I’ve been in agricultural lending for 28 years, and rarely do I have a farmer tell me that his daughter wants to take over the farm when he retires. Honestly, I don’t think it even occurs to most farmers to even ask their daughters if they are interested. I have seen quite a few daughters and son-in-law’s take over the farm, but not too many daughters on their own.
I often wonder why that’s the case? Is it because women think it’s too hard? We know that can’t be the case, because it certainly can’t be harder than giving birth. Maybe feminism just hasn’t hit the farm yet. Honestly, I think both genders have traditionally seen women in the supporting role on the farm. The man in the household usually takes care of the planting, harvesting, livestock handling, etc., while the female typically takes care of the books, pays bills, and runs errands for the farm. However, like everything else in life, change in inevitable. From 1978 to 2007, farms operated by women tripled in numbers. As of 2007, approximately 15 percent of all farms in the U.S. were operated by women. Had I been able to find more recent information, I believe that number has continued to increase over the last 10 years.
Women have a few traits that will help to make them successful in farming:
• Women have no problem asking for directions or help.
• We come out of the cradle ready to make friends and network – a trait that is irreplaceable in a new farmer.
• Women are natural managers and multitaskers
• Women are more apt to start small and only grow the operation after they have mastered the current level.
• Women like change and are more apt to try niches
• As a third party observer, I can tell you that it is easier for the female to make tough decisions on the farm. Contrary to popular belief, men on the farm get emotionally invested and have a tougher time letting go of both material things and the process of doing the work. I think this is a direct correlation to the fact that it is typically the male’s family farm and not the female’s, so obviously, he would have a greater attachment.
• Women are typically more cautious than men, which would suggest that they would educate themselves more before taking a leap.
The USDA classifies women farmers as socially disadvantaged due to the small number of farms operated by women. USDA’s Farm Service Agency has a loan program specifically designed to assist farmers that fit the socially disadvantaged classification. They have preferred access to loan funds both on a direct basis and as guaranteed loans through participating agricultural banks.
For all of the ladies out there who want to be the next “Frances Farmer,” my message to you is that it is possible. And chances are, you’ll be successful.