Assessing and Meeting the Growing Needs of Arkansas' Women in Agriculture

Final Report for CS05-035

Project Type: Sustainable Community Innovation
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,901.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jennie Popp
University of Arkansas
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Project Information


In 2006, 300 women attended the Arkansas Women in Agriculture Conference which offered women: 1) production/business skills, 2) agricultural networking opportunities, 3) ways to balance personal/professional demands, and 4) ways to improve circumstances of Arkansas women and rural communities. Conference attendees also participated in a survey to assess women’s needs in agriculture. Survey results suggest women are rapidly moving into leadership/decision making roles in agriculture and need skills (financial, managerial, networking) to succeed. As a result of our efforts, women across the state have been empowered to lead future women in agriculture programs in the state.


The purpose of this project is to help prepare Arkansas’ women in all facets of agriculture to meet the challenges of an ever-changing agricultural marketplace and rural landscape. We hope to accomplish this by: 1) offering the second, known as the 2006 Arkansas Women in Agriculture, conference with sessions that teach sustainable agriculture production and business skills, others that promote cooperation by agricultural and community leaders to strengthen and sustain rural communities and still others to help identify new ways to balance the demands of family, community and professional lives, 2) assisting in the development of a network for Arkansas women involved in agriculture, agribusiness and rural community leadership, 3) conducting surveys and focus group sessions to help understand the roles of Arkansas’ women in agriculture and the challenges they face so we are empowered to develop a long term strategy to deliver education and outreach that meets the needs of Arkansas’ women in agriculture and promotes sustainable agriculture within the state.
The number of women involved in agricultural production, processing, marketing and other agribusiness activities is growing. For example, nationwide, since 1992, the number of full time farm operators who are men has decreased from roughly 1,000,000 to 792,000 in 2002; during the same time period, the number of women who are full time farm operators increased from roughly 165,000 to 236,000. In Arkansas, there are nearly 20,000 women operators and roughly 25% of them hold full responsibility for their agricultural activities (USDA NASS, 1994, 2004).
The increase in women in agriculture and agriculturally related activities is due to a number of factors. Some are gaining control through family inheritance, divorce, death or because the spouse works off-farm. Others are changing careers to engage in agriculture that involves local marketing (farmers markets) or alternative products (organic and other value added products). More women are taking advantage of educational and training opportunities in agriculture processing, marketing, and retailing. As women gain more responsibility and ownership control, they face new challenges. In all arenas, women are in need of education tailored to the roles they play in the business, in the family and in their communities.
Limited research does exist, both nationally and internationally, on farm women, concerning their roles on the farm and some of the demographic, historical, and economic factors that affect the extent of their involvement in farm management and ownership (e.g., Alston, 2003; Rickson and Daniels, 1999 Sachs, 1983). However, very few programs exist state wide for women in agriculture in the South (Kentucky and North Carolina programs are noted exceptions). Additionally, no such research has been conducted on the ever-growing population of farm women in Arkansas. Thus in late 2004, women who are researchers, outreach specialists, farmers and agribusiness owners/operators and those in other agriculturally-supporting roles came together as a steering committee with the purpose of developing the first state wide conference specifically for women in agriculture and to learn more about the roles Arkansas women play in agriculture, agriculturally-related businesses and in rural communities, and how those roles impact types of agriculture produced, community development and rural family management. In the first conference, (March 2005) we offered twenty- four sessions, including skill building (understanding taxes, estate planning, financial record keeping, legal concerns, marketing, cooperatives), agricultural issues information (nutrient management regulations, financial assistance for sustainable agriculture, volunteer premises ID and the National Animal ID system) and family/community issues (aging, drug use, nutrition, parenting) were offered at the conference.
But not only was the conference an opportunity for Arkansas women to learn valuable skills and to develop important personal and professional relationships, it provided researchers and outreach specialists some baseline information regarding the important needs of women as they move into these leadership roles in agriculture through a research survey. Our research survey provided the first set of baseline data regarding women across many facets of agriculture within the state. Six Important findings came from this survey: 1) A woman’s voice in agriculture related activities in increasing in number and importance, 2) Two out of three women surveyed make important business decisions, 3) Arkansas Women in Agriculture value, and want to strengthen their communities, 4) Women currently rely on women peers for information and as a result often cannot find the information they need, 5) Young women and others new to agriculture desire ways to identify mentors. 6) farm and non farm women in agriculture face many challenges that threaten the sustainability of their operations and the survival of their communities.
Based on these results, the steering committee has been reorganized and expanded to include women with expertise in sustainable best management practices for agriculture, agricultural regulations, legal issues in agriculture, value added production, alternative marketing, agricultural financing, and agricultural outreach. The steering committee, led by University of Arkansas personnel, is now comprised of individuals with either conventional or organic cattle, poultry, forestry, fruits, vegetables, rice, cotton and soybean operations; researchers/extension personnel from Arkansas State University, Southern Arkansas University and the Fayetteville and Pine Bluff campuses of University of Arkansas; and individuals agriculturally-related agencies and organizations (Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, Arkansas Cattlewomen’s Association, Arkansas Foundation for Agriculture, Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, National Center for Appropriate Technology, USDA Farm Service Agency, and USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service). The 30 individuals on the steering committee are charged with meeting the objectives presented in this proposal.

Project Objectives:

1. Develop and convene the 2006 Arkansas Women in Agriculture (ARWIA) conference program that will consist of roughly 30 sessions that cover topics related to production, financial, marketing, legal, family and community issues important to Arkansas women in agriculture. Additionally, up to 50 vendors will be on hand to offer further educational opportunities and to provide examples of value added production that can be undertaken on Arkansas farms and in rural communities.
2. Develop and conduct a two tiered (high school and college level) writing contest that enables young men and women to learn more about the roles women hold in agriculture and agricultural related careers.
3. Design and administer the second research survey of Arkansas women in agriculture with for the purpose of assessing and understanding 1) the roles women hold in agriculture management, 2) their roles in the community and 3) factors that influence their success in agriculture/community, such as access to credit, information, and availability of time.
4. Analyze and distribute research survey results to researchers, extension personnel, community leaders, policy makers and Arkansas women in agriculture.
5. Conduct subsequent information sessions/focus groups to gather more in-depth information related to survey responses.
6. Devise the 2007 education and outreach program for Arkansas women in agriculture.


Materials and methods:

1. Develop and Convene the 2006 Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference
In June 2005, the steering committee began to develop the program for the 2006 Arkansas Women in Agriculture Conference. The conference was planned as a 1.5 day event for March 6-7, 2006. Topics for the conference were chosen based on feedback from the 2005 conference as well as using the following criteria 1) timeliness of information, 2) accuracy of information, 3)ease of understanding, 4) relevance of presentation method (e.g., lecture, demonstration, hands on learning, etc) and 5) ability to convey relevant information in time allotted. Similarly vendors were chosen who could meet at least one of the three following criteria: 1) provide relevant agricultural and business information, 2) promote Arkansas value added products, 3) provide information related to health, family and community issues. See copy of final conference program in Appendix .

2. Develop and conduct a two tiered (high school and college level) writing contest
A sub group of the steering committee developed a writing contest open to young men and women in enrolled in degree seeking high school and university programs. The purpose of this contest is to promote agriculture and interest in agricultural careers for Arkansas youth. Students will be encouraged to prepare a 1,000 word essay on “The role of Arkansas Women in Agriculture: Past Present and Future.” Essays were judged by steering committee members according to creativity, relevance to topic, organization and length, grammar, spelling and punctuation and documentation of sources. See copy of informational flyers about contests in Appendix.

3. Design and administer survey
This research project will incorporate both quantitative and qualitative research methods into the study. Conference participants were asked to complete a survey which consisted of five parts. The first section included questions related to their operation/business (type, size, location). The second addressed their role in management (involvement in ownership and daily operations, as well as the production and financial decision-making processes). The third addressed their role in the community (level of involvement, capacity, duration, reasons why, how agriculture impacts this role and vice-versa, and how family impacts this role and vice-versa). The fourth section address factors that influence their success in agriculture and the community, such as access to credit, markets, information, and availability of time. Finally, the last section asked for basic demographic information, including age, income, education level, marital status, and number of children. At the end of the survey, respondents were asked to identify themselves if they are willing to participate in a (qualitative) follow-up study that explores some of these topics further. See copy of survey in Appendix.

4. Analyze and distribute research survey results
Summary statistics were calculated for all variables – and used to identify the roles women play in different aspects of agricultural production/business and the community. Statistical analyses (primarily chi square tests) were used to test for significant differences between women who are farm/business owners (FARM) and women who work in agriculture as an employee (NON-FARM).

5. Conduct subsequent information sessions
Of the survey respondents from both 2005 and 2006, 120 agreed to participate in follow-up interviews in the fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007. Thirteen focus group meetings (88 women total this far) have been conducted in each region of the state. Women were interviewed in groups of eight or less. The following topics were discussed in the interviews: 1) causes of changes in the role of women in agriculture, 2) factors that are important in measuring their success, and 3) additional challenges faced in their agricultural roles and how those challenges may impact other aspects of life (family and community). All interviews were recorded and later transcribed to better facilitate analysis. See questionnaire developed for focus group session in Appendix.

6. Devise the 2007 Education and outreach program
Two sessions were set aside during the Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference to discuss with interested participants the future of these education and outreach activities. Combined with conference evaluation forms and research survey results, a plan was developed for 2007.

Research results and discussion:

Outcomes and Impacts are listed by Objective Number.
1. The second statewide conference for women in agriculture was held at the Hot Springs Convention Center on March 6-7, 2006. (See Appendix I, Conference Program) Over 330 people registered for the one and a half day event. Over the course of this conference, conference attendees (300 were women) participated in 27 general and breakout sessions including asset protection, credit management, drug abuse, and environmental management for agriculture, equine production, estate planning, agri-tourism, financial performance, horticulture, legal concerns, native foods, retirement planning and more. Break times offered additional unique opportunities. Speakers conducted one-on-one consultations with conference participants. Participants visited with 27 Arkansas agricultural, health, and family related businesses, educators and government specialists in the vendor area. They also worked with volunteers from a local sewing center and Cooperative Extension Service to make 29 baby quilts that were donated to Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
2. Thirty high school students and twenty undergraduate students entered the competition. Two finalists were identified at both the high school and the college levels. These finalists were honored during a special ceremony during the first evening of the conference. (Names of winners are located in the conference program. )Based on her experience in the writing contest and at the 2006 conference, one of the college winners has since taken an active role in the 2007 conference planning.

3. All 300 in attendance at the conference were asked to participate in the survey; 108 responded for a response rate of 36 percent.

4. Details concerning survey results were presented in the annual report. They can also be found in publications included in the appendix. Three highlights are offered from this survey. First. women continue to take on more leadership roles in agriculture. These changing and growing roles have led to positive impacts in labor management, family finances, expansion/contraction plans, children’s roles in the business, relationships with other farm families and agribusinesses and quality of life for self and family: Second, factors important in the success as a businesswoman depended on the role she holds. NON-FARM women stated that trying new ways of doing things, applying talents and skills, employment security, being excited about work, and being able to meet financial needs were important in measuring their success while FARM women ranked applying talents and skills, being involved in the community, being excited about work, trying new ways of doing things, and participating in environmental conservation as the top five factors important to success. Third, regarding problems faced in their work, NON FARM women ranked being respected as a female business person, networking, qualifying for government programs, finding information about government programs and finding/affording a good lawyer as their biggest challenges. FARM women ranked keeping good employees, qualifying for government programs, being respected as a female business person, finding/affording a good lawyer, and keeping up with environmental regulations as their biggest challenges.

Results were shared with University of Arkansas research and cooperative extension personnel, Arkansas Farm Bureau as well as with the Conference steering committee (comprised of women who are farmers and ranchers or employees of USDA agencies, University of Arkansas, state agencies, non-profit organizations, farm organizations and local agribusinesses). The material has served as the topic for an undergraduate thesis and has been presented at regional and national agricultural economics professional meetings. Results have been shared with Arkansas women in agriculture through follow up focus group meetings.

5. Focus group results reinforced the findings of the survey and introduced new factors. Focus group participants reemphasized the importance of being involved in the community, making a difference, helping others, and having a sense of pride in their work and accomplishments, when measuring their success in the business. Making key decisions and being respected were also found to be important but were less often cited. For the farm or agribusiness owners in the groups, it was important to be able to pass on their business and/or land to family, to implement environmentally beneficial practices, and contribute to a healthy food supply. The problems faced by all the women, farm and non-farm, were few in number, but large in scope. A factor not addressed in the survey - the lack of agricultural awareness by the general public and the nation’s leaders - was discussed by several women. Many more problems were addressed by the farm women in the groups. Labor, as shown by the surveys, was a large problem. Another problem faced was the overall economic situation faced by farmers, the increasingly expensive input costs and low prices received for their goods. Both of these problems were cited in every focus group interview. Lack of healthcare and insurance, rapidly changing market trends and available technology, instability and lack of control associated with agriculture including weather All participants supported the need for a network for agricultural women in the state. Many participants are interested in establishing mentoring relationships others interested in agriculture. It would also provide a means to become aware of educational opportunities to improve skills important to their roles in business, on the farm and in the community.

6. The theme for the 2006 Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference was “Stand Up, Step Out and Lead.” In keeping with this theme, conference participants were encouraged to volunteer to lead future efforts. The group identified leaders – farm women and employees of agricultural organizations – to lead the outreach and education efforts, with assistance from University of Arkansas research and extension personnel. UA will continue to direct research efforts. In late 2006 a non-profit was formed called Arkansas Women in Agriculture, Inc. This group elected officers and formed an advisory committee (the PI on this SARE grant served in a strong advisory role for the group as leadership transferred from UA to ARWIA, Inc). UA maintained the site for use by ARWIA to promote their efforts. Results form 2006 conference evaluations suggested that women liked the 1.5 day event and its location in Hot Springs. The participants rated highly 2006 sessions on loans/credit, estate planning, sustainable production methods, diversification, and US farm policy and requested advanced hands on sessions for these topics. Based on these evaluations the ARWIA, Inc convened the third Arkansas Women in Agriculture conference in March 2007.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

All conference proceedings were published on for one year.

Also, research has been published as the result of undergraduate paper competition for the American Agricultural Economics Association.

Albright, C. 2006. Who’s Running the Farm?: Changes and Characteristics of Arkansas Women in Agriculture. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 88(5) 1315-1322.

Forthcoming publications related to undergraduate research work include:

Albright, C. and J. Popp. The Changing Face of Agriculture: Characteristics and Perceptions of Arkansas Women in Agriculture. In Proceedings of the 2007 National Undergraduate Research Conference. San Rafeal, CA April. 12-14.

Alrbight, C. and J. Popp. Forthcoming. The voices of Arkansas’ Women in Agriculture. Results from focus group interviews across the state. Discovery Journal.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

This project produced a number of accomplishments:

1) Conference attendees have been provided tools that will assist them as they take on more leadership roles in agriculture. Tools and skill building offered through the conference included: 1) financial record keeping, 2) organic agriculture production and marketing techniques, 3) small animal production and marketing, 4) loan process, 5) estate planning among many other.
2) Women were offered time management; women’s health, childhood obesity, and elder care to not only make them better business people but to better serve their families and communities as well
3) Farm organizations for women – such as Farm Bureau’s women committee and Arkansas cattlewomen exist. However, for the first time, these conferences allowed women from all facets of agriculture (who perhaps are not active in Farm Bureau or Cattlewomen) and across all parts of the state to network. This provided women with new contacts for questions about their production and business methods, family matters and agricultural policy concerns.
4) The writing contest provided the means to encourage young people to become more aware and more involved in agriculture within the state.
5) This research provided a topic for an undergraduate thesis. The student who assisted on this project won first place in the 2006 American Agricultural Economics Association Undergraduate Student Paper Competition for her report on the survey findings. She continues to hold focus group meetings to better identify our appropriate research efforts for the future.
6) Thanks to extensive promotional efforts by the steering committee, the University of Arkansas, and others, there is a greater awareness of the state of the growing number of women in agriculture and of their changing roles in agriculture. As mentioned above, our efforts even caught the attention of the Arkansas General Assembly. In Fall 2006, we were invited by the Assembly to present our work during one of the agricultural sessions. The General Assembly supports our continued efforts and the Governor of Arkansas has designated Arkansas Women in Agriculture day in the state.


Potential Contributions

The largest contribution of this work has been to empower Arkansas’ women in agriculture – farmers, ranchers, and employees of agribusinesses and other agriculturally-related organizations – to not only become leaders in agriculture across the state but to take leadership and ownership in identifying and fulfilling their educational/informational needs in the future. This project – including the 2005 conference, the 2006 Conference and the survey work – provided a means to bring all of Arkansas’ diverse women together in a way that has never been done in the state before. The creation of the non-profit Arkansas Women in Agriculture, Inc. and their development of the 2007 women in agriculture conference provides evidence of their commitment to improve the skills of women so they can continue to serve and grow as leaders in agriculture, in their families and in their communities.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.