OWENSVILLE — For decades, the general consensus seemed to be that men ran the family farm and women either tended to the household or took on a smaller role in business. While men continue to represent the majority of principal operators of family farms in Ohio, U.S. Census data shows that 30 percent of women are taking on primary roles.
According to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of women who share ownership with one farmer or more in Ohio has increased from 30,362 in 2007 to 31,413 in 2012.
For a certain segment of the female farmer population, principal ownership is also increasing. Principal ownership for women under 25 years old went from 42 to 51 from 2007 to 2012, and ownership for those between 25 and 34 years old rose from 349 to 382 in that same time period. The number of women who own smaller farms — 10 to 49 acres — also increased, going from 3,784 to 3,843.
Recognizing that a growing number of women are taking on leadership roles in Ohio’s family farms, the Ohio State University Extension has become involved in a program called “Annie’s Project: Empowering Women in Agriculture.”
Annie’s Project is an educational series designed to strengthen women’s roles in modern farm and ranch enterprises. Now in its 13th year nationwide, the six-week course allows participants to gain a better understanding of human resource issues, risk management, business plans, finances, marketing plans, estate planning and more.
“There is also a special topic based on the given community where the course is held,” said Gigi Neal, an OSU Extension educator from Clermont County who is a facilitator of the program. “In the northwest Ohio area, they might focus on nutrient management, wastewater quality and those sorts of issues.”
In recent years, the program has been held in Putnam and Auglaize counties. Putnam County has hosted multiple courses over the last two years, including one within the last year.
“We had 15 to as many as 25 women attend the different sessions,” said James Hoorman, an educator with OSU Extension-Putnam County. “It seemed to be very successful.”
Hoorman said a classroom dominated by females takes away the “intimidation factor.”
“It’s very similar to the training we offer for guys, but (women) seem to feel more comfortable when they’re around each other, which allows for more discussion,” Hoorman said. “They don’t seem to feel as intimidated when they’re around other women, so they tend to ask more questions and get a better understanding of what’s going on with issues in agriculture.”
Neal said Annie’s Project also allows women to network with each other, which she believes is an important aspect in uniting female farmers.
“Networking is a huge component of this,” she said. “They find camaraderie, and they find trust with the women they are working with. After the program ends, some of these women still get together every month or communicate through email to bounce ideas off each other.
“They’re not just learning from the instructors and speakers in the classroom, they’re learning from each other.”
While Annie’s Project has been held in Auglaize and Putnam counties, the program has never come to Allen County. Kelly Coble, 4-H educator with OSU Extension-Allen County, said the main reason is they don’t have an agriculture extension educator to run the program. The position was nixed in 2009 when the Allen County commissioners made budget cuts, Coble said.
She said she believes the program could be beneficial to women farmers in Allen County if the position is reinstated and if the commissioners allocate more funding the the county’s extension office. Though the six-week course costs $95 per person, Coble said more money is needed to purchase supplies and bring in speakers to run each session.
Hoorman said that based on the success of previous sessions, Putnam County will host the program again, most likely within the next year.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima