Women have always played a critical role in family farming, and that role is increasing dramatically as the number of women who are farmers in the U.S. has grown to roughly one million strong, according to the most recent U.S. Ag Census [Pennsylvania data]. If you look around at the success of rural America, it’s clear that the future of farming is in good hands, and that is due in no small part to the growing contributions of women in agriculture.
Of course, women have always made major contributions on America’s farms, but their role as the primary operators tripled from 1978 to 2007. According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, “While women farm in every state across the country, women farm in the highest numbers in the Northeast, West Coast and parts of the Southwest…Many New England states…have some of the highest percentages of women farming – with over a third of their state’s farming populations comprised of women.”
But the growing role of women in agriculture is not limited to just the United States. Globally, it is estimated that women produce about 80 percent of the world’s food supply, which underscores the role women play now and moving forward.
Since its founding in 1902, Farmers Union has recognized the important and growing role played by women in agriculture – both as leaders and as principal farm operators – and since 1906, has had women elected to leadership positions within the organization. NFU’s long history of having women in leadership positions and advocating for women’s voting rights, both within the organization and in local, state and national government, has allowed us to provide a more progressive and balanced voice for all family farmers for more than a century. Farmers Union decided early on not to have a ‘women’s auxiliary’ because the organization believes strongly that women should have a seat, and equal opportunity to lead, at the policy table and not just serve on the sidelines.
Over the years, NFU has developed educational programming and outreach tools to identify and empower women to help improve their farming skills. This outreach, which includes business acumen, leadership training and hands-on practical experience is helping women succeed in their growing role on the nation’s farms and in its farm organizations.
One example is NFU’s annual women’s conference, which works to give participants with the tools they need to succeed on the farm and leading farm organizations. Internationally, NFU is also a very involved member of the World Farmers Organization (WFO), an international farm organization which aims to bring together national producer and farm cooperative organizations to develop policies which favor and support farmers’ causes in developed and developing countries around the world.
The WFO has been key in pointing out the many barriers faced by women in agriculture across the globe, including impediments to land ownership and credit and markets that are not faced by their male counterparts. NFU is committed to working with the WFO to address these disparities and make positive steps toward having these barriers removed permanently.
Interested in learning more about the NFU Women’s Conference and opportunities for women? Visit the NFU website.