Friday, September 27, 2013

Women In Agriculture Are Nonexistent

I was all set to put a fluffy carefree post up today but then a good friend of mine sent me an article that had both of us fuming.

I'm famous among friends for a very quick temper (which I've gotten a lot better at controlling over the years) and a tendency to rant and rave when something gets me going. Well this got me going, so bear with me while I dissect this article.

Basically the article is about "factory farming" and how the world would be so much better if there were more women in agriculture.

It's true that Ag is a largely male dominated sector. And I sometimes ask myself if I can compete with the guys that may be vying for the same jobs I am, but mostly because I don't have some of the skills and aptitudes that are absolutely necessary to farm and ranch. I can care for animals, drive a tractor, drive a stick shift, use my brain and find solutions that don't involve physical strength but there are some things I just can't do. I can physically not exert enough force onto a wrench sometimes or even remotely think of handling a tractor tire by myself. I'm 5'1"! Cody (my 6'5" homegrown Wisconsin farm boy works as a mechanic at a John Deere dealership and he tells me it is a struggle sometimes to do the things he has to do!!)

I definitely agree that men and women look at things differently and that women may be more emotional. But I wouldn't say that male farmers are not compassionate when it comes to their animals. They are just absolutely 100 times better at hiding the pain and agony that comes with raising animals than women are. It can also be difficult for women to accept that not every animal is a pet and cannot be treated as one.

"The women I met in agriculture showed a clear preference for working on organic and small farms..."

Here are some fun statistics for you from the USDA ERS (Department of Ag Economic Research Service):

As of 2011, there were 2,172,843 farms in the US. Of those, 2,114,668 were FAMILY farms (which comes to 97.3% of farms being family owned). 76% of those earned less than $50,000 a year. And only 2% earned $1 million or more. You can see the whole graph here.

Another report by the ERS shows that 88% of farms earn under $250,000 per year and are considered small family farms!!!. They also own 64% of the land assets. The simple fact is that larger farms are more economically viable. And most family farms continue to grow in order to support multiple generations. Let's face it, in an industry where the average farmer and rancher makes $40,000 a order to support multiple generations on one farm, you have to expand and diversify! And in a lot of cases work jobs off the farm in order to survive and continue to farm.

So my point is that farming is still family held and small. No, all of our farms are not "organic". But really the definition of organic is carbon containing (um that means all animals, people, life forms, etc and a lot of other compounds). So isn't everything we raise organic? I'm not so sure about the meat substitutes and food being produced in laboratories...but I feel better being able to see and touch where so many of our products come from!

The article's entire point was that agriculture would be better if there were more women. I thought I was surrounded by women in agriculture!! All those farm families are only comprised of men?? We can reproduce without females now!! Granted, some farm moms don't work on the farm, but a lot do, and they work with their men to make many choices. There are strong farm women raising the next generation of there really aren't women in agriculture?

I will agree that men still dominate agriculture. And the article scoffed at the argument that it's because agriculture is back-breaking manual labor. But really, do you expect millions of women in developed countries to give up their fancy manicures, expensive shoes and outfits, and all the glamour that goes with it to be completely covered in manure, placenta, feed and lots of other lovely substances day in and day out? We may have technology that helps make a lot of labor easier...but some things are still back breaking no matter what you do about it.

Animal Science programs in the country are almost 70-80% females and 20-30% male. But you know what the majority of the degrees are in? Pre-Vet. Horse Management. I've been in labs with pre-vet students who were so dressed up they physically could not participate (and these were labs we were going to work with pigs in!!). Do we expect people to give up well paying day jobs to make minimum wage mucking stalls and feeding pigs in an environmentally friendly, economically viable way?

Let me just point out that in 2011 there were 306, 200 female operated farms. If we count women as secondary operators that number increases to 1 million! WOMEN ARE PARTNERS TO THEIR MEN ON FARMS!

I'm not sure I even want to get started on the cage free issue the article mentions. Sure, I like cage free hens, they seem to be happier. But saying that by getting more women in agriculture (and ultimately having only smaller, more "organic" farms) that outbreaks of Salmonella and E.coli (and all the other pathogens) would automatically decrease is not a very informed outlook. There have been more deadly outbreaks found in organic produce lately than in conventionally raised foods.

Big does not always mean bad. And small does not always mean good.

I truly believe that we are blessed here in the US. As a sector, Ag is constantly trying to improve environmental impact, economic viability, and efficiency. We are trying to produce more using less resources (the WWF wants to help us continue this...), and allow people a choice in what they buy. Some people cannot afford to buy moral food. It is a FANTASTIC thing that we have so many choices.

Farm size, operator type, what does it really matter if our products are healthy and safe? And anybody in agriculture knows that happy animals are healthier and more productive. And we want healthier and more productive.

I'm sure I have upset somebody with this post but as a WOMAN IN AGRICULTURE, I am proud of the diversity there is. I am thrilled that we are seeing more and more women in management positions in Ag and more female operated farms. But the truth is that women are a vital part of agriculture (and always have been). They take care of their families. They help their farmers. They farm as well!

Every farm is different. Every situation is different. There are so many women in agriculture, but not all of them like to be out in the spotlight.

And farming is not for everyone. It's just a fact. Farming isn't a job, it's a lifestyle.

To see some of the fantastic WOMEN IN AG, check out some of the blogs I have listed. Or any number of the organizations geared towards women in agriculture (like American Agri-WomenNational Women In Agriculture Association, and countless others).

This is something I could rant about for days and use reams of paper, but I will halt the rant here. And leave you with a picture of a pig that was raised inside, in what I'm sure people would consider a "factory farm". He looks miserable doesn't he?

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