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Focus on Agriculture

For the week of August 20, 2012

Women Often Seen as Faces of Agriculture

By Cyndie Sirekis

Many women who work in a wide range of careers – everything from law and communications to education and sports – find it beneficial to join organizations that focus on professional development and that can help them advance in their chosen field. Women in agriculture are no different. Many are turning to Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Programs for professional development opportunities.

“A goal of the Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee is to empower women to use their enthusiasm, dedication and talent to change perceptions about agriculture, family farms and ranches and the roles of women,” explained Terry Gilbert, chair of the committee and a farmer from Kentucky.

The WLC coordinates educational programs such as Food Check-Out Week in addition to offering leadership development programs open to all Farm Bureau women.

Women’s Communications Boot Camp, which has been held annually each summer since 2007, is one opportunity Farm Bureau provides for women in agriculture from across the country to improve their skills. All of those selected to participate share the same goal, to become better communicators. Public speaking, media training, effective use of social media and tips for seeking elected office are among the topics covered. An enthusiastic group of 15 women of varied ages involved in all types of farming from around the nation recently participated in two and a half days of intensive training.

“Again this year, a group of strangers come together, bonded through sharing intense training exercises and left a few days later with new contacts – friends – that will last a lifetime,” Gilbert said. “It’s encouraging to hear how Boot Camp graduates plan to use their new skills in their communities.”

Clearly, opportunities abound for women involved in agriculture today. Many of those opportunities center around helping people understand where food comes from and how it is grown or produced on family farms and ranches.

It seems likely that we’ll be hearing more from women about food and farming down the road.

A recently concluded national study of 70 land-grant universities found that undergraduate women enrolled in agriculture programs outnumber undergraduate men by more than 2,900 students. The Food and Agricultural Education Information System studied trends related to gender among undergraduate students enrolled in 14 agriculture academic areas at land-grant institutions between 2004 and 2011.

The increase in undergraduate women studying agriculture is a relatively new trend. As recently as 2004, men outnumbered women by more than 1,400 students. By 2008, the number of undergraduate women and undergraduate men enrolled in agriculture academic areas was about equal.

This growth in undergraduate women studying agriculture tracks closely with an overall increase in women farmers tracked by the Agriculture Department. The department’s most recent Census of Agriculture revealed that the number of women farm operators increased by 19 percent (to 1,008,943) between 2002 and 2007.


Cyndie Sirekis is director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.