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Census finds women are decision-makers on more than half of U.S. farms

Census finds women are decision-makers on more than half of U.S. farms

WASHINGTON—Recently released findings from the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture revealed that 36% of American farmers and ranchers are women, and 56% of all U.S. farming operations have at least one female decision-maker.

The census, which was conducted in early 2018 and focused on production in 2017, found that the number of male producers decreased 1.7%, to 2.17 million, since 2012, while the number of female producers increased nearly 27%, to 1.23 million.

In Virginia, the number of male producers dropped 4.8% to 45,085, and the number of female producers increased 18% to 25,509 over the same period.

Women “have always been involved in farming operations, and now these census findings validate their importance on Virginia farms,” said Whitney Perkins, a commodity specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. She also helps with her family’s beef and hay farm in Louisa County.

Counties with the highest numbers of female producers were Rockingham, 1,215; Augusta, 1,036; Loudoun, 961; Fauquier, 856; and Washington, 772. Counties with the most farms where a woman was the principal producer were Loudoun, 725; Rockingham, 674; Augusta, 648; Fauquier, 615; and Bedford, 487.

Eighty-one percent of Virginia’s female farmers said they were involved in their farms’ day-to-day decisions; 61% were involved in land use and crop decisions and livestock decisions; and 74% were involved in recordkeeping and financial management.

Faye Hundley of Essex County, who chairs the VFBF Women’s Committee, called the census findings on women producers exciting. Hundley and her husband are third-generation grain farmers in Essex County.

“Frequently women in farm families are assumed not to be very involved in operating the farm business,” she explained. “And I know many, many women who are truly hands-on in their farming careers. They are educated, motivated people, and they are doing great things throughout the industry.”

For the 2017 census, the U.S. Department of Agriculture added new questions to collect additional details about U.S. farm operations and farmer demographics. “One particular benefit of that,” Hundley said, “is a more focused picture of women farmers.”

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. NASS sends census questionnaires to nearly 3 million potential farm and ranch households.

Media: Contact Perkins at 804-290-1155 or Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.