September 3, 2014
More Women in AgricultureBy Cyndie Sirekis
More and more women are taking on leading roles in the agriculture industry.
Some might find it surprising, but over the past 10 years the presence of women in agriculture has increased significantly, with a 21 percent rise in the number of female principal farm operators. Today, 30 percent of all farm operators are women, according to the latest Census of Agriculture.
Terry Gilbert, chair of the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee and a Kentucky farmer, says many women gravitate toward specialty-type and value-added farming, such as vegetable and fruit production for local markets.
“Everybody wants to know their farmer, know their food and know where their food comes from, and I think a lot of women are getting into farming to answer that need,” Gilbert says.
Although more doors are open to them than ever before in history, women in agriculture still face obstacles.
There still seems to be a little bit of a prejudice or negativity against women, a sentiment that “she can’t do what a man can do,” Gilbert says. Despite the nay-sayers, “Women are extremely capable of being leaders in agriculture and in farm organizations,” Gilbert says.
She’s not interested in starting a gender war, believing that men and women bring unique strengths to agriculture. She would like to see more women become involved in agricultural leadership through Farm Bureau women’s programs.
Training women to be effective spokespersons and to be comfortable speaking in front of a group – talking about what they do on the farm or ranch and why – is an important focus of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Program, with its “Growing Strong” theme for 2014-2015. The program highlights grassroots initiatives such as the year-long Our Food Link program that advocates the importance of agriculture with consumers of all ages. Other initiatives include enhancing women’s business planning skills, strengthening social media strategies and engaging in balanced community conversations about food.
Cyndie Sirekis is director of internal communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.