Pennsylvania Farmers Union (PFU) president Hannah Smith-Brubaker echoes today’s National Farmers Union (NFU) salute to the growing role of women in agriculture and their contributions to family farming. Smith-Brubaker, the State’s first female president, applauds NFU’s commitment to supporting leadership positions for women within the organization. According to Smith-Brubaker, “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.”
National Farmers Union president, Roger Johnson, released the following statement: “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. Thankfully, the future of family farming in America is in good hands, and that is due in no small part to the growing contributions of women in agriculture.”
In 2007, women operated 14 percent of all U.S. farms, nearly triple the number in 1978. 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.”
Many years ago, Farmers Union recognized the important and growing role of women in agriculture – both as leaders and as principal farm operators – and had women elected to leadership positions within the organization as early as 1906.
“NFU, since its founding in 1902, has understood the importance of women having a strong voice in agriculture,” said Johnson. “The organization’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 NFU to provide a more progressive and balanced voice for all family farmers for more than a century.”
Johnson also noted that 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.
“Each year, NFU hosts an annual women’s conference aimed at providing participants with the tools they need to succeed on the farm and leading farm organizations,” said Johnson. This year, NFU partnered with Annie’s Project, an educational program dedicated to strengthening women’s role in agriculture. The conference, held each January, attracted 50 women from across the country and included an address by Pennsylvania’s Smith-Brubaker on her path to serving as State President.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women farmers and ranchers on average are better educated than their male counterparts, with approximately 61 percent of women principal operators having education beyond high school – compared to 47 percent of male operators – and 32 percent having a college degree. “Clearly, women farmers are willing and eager to better their skills and education, and NFU is happy to play a role in that,” said Johnson.
The growing role of women in agriculture is not limited to just the United States. NFU is an involved member of the World Farmers Organization (WFO), an international farm organization which brings together national producer and farm cooperative organizations to develop policies which favor and support farmers’ causes in developed and developing countries around the world.
Johnson pointed out that recent studies report that the majority of the world’s farmers are women, yet many of them face barriers to land ownership, credit and markets not faced by their male counterparts. “NFU will continue to work with WFO to address these disparities, which are particularly worrisome because women are estimated to produce up to 80 percent of the world’s food,” said Johnson.