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Women in Agriculture are Growing
February 22, 2016

Women have always been an important part of the dairy industry, but at many universities today the number of women earning degrees in agricultural sciences is equal to or greater than the number of men. The number of women who are the principal operator of a farm is also growing.

When women in agriculture, or more specifically women in dairy, is brought up often times farm wives and dairy princesses are the first people to come to mind. These women play a very important role in the dairy industry. Farm wives are critical to the family structure and can have a role on the farm that is often overlooked. The dairy princess promotion program has a long tradition of being ambassadors for the dairy industry. Beyond these roles, across the US, women have quietly taken on additional leadership on and off the farm.

It is no secret that more women are pursuing degrees in agriculture. Figure 1 shows the increase in bachelor degrees in agriculture and natural resources from 1971 to 2013. In 1988 men earned almost twice as many agriculture bachelor degrees as women. Today the gender gap has closed, and at some universities women make up the vast majority of students in agricultural sciences. Similar trends can be seen for advanced degrees (masters and PhD) as well. If this trend continues, eventually the percentage of women with careers in the agricultural industry will follow, and perhaps the male-dominated industry will become balanced between the genders.

Women on the Farm

When female farmers are discussed, many assume they are wives who may help out once in a while. There are certainly many situations like that, but there are almost one million total women farm operators in the US and one third of those are the principal operators (Figure 2). Within the dairy industry, there are over 20,000 female farm operators and over 2,000 farms (5% of all dairy farms) with women as the principal operator (Table 1), very similar to the percentage of women holding CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies (4.6%).

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Spring 2018