 82% of farms with a woman as the principal operator have fewer than 180 acres—and while women farmers are flourishing in places like the Northeast, West, and Southwest, in farming hotbeds like the upper Midwest, women farmers are noticeably absent (for example, there are more farms run by women in Arizona than Iowa).
Another group of young women who are entering agriculture have been raised on the farm. Of all the groups of women farmers, this one could be the most poised for growth—the Future Farmers of America was comprised of 45% women in 2013 compared to just 20% in 1988.
There’s also a large percentage of women 40 and older who are leaving the business world to make a life on the land. Many of these women have already defied stereotypes and pushed past the corporate glass ceiling; now they’re taking on the challenge of farming’s “grass ceiling” and helping reinvent what it means to work in ag—no longer is it seen as dirty, back-breaking work, but rather a unique set of engineering, ecology, policy, nutrition, managerial, and marketing challenges.
As the percentage of women on the farm continues to grow, so do the programs supporting them, and with established agencies, mentors, and role models in place, women can not only feel at home on the farm but in control of the farm.