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Census numbers for women farmers declines

By Staff | Dec 16, 2014


Numbers from the 2011-2012 Census of Agriculture showed a decrease in the number of women farmers and ranchers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This information was presented on Dec. 2 during the second of a three-part Women in Ag Learning Network webinar series, hosted by Iowa State University.

Statistics on the gender of the principal farm operator started being kept in 1978, and until 2001 those numbers increased consistently, according to Carolyn Sachs, professor of rural sociology and head of women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University. Until the 2002 ag census, demographic data was collected for only one operator per farm.

Women farming trends

NASS’ Virginia Harris said the number of farms in general are going down, with 2.5 million farms in 1982 to 2.1 million farms counted on the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

She said in 2012 there were 3.2 million total farm operators reported, which was a 3 percent decrease from the 2007 ag census.

The 2012 ag census reported that 991,000 of those operators were women, which is about 30 percent of the total number. Harris said that number is down 2 percent from 2007.

Harris said that farms with up to three operators, the census counted almost 970,000 women operators – who may or may not be the principal operator.

She said every farm counts one principal operator, but of the 2.1 million farms nationally counted in the 2012 ag census, women as principal operators account for just over 288,000 of them. The number reflects a 6 percent decrease.

“All those pieces of data don’t tell one story, but … it allows us to piece it together to see if there are multiple data points that will help us to explain trends in agriculture,” Harris said.

Harris said one thing that surprised NASS was the number of men reported as secondary operators. That number came in at just over 302,000 in 2012, a 3 percent decrease since 2007. Of that number, almost 89,000 of those men were reported as spouses of the principal operators.

The 2012 ag census showed that 55,300 women were reported as the third operator, down 4 percent.

Harris said the number of farms overall have decreased between the 2007 and 2012 ag census, especially the number of small farms.

She said women as principal farm operators tend to have smaller farms.

“While the Midwest has a larger number of women operators, the share of women operators is greater in the New England states, Florida and the coasts – including Alaska and Hawaii,” Harris said. “The share of women principal operators varies across the United States – up from a high of 39 percent of all operators in Arizona are female, while only 7 percent are in South Dakota.”

She said the national average number of female principal operators is 14 percent.

“There are female farmers everywhere in the U.S. in every county, and they make up a significant share of the farm population,” Harris said. “Thirty-one percent of all farm operators in the U.S. are female.”

The 2012 ag census showed that one of the largest changes was in female-operated farms participating in the Conservation Reserve Program. It was down 20 percent.

The census showed the greatest number of female principal operators in the age range from 55 to 64 years, up from the 2007 census. The second largest group was women aged 45 to 54 years, and the group with the least female principal farm operators was in the “under 25 years” category, with just over 1,000 farms in that category. That number is down slightly from the 2007 census.

The average age of female farmers is 60, almost two years older than the overall average age of U.S. farmers.

Harris said women-operated farms tend to be smaller with lower sales. An overall look at crop sales for all farms nationally comes in at $212 billion, with that share from women-operated farms coming in at $6 billion.

Livestock sales nationally on all farms comes in at $182 billion, and of that number, $6.9 billion is generated from women-operated farms. Average sales per farm for all farms nationally was $187,097, with $44,742 coming from women-operated farms.

The census showed almost 130,000 women-operated farms nationally with sales less than $1,000. That number was significantly higher in 2007.

The 2012 ag census showed the largest number of women-operated farms generated between $1,000 to $25,000 in sales. There were just over 1,000 women-operated farms nationally that generated more than $1 million in sales.

Acreage number comparisons showed the largest number of female-operated farms ranging from 10 to 49 acres, with the next largest size coming in at 50 to 179 acres.

Coming in third was the acreage range from one to nine acres. Nationally, the “all farms” category showed the highest acreage numbers in the 50 to 179 acre range, followed by the 10 to 49 acre range.

Coming in third for all farms nationally are farms ranging in size from 180 to 499 acres.

Nationally on all farms, commodity sectors with growth areas included grains, oilseeds, vegetables, sheep and goats.

Harris said men tended to dominate the grain and oilseeds commodities, while women-operated farms saw a 25 percent growth in vegetable farms.

The most female-operated farms are in California.

Harris said demographic information shows there are fewer female operators, more minority operators, the average age of farm operators continues to increase.

For women operators; there are fewer beginning farmers, fewer small farms and more people reporting farming as their primary occupation.

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