Even as the total number of farms in the U.S. declined between 2007 and 2012, the percentage of those farms with a woman as the principal operator remained steady, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture census. The same study pointed out that women tend to operate smaller farms and make less money than their male counterparts, though the report didn’t try to draw any correlations between those data points.
The census also didn’t attempt to explain why women farmers continue to thrive in a rapidly-changing agriculture industry in which their smaller operations and more limited resources could make them more likely to be absorbed by larger operations. At least part of the answer to that puzzle has to be the extensive support and information community that women farmers have built for themselves in recent years. In fact, there are so many great resources for Iowa’s women farmers, with more being added all the time, that it can be difficult to keep track of all the help and encouragement that’s available.
Which is precisely why we wanted to offer this list of the best resources for women farmers that we currently know of. We certainly don’t claim that this list is exhaustive and it’s entirely possible that we overlooked a valuable resource. If so, drop us a line and we’ll make sure to get it added to the list.
In the meantime, get to know these resources better and bookmark their websites for quick reference in the future.
- Trying to figure out where to start? The USDA’s National Agricultural Library’s newfarmers.usda.gov site has some excellent resources available on technical subjects, farm finance, networking and educational training opportunities for both beginning and existing farmers.
- The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) targets a portion of its loan funds every year to what it terms Socially Disadvantaged Applicants (SDA), specifically women and minorities. Though the loan process is identical to non-SDA applicants, the funds are drawn from a different pool of money, which may be available when the standard funding source has been allocated for the year. Further information about these loans and applications are available through either your local USDA Service Center or FSA office. Among the loan programs available for this type of funding include:
- Guaranteed Loans, which provide lenders with a guarantee of payment for up to 95% of the total loan through the FSA. This program allows financial institutions to make loans to borrowers who do not meet the institution’s underwriting requirements.
- Direct Operating Loans, which provide funds for starting, maintaining or expanding farming operations, specifically for livestock, feed, equipment, fuel, farm chemicals, insurance, family living expenses, minor repairs or improvements to existing structures and refinancing non-real-estate related farm debts. These loans do not require a down payment and can be for funds up to $300,000.
- Direct Farm Ownership Loans, which provide funds for purchasing farmland, constructing and repairing buildings and making farm improvements. This type of loan does not require a down payment, can finance up to $300,000 and has no minimum amount that can be financed. However, the borrower must have participated in the daily operations or management of a farm for at least three years prior to applying for the loan.
- The FSA also has a women’s outreach program aimed at connecting more women to opportunities that have not been available to them in the past, including available programs, loan opportunities and similar projects.
- If you’re considering organic production, why not see what the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service’s (MOSES) Rural Women’s Project has to offer? With networking, educational and training opportunities available, the project also sponsors workshops, conferences and farm tours of successful women-owned farms.
- American Agri-Women is a national association that promotes women in farming, from scholarships, mentoring programs and leadership training to legislative support, networking and professional development education. The association also has semi-annual meetings and conferences to provide excellent opportunities for women in agriculture to receive education, learn about new research and meet other women from around the country with similar issues. They also have a number of state-level associations of the same name (e.g., Ohio Agri-Women).
- The Women’s Agricultural Network supplies a number of services including resources such as fact sheets and online planning tools, educational opportunities, farmer to farmer networking, special funding and newsletters to keep women farmers up to date on the latest changes in opportunities, practices and research in the field.
- The Women’s Food and Ag Network provides webinars, a video library, downloadable publications, a member’s forum for chatting and problem solving and regular newsletters to keep members up to date on the latest developments. They also sponsor a number of programs covering apprenticeships, politics and conservation.
Finally, we at Iowa Land Sales and Farm Management want to do our part to support Iowa’s women farmers, which is why we are pleased to announce the 2nd Annual Women Landowners Conference.
Building on the success of last year’s conference, we are excited to present a line up of speakers that will cover important topics such as farmland search and purchase support, land management, legal assistance, and many more. We strive to serve as a trusted adviser to help you begin, grow, sustain or improve your farming operations. Please contact us if we can be of any assistance whatsoever with your farming needs.