Women and the Future of Farming

The face of American agriculture is changing.

Over the past few decades, women have entered farming in unprecedented numbers. Some are new farmers just getting started. Others inherited family land they farm themselves or lease out to neighboring 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 many more acres are in the hands of women "non-operating" landowners who lease their land to neighboring farmers.

In the next two decades, about 240 million acres of farmland are expected to change owners as aging farmers retire or leave their land to the next generation. One report predicts that women may own 75 percent of this transferred farmland.

As women increasingly become farmland owners and operators, American Farmland Trust has identified a need for tailored information and assistance that helps them achieve their conservation goals.

"​The learning circle empowered me to do things on my farm. I now feel like it's my farm." -Learning Circle Participant

Conservation Learning Circles: A New Approach

Research shows that many women farmers and landowners have a strong conservation and stewardship ethic. An Iowa study, for instance, found that women landowners tend to be deeply committed to healthy farmland, farm families and farm communities.

If this trend holds for women landowners in general, it makes them ideal conservation partners. But first we must help address any obstacles they face in accessing existing conservation programs and resources.

To address this major shift in land ownership, American Farmland Trust is engaging women landowners through "conservation learning circles"—a well-tested approach that brings local groups of women landowners together for discussions facilitated by female conservation professionals.

The women-only circles help women landowners become more knowledgeable and confident about farm conservation issues, practices and available resources. More than 50 percent of the women who attend these sessions take a conservation action within six months.

"Farming is essentially a lonely occupation. The learning circle gives us the opportunity to talk with people who have the same experiences and learn new things to do. Every little bit helps.​" –Learning Circle Participant

Learning More

Through survey and focus groups with women around the country, we are learning more about women landowners.

We're finding similarities across the country:

  • "Trustworthiness" was the most desirable quality in a tenant.
  • "Care about the land" was an equally desirable trait in tenants, or came in second.
  • When making decisions about conservation on the farm, soil quality was the most
    important consideration, followed by water quality, future availability of land for
    farming, biodiversity, and need for income.

We're also finding the following regional differences:

  • How long women lease to the same tenant
  • How often women landowners are in touch with their tenant
  • How often they discuss conservation with their tenant
  • Where women turn for information to make farm management decisions
  • How comfortable they are working with government agencies

What we're learning in these conversations will shape a national survey to gather detailed information about the women who own farmland in the United States and lease it for agricultural production. This information will help us and the nation's resource management agencies give women landowners the tools and information they need to best care for their land.

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