Lauryn Bryght of Macon County is part of an expanding group of farmers—women farmers. From 2012 to 2017, the number of women involved in U.S. agriculture grew by nearly 27 percent. Out of 3.4 million farmers nationally, more than 1.2 million are women.
The most recent Census of Agriculture shows a dramatic increase in the number of women in agriculture—a statistic that Jessica Kelton, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System regional agent, says is due in part to a census that better reflects operation diversity.
“This census does a good job of documenting multiple family members, both male and female, who are involved in some aspect of decision making on the farm,” Kelton said. “Whether in the day-to-day management or financial management, more farms are reporting more than one primary operator.”
Alabama’s Women in Ag
More than 22,000 women are counted as part of Alabama’s almost 65,000 farmers. According to the census, more than 42,000 men are involved in agriculture.
“While numbers may not be equal, women have a higher representation than they used to,” Kelton said. “Even more importantly, more than half of the women—14,393 to be exact—are reported as principal operators. These women are part of the decision-making processes on the farm.”
Kelton said these numbers are good indicators for women who are active, integral parts of their operations. It debunks the stereotype of the farmer’s wife who is not active in the operation.
Dr. Paul Brown, Alabama Extension associate director, said women play a vital and irreplaceable role in modern agriculture.
“Over the past few decades, women have entered the agricultural industry in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, women own farmland, are new farmers, or have become more involved in all aspects of agriculture,” Brown said. “They are farmers and farm workers, agricultural researchers and educators. Women contribute to local food systems, direct farm marketing, and farm business planning/management and more.”
Bryght, a Macon County grass farmer, is preparing her land to receive cattle. Bryght has attended multiple Alabama Extension workshops.
“I’m overwhelmed by the quality and amount of information available online and in person from Extension,” Bryght said. “Because becoming a farmer is such a hands-on profession, I’m grateful for the opportunities to get hands-on experience.”
She is also encouraged by the rise in numbers of women in agriculture—whether they are beginning on their own or taking over the family business.
Alabama Extension Programs Foster the Future
Alabama Extension offers several programs offered for women who are involved in agriculture.
Annie’s Project is a program Kelton and Allie Corcoran, the Barbour County Extension coordinator, guide in Alabama. Annie’s Project is a national program, shared locally through state groups. The six-week course is designed to help women learn more about farm finances and risk management.
Women in Ag
Brenda Glover, an Extension animal science regional agent, has conducted Women in Ag programs for two years. The first event, held at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in 2017, was developed to help women master on-farm basics.
A one-day workshop will take place June 14 at the Black Belt Research and Extension Center in Marion Junction. A two-day workshop will follow in October.
Glover said programs like the Basic Hands-On Training are important because they empower women to embrace leadership roles on-farm, as well as enable them to be a capable farmhand when the need arises.
“There are many reasons women are becoming more involved in agriculture,” Glover said. “Whether they’ve inherited a farm or whether they’re starting one on their own, it is important to provide them the tools they need to be more independent, take ownership and be successful.”
Extension also has the ForestHER program—a hands-on workshop to help women learn about forests and forest resource management. Dr. Becky Barlow, an Extension forestry specialist, developed the program in an effort to educate and embolden female landowners. Whether a primary landowner, a secondary landowner or an heir, there is a need for education.
Barlow’s program was born out of a desire to help women avoid being taken advantage of—something that happened to a family member—while also expanding the outreach of Extension programming.
“Our goal is to provide quality, consistent information at each ForestHER event,” said Barlow, who is also a professor in Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “Land is often left to women, but they aren’t sure of the next steps if that situation arises. We work to give women a basic understanding of forestry and woodland management so they can better understand forest inventories, mark property lines and make good business decisions.”
Contact your county Extension office to find programs near you.