For as long as human beings have engaged in the assorted pursuits referred to collectively as agriculture, women have been key players in the success of those undertakings. Over the centuries, the specifics have varied from era to era and community to community, but women have remained central actors in the evolution of agriculture.
The emergence of successful farms in the American Midwest depended significantly on the hard work and wise counsel women contributed to these vital enterprises. That was true when pioneers first cultivated the vast prairies, and it is increasingly true in the much-changed agricultural world of the 21st century.
Farming to a more significant degree than many other commercial activities tends to be a family affair. The multitude of tasks that must be accomplished exceed what any one person can easily master alone. Perhaps that's why women gained the opportunity in farming to demonstrate their potential earlier than was the case in some other fields.
The 2002 U.S. Census of Agriculture attempted to capture a fuller picture of the ownership and operation of American farms by listing up to three operators of each farm. The goal was to develop a comprehensive understanding of how work is actually structured on U.S. farms. Some highlights of this Census underline the importance of women in contemporary farming:
There are just over 3 million farm operators on the approximately 2 million farms in the United States. The Census revealed that 27 percent are women.
Women are listed as the primary operator of almost a quarter million farms, and the number is going up.
The agricultural workplace encompasses a wide assortment of occupations. In present-day America, women are well aware that all these exciting and fulfilling careers are open to them. That's one of the reasons FFA has proved popular with many young women. According to statistics released by the organization, 38 percent of its members are women and women hold nearly 50 percent of state leadership positions.
Dedicated women are very much part of the success story of agriculture in Iowa. The ever-more significant contributions women are making today and are poised to make in years ahead are critical factors in keeping this nation's agricultural sector the pacesetter for the planet.