Women for the Land

Empowering women landowners to conserve their land

Over the past few decades, women have entered agriculture in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, women own farmland, are new farmers, or have become more involved in all aspects of agriculture.

There are now nearly one million women farm operators and over half-a-million additional women landowners who lease their land to farmers. Nearly 301 million acres of U.S. land—about a third of the nation’s land in farms—are now farmed or co-farmed by women, and at least 87 million additional acres are in the hands of women landowners.

Over the next 20 years, about 371 million acres of farmland are expected to change hands as farmers retire or leave their land to the next generation. During that time, women and non-farming landlords are likely to increase in numbers.

Research shows many women farmers and landowners have a strong conservation and stewardship ethic. They are deeply committed to healthy farmland, farm families and farm communities. However, women face gender-related barriers to managing their land for long-term sustainability. While women increasingly are the primary decision makers on farms, data shows they are underrepresented in conservation programs.

AFT's Women for the Land Initiative

American Farmland Trust’s national Women for the Land initiative addresses the obstacles women landowners face in accessing conservation programs and resources. In part, the initiative hosts “learning circles” that empower women landowners to adopt environmentally sound farming practices, protect farmland, and improve the viability of their farms. 

Women for the Land combines research, on-the-ground projects, and policy efforts to transform the agricultural landscape and develop a new voice for conservation. There are three components:

1) Research into women landowners and the barriers they face

Little research exists on the millions of Americans who own and lease agricultural land, especially women. Partnering with Utah State University, we conducted a literature review of what we know about leased farmland and its owners and hosted focus groups with women landowners in 7 of the 10 USDA production regions. Results of this work "Women Non-Operating Landowners: Increasing Conservation on Leased Farmland" is attached below

In 2018, we implemented  a new  landowner survey in 11 states to learn more about the long-term goals and needs of non-operating landowners. We expect to have preliminary results in early 2019. 

In addition, women face unique barriers to stewarding their farmland. AFT’s Women for the Land initiative is testing new ways to ensure women landowners have access to the information, support, and resources to put their conservation plans into action. 

2) Learning Circles to engage women in conservation 

The Women for the Land initiative is rooted in AFT’s work hosting “learning circles” for women landowners in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions, starting in 2012. The circles are a well-tested approach pioneered by the Women, Food and Agriculture network that have brought nearly 4,000 women landowners together with female conservation professionals.

In order to learn more about the impact of conservation learning circles in the Midwest, AFT partnered with Utah State University and USDA-NRCS in Indiana to interview women who have attended learning circles in Illinois and Indiana between 2014 and 2017.  Our report “Testing the Women Landowner Conservation Learning Circle Model” further supports previous research that women landowners are important in the broader implementation of conservation practices on farms. Our results confirm that women-only learning circles work as a means for expanding conservation actions and women who participated want to learn more. A summary of this research and the full report are provided below.

In 2019, we will host learning circles in the Midwest, Ohio, California, New York, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic. Upcoming learning circles are always posted to our calendar. Click here to see the calendar and to register.

An initiative has emerged in Indiana as a result of the collaboration between NRCS, AFT, and WFAN.  The mission of Indiana’s Women4theLand program is “to better serve women landowners and operators to manage and improve their land.” It is made up of representatives of the Indiana Conservation Partnership and AFT serves on the steering committee. To learn more about learning circles in Indiana, visit their webpage at www.women4theland.org 

3) Technical assistance and policy reforms to better serve women landowners

The Farmland Information Center—AFT’s national clearinghouse of information about farmland protection and stewardship in partnership with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service—provides customized information and technical assistance to address the needs of landowners. 

Through a website, toll-free hotline, and written materials, the FIC provides knowledge and training for landowners and their farm advisers on conservation programs, farmland protection options, sample leases, and succession plans.

Visit www.farmlandinfo.org/landowner-options for more information. 

AFT will also develop and advocate for new federal and state policies and programs that engage women landowners and farmers, including non-operating landowners. AFT will bring women landowner participants and other agricultural leaders to Washington, D.C., to share their unique perspectives on the importance of conserving and protecting working lands with USDA and other federal agencies. An important outcome will be a growing list of women farmers and landowners who can advocate for strong conservation policies and programs.

Stories from the Field

Throughout AFT's target regions, women farmers and non-operating landowners are making tremendous strides in taking control over the conservation decisions made about their land. We've compiled a few of our favorite stories to highlight the broad impact of the Women for the Land initiative. 

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To learn more about the Women for the Land Initiative, contact Jennifer Filipiak,
AFT’s Midwest director, at jfilipiak@farmland.org or (515) 868-1331.

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