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Tough path for women- Women In Agriculture

Article on women that are in farming. There are many women in Iowa that own farmland basically because they tend to outlive there husbands. Most of the single women farmland owners that I know cash-rent there land out and not Custom Farm it. They all have a pretty good handle on there cash-rent leases and the rent per acre that is current for todays grain market. However, I have heard of some women that still cash rent out there land for only $150/acre because that is what there late husband charged 15 years ago. Obviously they have not keep current on today's cash rent prices. Article is below:

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Tough path for women: Farmers aim at 'grass ceiling'

WASHINGTON — The popularity of the “God created a farmer” ad during the Super Bowl last month was widely praised as a fitting tribute to the millions of people working in agriculture.

But of the more than a dozen pictures of hardworking and sensitive farmers and ranchers in the commercial, only a handful of the images shown during the two-minute ad included women.

The slight is being viewed by some as symbolic of the battle women across the country are engaging in as they play an increasingly larger role in a field that has been traditionally dominated by men.

“That image of (a man) is so imbedded in all of us that it’s hard to imagine that women are part of farming when they show an ad like that. On one hand it’s a really nice tribute to agriculture, but on the other hand they’re missing more than half the population that’s involved with it,” said Denise O’Brien, who has been farming with her husband near Atlantic for almost 40 years.

“Women, because they are going against the trend of males dominating agriculture, it takes people a while to make a head adjustment that ‘Oh, I’m talking to this woman who is a farmer rather than talking to a farmer’s wife,’ ” said O’Brien, who ran for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2006.

For decades, women were viewed as the supportive behind-the-scenes sidekicks to their husbands and sons who were planting seed, fixing equipment and feeding livestock. In most cases, they were depended on to keep the house running and make sure the farm’s paperwork was up to date and the bills were paid.

Now, more women are being thrust into farming as they outlive their fathers or husbands, leaving them with the responsibility of deciding what to do with land that in many cases has been in the family for decades.

More women managing farmland

Many more women are making the decision to enter agriculture on their own accord, with a focus largely on smaller livestock operations, organic crops or farms that grow fruit and produce for local communities.

In the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 Census of Agriculture report, the percentage of farm operators who are women increased 19 percent from 2002, far outpacing the 7 percent increase in the number of farmers overall. The census allows a farm to have multiple operators. Women were the principal operator, the individual in charge of day-to-day operations, on 14 percent of farms and ranches, compared with 11 percent five years earlier. Iowa trailed the national average with about 9 percent of operations primarily overseen by a woman.

The government is updating its agricultural census later this year, and the number of women involved in farming is expected to be “much higher,” said Kathleen Merrigan, USDA’s second-most powerful official until she stepped down last week.

As more women enter the male-dominated field, they’ll be managing an even bigger share of farmland. In Iowa, 20 percent of the state’s farmland is owned by a woman and 10 percent is owned by a single woman older than 75, said Michael Duffy, an economics professor at Iowa State University.

As more farmland changes hands, those figures are expected to grow. University researchers have estimated that more than 200 million acres of farmland in the United States will change hands by 2027, with women potentially owning a majority of the land.

That’s good news for the growing number of women in Iowa and across the country who are members of the National FFA Organization, which first allowed females to join its ranks in 1969. The group, better known by its former name, the Future Farmers of America, is made up of 41 percent women in Iowa today, compared with just 12 percent in 1988.

'It's time to accelerate' progress

During the USDA’s annual outlook conference last month near Washington, Merrigan saw firsthand that although women are making progress in agriculture, many don’t feel they are receiving the attention that reflects the more active role they are playing.

For the first time, the USDA held a 30-minute session to allow women to network. In the room, USDA set up two “idea boards” asking women what they wanted to see at next year’s conference. One respondent suggested having “more women as speakers throughout the agenda,” while another proposed a paper “on the important role of women in agriculture.”

Merrigan said she had expressed concern to conference organizers because a poster touting the event had only one woman on it: her.

“I think we are making progress, but it’s time to accelerate,” Merrigan, USDA’s deputy secretary, said in an interview last month. “It just takes time to shift everybody’s thinking to the realities of today. ... It’s not just about women; it’s about the changing demographics of this country.”

To do that, dozens of groups that focus on helping women break through the so-called “grass ceiling” of agriculture have sprung up across the United States. Several have limited their membership to only women after observing that women, especially older women, were more outspoken and willing to ask questions without men present.

A popular program called Annie’s Project teaches classes in 27 states, including Iowa, to help foster better problem solving, record keeping and decision making among farm women. The classes regularly fill up. Another group — the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, founded by Denise O’Brien in 1997 — hosts meetings to give advice and allow women to ask questions and talk about their experiences on the farm.

In Washington, the USDA, which in the past has been accused of discrimination by some women for denying them loans and other assistance, has undertaken a series of initiatives to reach out to women. The USDA has developed a program to increase the number of women owning and operating profitable farms and agriculture-related businesses. The department also has women in a number of high-profile positions. The USDA’s undersecretary for food safety and its chief of staff are just a few of the women in its leadership ranks.

“Women are starting to rise up through the ranks and be recognized,” said Ann Sorensen, research director for American Farmland Trust, a group focused on protecting the country’s farm and ranch land. “Although within the state commodity groups and state farm bureaus there is very, very little representation, embarrassingly little representation by women, but I think that is going to change.”

For some, gender is not a barrier

Danelle Myer, a fifth-generation farmer in Harrison County, Ia., hasn’t let the challenges of starting a farm or being a woman in agriculture deter her. After growing up on a farm, she graduated from high school and distanced herself from the farm life that she “didn’t want to have anything to do with.” But 20 years later, drawn by the lure of nurturing the land and growing food in an environmentally friendly way, she returned.

Myer, who started with a half-acre of land, is poised to expand her profitable business to five acres within a few years. For the first time, the organic vegetable farmer is planning to hire part-time workers this year to help her pick tomatoes, lettuce, spinach and potatoes and do other work on the farm.

When she started out, Myer, now 41, said she didn’t know what local farmers would think of her trying her hand at organic farming while they tended to their thousand-plus-acre corn and soybean operations.

“I’ve actually been ... very welcomed by my community,” she said. “I feel like those older, white men are admiring women like me because they know how hard the work is. Being female I don’t think has been a barrier to me in my situation. I feel like it makes me different and people appreciate what I’m doing.”