It was heartening to see Capital Press’ feature — “Oregon Women for Ag.” Women have always been a part of agriculture and critical members of the farming enterprise, and we are pleased to see them gaining recognition. Around 44% of farmers in Oregon are women, a statistic that very much reflects a broader trend in both the acknowledgement of women in agriculture and their new and shifting roles.
While women in agriculture continue to take on new roles and leadership positions here in Oregon and elsewhere, women, especially those with diverse racial and ethnic identities, still face challenges when it comes to accessing financial and technical resources, like, for example, support for conservation practice implementation via the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Access to these resources, which is often about greater awareness, can facilitate greater financial success for these women. Women farmers, as of yet, have not achieved income equality, but a path forward is possible.
There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that women-owned and -operated farms are successful, particularly in these difficult times. Accessing necessary resources has only become harder during the pandemic. Combine this with unabated housing and industrial development on farmland, which makes it more difficult for farmers, including women, to access land for their operations, the challenges have only become greater.
New research shows that the Pacific Northwest states are continuing to lose farmland and ranchland at an alarming rate. Not only that, but development is compromising our most productive, versatile, and resilient farmland. For instance, in Oregon alone between 2001 and 2016 over 65,000 acres of agricultural land were lost or compromised. Thirty-one percent of that loss occurred on land that is best suited for growing food for human consumption.
The solutions to farmland loss are numerous and multi-faceted. They include planning and policy changes at the state and local levels, increased support for beginning farmers seeking land, and succession planning for aging farmers looking to transfer their land into new hands.
One of the best ways to protect farmland is to keep it in production. It is clear from Capital Press’ recent feature on women in agriculture and what we know about the number of women farmers in Oregon, one of the best ways to keep farmland in production may be to provide more support for the women who steward that land.
Programs aimed at advocating for and elevating the voices of women in agriculture are critical to providing this support. From Oregon’s Women for Agriculture’s efforts to educate, inform and advocate for agriculture, to the Female Farmer Project that aims to document the role and the rise of women in agriculture, we are seeing many organizations step up their efforts to better serve women in agriculture.
Our own efforts with the Women for the Land program at American Farmland Trust was initiated to provide more peer-to-peer network learning opportunities between women farmers, landowners, and local resource providers to improve that flow of information and resources. This is work we are hoping to expand in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
To be sure, farming is difficult no matter your gender, and all farmers need access to land, markets, peer networks and technical assistance to succeed. But supporting women specifically will be key to protecting the future of our farmland, and with it, the future of our environment, our economy and our communities.