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Women in production

Increasingly, women involved in agriculture own and operate farms and ranches. According to a study recently released by USDA’s Economic Research Service (April 2013), Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms, found that the number of women-operated farms (the individual most responsible for day-to-day management of the farm) nearly tripled from 1978 at 5 % to 14 % by 2007. The study counted 3.3 million farms in the nation, in 2007, and 30.2 % (more than 1 million) were primarily owned by women. The number of female operators jumped 19 % from 2002 to 2007, far outpacing the 7 % growth in the number of total farmers. The study reported that the number of women-operated farms increased in all sales classes, suggesting that size does not matter when it comes to agricultural opportunity for women. In 2007, 5 % of women-operated farms had sales of $100,000 or more. Most of these farms specialized in grains, poultry and eggs, beef cattle, or dairy. Overall, women operate one-fourth of the sheep and goat operations (25.1 %), 19.1 % of poultry and egg farms, 10.6 % beef cattle farms, 8.9 % pig farms, and 5.9 % of the dairy farms.

In addition, women are increasingly playing larger roles in livestock production as nearly half of our country’s women-operated farms are specialized in livestock production. These women are more educated than their male counterparts with approximately 61 % pursuing education beyond high school compared with only 47 % of males. As well, younger women are entering the farming industry faster than older women are retiring. Women have a higher land ownership rate than their male counterparts, with 85 % of women owning all of their farm land, compared to 66 % of their male counterparts.

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    Program outcomes

    The curriculum was developed to focus on the empowering female livestock producers and provide hands-on teaching principles.  Since 2013, the program has allowed more than a three hundred women from 4 states and 60 Missouri counties (average 13-15 counties each year) to ask questions of female industry leaders as well as practice hands-on real-world situations under the supervision of female experts.

    An extensive program exit survey was performed to determine what knowledge was gained and future potential of on-farm behavior change.  Feedback such as “women offer a unique perspective on agriculture and through programs like this conference we can learn and share new ideas on raising livestock that can mutually benefit”, “wealth of information”, “safe, non-stressful environment to understand and practice hands-on techniques”, “well worth the time”, “best women in ag conference I have ever attended”, and “we can come together to impact our industry” were reported through evaluations.

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    Program impacts

    A Pearls of Production Facebook page (629 followers) has been developed to provide timely updates and information. According to participant evaluations since 2013, 94.8% of respondents agreed the conference met their expectations and 98.4% agreed the conference format created a positive learning environment. Because of the Pearls of Production conferences, 297 women have changed behaviors or applied practices such as:

    • 25% of participants plan to buy and use chain saws or safety equipment after attending the 2017 shop and chainsaw safety session.
    • More women are comfortable DNA testing their livestock because of the 2019 beef breakout session and evaluations stated they could not get that experience anywhere else.
    • There is an increased awareness of ergonomic tools and 4 out of 5 women plan to use proper sized vibration resistant gloves because of the 2018 shop session.
    • 60% of the women responding to follow-up survey questions state they regularly use their grazing sticks obtained at the 2013-2017 forage breakout sessions.
    • 90% of the women have more confidence driving and hitching up tractors taught in the 2018 shop session.
    • More than 50% of the women plan to adapt their animal coral systems for working their cattle, sheep, and goats because of the 2019 small ruminant and beef sessions.
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