WSU Women in Agriculture: Empowering Women in Agriculture to Achieve Goals and Manage Risks

Women in Agriculture November 03, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Women agricultural producers face unique challenges in balancing the demands of
both farm and family. Women farmers have emerged as an important segment of the
U.S. agriculture community. Washington State agriculture census data show that
female principal farm operators increased 44% from 2002 to 2007. Women manage
nearly 882,000 farmland acres and sell more than $184,000,000 annually in farm

Ninety-eight percent of women-owned farms have less than $250,000 in sales.
Despite this dramatic growth, women producers remain underserved by traditionally
male-dominated producer meetings. The typical woman involved in a farming
operation has very little marketing experience, knowledge related to the
accompanying business management, or understanding of the risk management
issues she faces. There are hardly any support networks offering women
opportunities to work together, share concerns, and strengthen their farm-family role.
A larger knowledge base and stronger interpersonal relationship skills can make the
difference between success and letdown for women farmers.
Women have indicated through surveys, focus groups, and evaluations their need for
more resources. Women, Farms & Food provides that resource.

Women, Farms & Food is an innovative project that addresses the risk management
needs of women producers using technology and follow-up skills-based workshops.
The Women in Agriculture program began in Washington State in 2005, with annual
state conferences offering speakers, practical advice, collaborative discussion, and
networking opportunities.

Webinar technology is used to reach 500 women simultaneously in 19 locations
across the state for an annual conference that begins with a keynote speaker.
Speakers who have success with financial management, have a flourishing
business, have been successful at managing risk, and use a winning marketing plan
are chosen to present. Their stories are encouraging and can be applied to a variety
of farming situations. Workshops throughout the day at each conference location
include local speakers and producer panels. Follow-up workshops in select locations
are tailored to be more in-depth and specific. A dedicated website, electronic
newsletters, and social media contacts throughout the year keep women producers
engaged and support their success. In 2014, this project expanded to 30 sites in
Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Nearly 600 women participated at these sites. The
program is continuing throughout the year with planned webinars presented by
eXtension on topics recommended by the participants, local workshops and
facilitated opportunities for women to network with other farmers in their area.

When women are asked what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, and
are involved in shaping the delivery methods, locations, and topics, they
participate—and behavior change supports it.

The goal was to reach 200 women in both 2012 and 2013 and nearly 500
participated in the state-wide conference each year. In 2012, an additional 144
women participated in seven site-specific workshops following the conference. In
2012, 265 participants returned copies of their Action Plan at the end of the
conference. The responses showed that 200 women committed to rethinking their
farm vision to meet financial, marketing, and production goals, 143 will clarify this
vision, and 138 identified their farming risks, acquired financial/marketing skills, and
will purchase insurance. Follow-up workshops had 144 women participants study
production costs, record keeping, hiring practices, time management, and
succession planning.

Follow-up workshops had 144 women participants study production costs, record
keeping, hiring practices, time management, and succession planning. Surveys
indicated that women had developed farm visions and used them to make decisions,
improved their financial record keeping, networked with other women, and improved
their marketing skills.

This project meets women where they are: by bringing the educational opportunities
to them, they study the topics they need most and they learn via teaching methods
that suit their gender-specific learning style. Our success with this project has been
presented at five national meetings and has proven to be a prototype with replication
in other states.

Follow-up workshops target minority producers in their specific farming locations.
Because of the increase in women minority-owned farm businesses, we use specific
methods for reaching Latino and American Indian women. Future plans include
additional workshops for minority women in conjunction with Washington Tilth and
Viva farms.

Since 2011, more than 75 scholarships were used by this audience and other
aspiring farmers who otherwise would not have been able to attend. Three project
team members are minorities who also own and operate farm businesses and they
have the skills to continue making this project relevant and valuable for culturally
diverse audiences.

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The Women in Agriculture National Learning Network (WIA LN) helps women in agriculture improve their quality of life by providing them with resources to make better business decisions while maintaining a balance with family and personal obligations.

We also work to improve and expand education, technical assistance and support opportunities for women farmers and ranchers around the country. Learn more about upcoming professional development opportunities.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.