After a very long wait the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture data are starting to roll out. While the meatiest (pun intended) reports are not expected until May the preliminary data are attracting a lot of attention. And, regarding women farmers, the news is…mixed.
In 2007 the number of U.S. farms with women as principal operators was 14%. In 2012 that number remains at 14%. Under ideal circumstances, that might be viewed as a disappointment. Except that during this same time frame our country has struggled through a global economic downturn that has set many industries back at least a decade. So, viewed in that light, holding our ground might not be such bad news.
The early reports also indicate the winners and losers in the ag lottery are not distributed evenly around the country. There are some regions (like New England) where the numbers of farmers has continued to increase and where the number of women farmers also increased. Other states sustained double digit losses in both of those counts. What we can say though is in states where agriculture is growing, the presence of women farmers is growing.
What the story looks like right now…
- Young women are continuing to enter the field of agriculture.
- Our farms are showing signs of improved profitability but we still have a very long way to go.
- Investments in new/beginning farmer training are paying off.
- A tremendous amount of prime ag land is in the hands of women who will be responsible for making transfer decisions in the next decade.
- States that embrace agriculture as an economic development strategy are reaping returns on that investment.
The picture is still quite fuzzy but stay tuned…as the data continues to sort itself out our understanding of the status of women farmers will become more clear. I am betting on a happy ending.