As a woman working in the agricultural world, I have found it to be very interesting to note the changes in the industry, both on and off farm, in just the short 15 years I have been involved.
Women have an increasing presence in off-farm agriculture related jobs, and as of the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, the number of farms that were run by women had increased 280 percent since 1978, from 5 percent in 1978 to 14 percent in 2012.
Some analysts speculate that the rise of women operators, in combination percent with their farm characteristics, is influenced by the increased interest in local, community based and organic agriculture. Women tended to farm smaller acreages (under 50) and specialize in multiple commodities. Niche markets that cater to organic, local, heirloom, etc., are growing exponentially as people become more and more interested in knowing where their food comes from, and marketing opportunities such as online sales, farmers’ markets and CSAs are becoming more popular.
Another speculation regarding the increase in women operators is the changing economics of the industry that are also changing the population characteristics.
The aging population of the industry operators has seen an increase in farms being not only passed to the younger generation, but also to the surviving spouse. In many cases, the surviving spouse is the wife and she is now considered the principal operator of the farm.
As the farming population changes, it brings its own unique set of challenges, one of which is finances. For those farms whose principal operators are women, sometimes this can be a daunting task. Several resources have become available to women operators in recent years through local colleges, professional agricultural organizations geared towards women, and governmental programs. The Farm Service Agency has target funding specifically set aside for women farmers and ranchers through their direct and guaranteed farm loan programs, which can be used to purchase farms and inventory, fund working capital needs, or transfer land through the down payment or land contract guarantee programs. Another organization is Annie’s Project which offers educational courses that address financial and legal risk, business planning, estate and succession planning, and human resources, to name a few.
But what about off farm influences in the agricultural industry? Women have an increasing presence there as well, from corporate positions (Land O’ Lakes Group EVP/COO Beth Ford) to blogging (Dairy Carrie and Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman) to universities (Dr. Temple Grandin, animal science professor at Colorado State University) and more. In just my own circle, I can name friends who are lenders for local and national financial institutions, marketing officers for international agri-corporations, local high school FFA teachers and advisors, farmers’ market directors, poultry farm operators, agri-magazine editors, John Deere parts dealers, field women for national poultry integrators, and more.
The landscape is changing and I for one am proud to be on the front lines of the best industry on this earth – agriculture.
Jessica Allan is an agricultural lender at Hometown Bank in Neosho, Mo. A resident of Newton County, she also raises cattle on her family’s farm and is an active alumni of the Crowder College Aggie Club.


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