A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in a “Women in Agriculture” roundtable in Bailey, Col. The participants were from across the United States with a variety of agricultural backgrounds. Some were just beginning while others had years of experience under their belts. These women came together as part of the National Farmers Union-Women’s Conference and it was inspiring to watch as they shared concerns and found answers in one another’s experiences and knowledge. They talked about their roles as women on the farm and how their efforts are often uncelebrated, vital though they may be. It was easy to see: they truly loved their work and wanted to ensure what they’ve learned and accomplished gets passed on to future generations. Most of all, they wanted to tell women interested in breaking into agriculture to dream big; don’t just start a garden but look into the wide range of careers agriculture holds.
As USDA celebrates 150 years as the “People’s Department,” I wanted to reminded everyone of the key roles women, like those I met, play on farms and ranches across America. And increasingly, women are playing a greater role.
According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the number of women farm operators increased nationally by 19 percent – to 1,008,943 – between 2002 and 2007. Today, women function as the principal operators on 14 percent of the nation’s 2.2 million farms and they’re involved in the day-to-day decision-making on 40 percent of all farms. Farms where women were the principal operators generated more than $11.1 billion in agricultural products, which is up from $7.5 billion in 2002.
Farm exports also showed record growth in 2011—reaching an all-time high of $137.4 billion—and women were a significant part of that agricultural explosion. One in 12 jobs in the United States is supported by agriculture and this represents a huge opportunity for all Americans. Here at USDA, we have looked carefully at all programs that provide financial, technical, and educational assistance to those in rural America and continue to ensure that all provide equal opportunities.
USDA recognizes that women are an important part of the success and future of rural America. We recognize that women in rural America—women working our nation’s farms—need more support and we want to promote strong networks across the country. We want to create new internship and mentorship opportunities for women and we want to inspire girls to pursue careers in applied sciences, food production, and nutrition. In our offices, we want to foster a deeper understanding of issues that specifically affect women, support research and develop new solutions for dealing with the unique problems women face in agriculture, and educate our employees about life in rural America.
Women have helped lay the foundation that has made American agriculture what it is today and are essential to shaping what it will be in the future. I feel confident that as USDA moves forward, women will continue to play a key role in our success.