Friday, May 31, 2013

USDA ERS Report on Women Farmers

While women have always been recognized as critically important to our food system, their leadership role in agricultural production is a more recent phenomenon.  Last month, the USDA ERS released a new report, Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms by Robert Hoppe and Penni Korb.

According to this report, "[t]he share of U.S. farms operated by women nearly tripled over the past three decades."  The report uses census data to provide information about these women farmers and the types of farms they operate.  Although it only reflects data up to the last farm census in 2007, it provides a fascinating look at the increasing significant role that women are playing in operating their own farms.

It was almost twenty years ago when I wrote Who Owns the Family Farm: The Struggle to Determine the Property Rights of Farm Wives, 14 N. ILL. U. L. REV. 689 (1994) and the companion short piece, The Property Rights of Farm Wives,  AGRIC. L. UPDATE, Nov. 1994 at 4.  In those articles, I focused on some of the problems that farm wives had in receiving recognition of their property rights in non-titled family farm property. I was stunned to find instances where the personal property assets of the "family" farm were thought to belong to the "farmer," who always seemed to be the husband.  What about the wife's interests?  Some of the cases were particularly frustrating in that the wife contributed so much to the operation.  Ironically, the most well thought out opinions were in the farm bankruptcy context when the judges were either sympathetic to the wife's plight or just wise in understanding what a family farm really means.  In bankruptcy wives were routinely found to be "farmers" for purposes of claiming farm machinery as assets that could be exempted as their "tools of the trade."

That seems a world apart from the wave of women that are running their own farms and marketing their own crops and livestock. While included in these statistics are the widows who now are responsible for the farm operation that they built with their husbands, many of the women farmers profiled are a new breed of women entrepreneurs. I know that they still face discrimination, but they  promise to make a significant impact on our food system. That's exciting.


Blogger The Foodie Farmer said...

It certainly helped that USDA broadened the definition of farm operator and allowed for more than one. It is also most definitely generational. I consider myself a full time farmer and co-operator with my husband. My mother is law considered herself the farmer's wife and he the farmer.

6/02/2013 9:00 PM  

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