By 2030, Older Women May Own 75% of Transferred Farmland

Alana Semuels reported recently at The Atlantic Online that, “The face of the American farmer today may look a little bit like Diane Henry Freutel’s. She is wearing pearl earrings, a blue hard hat, a denim shirt, jeans, and running shoes as she saws down a small tree on the farmland she inherited from her parents. Later she will drag the tree, along with other scraps and weeds, into a pile, and burn it. It’s all part of managing the 100 acres of farmland that unexpectedly became hers when her father and brother died in rapid succession two years ago.”

The article states that, “Many who inherit farms, like Freutel, aren’t ready to give them up. By 2030, older women may own 75 percent of transferred farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust.”

Ms. Semuels went on to explain that: “Women operated 14 percent of all U.S. farms in 2012, up from 5 percent in 1978, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  ‘Women live longer than men, so we’re seeing a lot of farming widows,’ said Jennifer Filipiak, a natural-resource conservationist with the American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that promotes conservation practices on farms.

“The average age of principal farm operators in 2012 was 58.3 years, up from 50.5 years three decade ago, according to the agricultural census. More than 600,000 principal operators of farms are between 55 and 64 years old; more than 250,000 principal operators are over 75. And less than one-third of farms have a designated successor in the family.

Women who suddenly find themselves the principal operators of farms realize they have to negotiate with banks or insurance companies or fertilizer dealers or property-tax assessors. Some of them decide to continue to farm the land themselves, others rent out the land to tenants. Women represent 37 percent of all principal landlords of farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust. (Nearly 40 percent of all farmland is rented or leased, according to the USDA.)”

The Atlantic article noted that, “Now, the American Farmland Trust is holding ‘learning circles‘ across the country to educate women who are new farm owners about how to handle things like soil sampling and conservation practices. It is also trying to help women who decide to lease out land understand how to negotiate rates and write leases. There are certain clauses owners can put in their leases to govern how their land is farmed, requiring farms to use practices that conserve the soil or are better for the environment, for instance, and sometimes tenants push back, Filipiak said.’I’ve met women who have terrific relationships with their farmers, I’ve met women who are being completely ripped off by their farmers,’ she said.”

And the article added that, “Karla Thieman, the chief of staff of Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsac, also runs a Women in Ag mentoring network. The department also has the ability to provide specific Farm Service Agency loans for women in agriculture, because women are considered ‘underserved and socially-disadvantaged’ members, according to spokesman Matthew Herrick. Annual lending to underserved producers increased to $827.3 million in 2015, from $379.4 million in 2008.”

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