Effective Outreach for a new Wisconsin Agriculture: A Social Marketing Approach to the Environmental Management Needs of Hispanic and Women Farmers

Final Report for LNC07-290

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $129,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Sharon Lezberg
Environmental Resources Center
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Project Information


Researchers from the Environmental Resources Center sought to understand the characteristics of women and Hispanic farmers and their information needs. Ultimately, our goal was to suggest effective outreach strategies for Extension to better serve these farmers. We studied the environmental management practices and information needs of Hispanic farmers, women dairy farmers, and women direct market farmers. Our research strategy included surveys, interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. Our findings are documented in research briefs, poster and conference presentations, and on our web site. We convened stakeholders meetings of agency representatives who work with these groups of farmers to share our results and conclusions.

Our goal with this project has been to:

1) Identify unique challenges that Hispanic and women farmers experience, specifically in the area of environmental management.
2) Identify information needs of Hispanic and women farmers and preferred methods of receiving information relevant to farming operations.
3) Suggest appropriate outreach strategies for Extension educators to reach underserved or non-traditional farm populations.

Target Audience

The primary target audience is university and county extension agents, organic and other sustainable agriculture educators, technical assistance providers, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) agents, and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff.

Women and Latino farmers are a secondary target audience for this project; our outreach to these farmers and sponsorship of focus groups and a discussion circle provided information and resources about government programs, web resources, and education opportunities.



Wisconsin has a diverse agriculture, in types of farms, products being produced, and characteristics of operators. Census data indicates growth in the number of women and Hispanic ‘principal operators’ – those who are responsible for the on-site, day to day operations of a farm.

Hispanic farmers: Wisconsin’s agricultural census showed a marked increase in the number of Hispanic farmers (principal operators) from 1997 to 2002 (from 308 to 523, a 70% increase), while 2007 census data indicated a significant decrease in the number of principal operators (down to 245 from 523, a 53% decline from 2002 to 2007). The variation reported indicates difficulty in developing accurate lists and enumerating this population. We considered the possibility that Wisconsin’s reported numbers were possibly undercounts, especially given that other states had documentation of undercounts of minority farming populations (Garcia and Marinez, 2005). On the other hand, we had evidence that state institutions – U.W. Extension, the Department of Agriculture, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service – had put in place outreach strategies to reach Hispanic operators and had only been minimally successful.

Our strategies to find Hispanic farmers did not reveal any clusters of farmers, either geographically or by farming sector. Our difficulty in locating Hispanic farmers leads us to believe that the 2002 census numbers are inflated due to adjustment calibration, and that the 2007 census numbers provide a more accurate count.

There is evidence of a significant increase in Hispanic workers in the agriculture sector – specifically the dairy industry –over the last decade (Harrison, Lloyd and Okane, 2009). At the time of our research, there is no indication that Hispanic dairy farm workers are transitioning into farm ownership. Additionally, the Hispanic population in Wisconsin has increased in urban areas in Southeast counties from 1990 to 2000 (Applied Population Laboratory, 2001). The increases in Hispanic farm laborers and urban residents may eventually be followed by greater interest in farming (specifically with animal agriculture or direct marketing, and/or urban gardening).

Our surveys and interviews helped us put together a picture of those Hispanic farmers who responded to our survey or agreed to a phone interview. Wisconsin’s Hispanic farmers are characterized by diversity – in farm operation, country of origin, path into farming, and other aspects of the farming operation. We did not identify any major concentration of farmers, either geographically or in type of farming operation.

Extension educators can provide assistance to Hispanic farmers by developing education programs on how to procure loans (working with FSA and ag. lenders), business planning for profitability, marketing options, understanding regulations, and gaining familiarity with government agencies and sources of assistance. These programs should be offered either in Spanish or with Spanish translation.

Based on our interview results and analysis, we feel that Extension can be better positioned to support Hispanic farm enterprises now and in the future. We offer the following recommendations:

1) Increase our understanding and awareness, as educators, of how Hispanic residents are participating in agriculture (either as a farm operator, a farm laborer, or in other parts of the food system).
2) Recognize the differences (in opportunities and constraints) between immigrant farmers and 1st or 2nd generation Hispanic farmers.
3) Be aware of how immigration issues might affect farmers, gardeners, or farm workers.
4) Seek out immigrant farmers and develop one-on-one relationships with them.
5) Provide one-on-one technical assistance, and where necessary, work through a translator.
6) Target outreach and educational programs to smaller scale farms.
7) Target assistance to urban gardeners.
8) Utilize the Hispanic press and radio stations to deliver information in Spanish.
9) Provide information sheets to farm supply dealers and FSA offices in Spanish, and seek assistance from these enterprises and organizations to distribute farming information.
10) Provide farming information on the internet through web sites that are easily accessible to Hispanic farmers seeking this information.

Women farmers: The Census of Agriculture shows a 58% increase in the number of women principal operators in Wisconsin over the 10 year period from 1997 to 2007 – from 5,793 in 1997 to 9,176 in 2007. Our research focused on two groups of women farmers: those in the direct market sector, and those in the dairy sector. We targeted the direct market sector because of the prevalence of women farm operators in that sector. Research from the University of Wisconsin’s Program on Agricultural Technology Studies (PATS) found that while the number of women operating agricultural businesses has increased across all sectors of agriculture, women are more broadly represented as primary decision makers in the direct market sector (Roth & Lachenmayer, 2006). We targeted the dairy sector because of its importance and predominance in Wisconsin. Previous research from PATS (Vogt, et.al., 2001) documented the important role women play on dairy farms, but did not specifically address the views of women principal operators in the sector.

Surveys of women farmers provided a picture of farming practices, conservation and environmental management practices, and information needs. Interviews with women farmers provided a more nuanced picture of challenges specific to being a woman farmer and why more women are becoming farm operators.

Women farmers seek information from other farmers, family members, and farm magazines and newspapers. By far the most important way to get farming information is through farmer-to-farmer exchange, such as a conversation with neighbors, at a workshop, or on a list serve. Women dairy farmers are more likely to consult farm suppliers and equipment dealers, the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and bankers than are women direct market farmers. Only 36% of women direct market farmers, and 31% of women dairy farmers consult UW Extension.

Women farmers face challenges that are unique to being a woman (being treated with respect by service providers, dealing with machinery, understanding the technical language of farming) as well as those challenges faced by many in the farm sector (finances, profitability, labor, safety). Extension can improve outreach to women farmers by: reinforcing a culture of respect, targeting smaller scale farms and beginning farms, advertising programs through traditional and new methods, using clear language, supporting farmer to farmer educational programming, assisting farmers with information searches by referral, improving websites, and encouraging participation in programs for farm women.


Applied Population Laboratory, 2000. Wisconsin’s Hispanic or Latino Population: Census 2000 Population and Trends. University of Wisconsin-Madison: Applied Population Laboratory. Available at: http://www.apl.wisc.edu/publications/HispanicChartbook.pdf.

Garcia, V. and J. Marinez. 2005. “Exploring Agricultural Census Undercounts Among Immigrant Hispanic/Latino Farmers with an Alternative Enumeration Project.” Journal of Extension, Oct., 43:5.

Harrison, J, S. Lloyd and T. Okane, 2009. “Overview of Immigrant Labor on Wisconsin Dairy Farms.” PATS Immigrant Labor Briefing no. 1. Feb. Available at: http://www.pats.wisc.edu/pubs/98.

Roth, C. J. and C. Lachenmayer, 2006. “Women Farmers in Value-Added Agriculture” In Status of Wisconsin Agriculture, 2006, 42-47. University of Wisconsin-Madison: Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.

Vogt, J., D. Jackson-Smith, M. Ostrom, S. Lezberg, 2001. “The Roles of Women on Wisconsin Dairy Farms at the Turn of the 21st Century,” PATS Research Report No. 10. University of Wisconsin-Madison: Program on Agricultural Technology Studies. Available at: http://www.pats.wisc.edu/pubs/36.

Project Objectives:

1) Build a contact list of Hispanic farmers and women in dairy and value-added agriculture in Wisconsin.

2) Create survey and interview instruments for each group; and carry out surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

3) Ground-truth agricultural census data to determine if census numbers are accurate.

4) Analyze results of surveys and interviews of Hispanic farmers.

5) Analyze results of surveys, interviews, and focus groups of women principal operators in the direct market sector and dairy sector.

6) Identify and share information with individuals involved in supporting minority and women farmers.

7) Work with collaborators and farmers to develop prototype outreach strategies and materials to better reach diverse farming populations.

8) Communicate the results of the research to established networks, including Cooperative Extension and the NRCS.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Astrid Newenhouse
  • Julia Reyes-Hamann
  • Kathy Schmitt
  • Alan Turnquist


Materials and methods:
Hispanic Farmers

1) Survey of 215 Hispanic farmers (104 responses, 48% response rate) who reported in the 2002 or 2007 agricultural censuses that they were Hispanic and the principal farm operator. We used the mailing lists compiled from the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS) database and mailed all materials through WASS, in order to assure anonymity for respondents. We sent out 215 surveys to Hispanic principal operators between October-December, 2008, using a modified Dillman survey technique, where each potential respondent received 4 contacts from us (preliminary letter, first survey with letter, reminder postcard, and second survey with letter).

2) Queries to agricultural extension agents and agricultural professionals on whether they are working with Hispanic clients.

3) In-depth regional searching: Our outreach worker, Ms. Julia Reyes-Hamann, traveled to nine Wisconsin counties where census numbers showed a relatively high number of Hispanic farmers. In these counties, we contacted Extension agents, Hispanic community leaders, meat processing plants, milk plants, and Hispanic food markets. Brochures were left at various community centers.

4) Analysis of land records lists for 7 counties: We selected land owners who had five or more acres in agriculturally zoned areas. Ms. Reyes-Hamann contacted people on the lists who had Hispanic sounding names. In most cases, these contacts were individuals who were either not Hispanic or not farming.

5) Outreach to the Hispanic community: Our outreach worker printed articles in Spanish language papers and attended Hispanic cultural events.

6) Interviews of 25 individuals for a more in-depth understanding of their farming practices: Our outreach worker selected a group of individuals for longer interviews. Farmers who filled in the survey and provided their name and phone number for an interview were contacted by phone. Those farmers who were identified through in-depth regional searching or outreach activities were interviewed in person.

Women Farmers

1) Survey of 601 women farmers (373 responses, 62% response rate) who reported in the 2002 or 2007 agricultural censuses that they were women, the principal farm operator, and marketing their product through direct marketing. We used the mailing lists compiled from the WASS database and mailed all materials through WASS, in order to assure anonymity for respondents. We sent out 601 surveys to women direct market principal operators between January-February, 2009, using a modified Dillman survey technique, where each potential respondent received 4 contacts from us (preliminary letter, first survey with letter, reminder postcard, and second survey with letter).

2) Survey of 755 women dairy farmers (212 responses, 44% response rate) who reported in the 2002 or 2007 agricultural censuses that they were women, the principal farm operator, and operating a dairy farm.

3) Conducted preliminary interviews with twelve women farmers in the direct market sector. Preliminary interviews were conducted at two conference settings: the Midwest Value Added Farming Conference, Jan 24-25, 2008, Eau Claire, WI and the Midwest Organic Farming Conference, Feb. 21-23, 2008, La Crosse, WI. These interviews were meant to get a sense of what issues women farmers regarded as important, and to refine survey and interview tools for more in-depth analysis.

4) Conducted 8 in-depth interviews with women in the direct market sector,

5) Conducted 9 in-depth interviews with women in the dairy sector,

6) Held a discussion session, attended by over 40 direct market farmers, The discussion was a modified focus group, billed as a ‘conversation circle for women farmers,’ and held at the Organic Farming Conference held in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in February 2009.

7) Held 3 focus groups of 6-8 women dairy farmers. Two of these focus groups were held in the North Central region of the state (Abbotsford); the other was held in the East Central of the state (Kiel).

Research results and discussion:
Building Contact Lists of Hispanic and Women Farmers

The process for building a contact list of Hispanic farmers has involved several steps. Each of these steps is described below. Our methodology has been informed through consultation with Juan Marinez, who was a consultant to this project and has extensive experience locating Hispanic farmers in southwest Michigan and in identifying issues of importance to the Hispanic farming population throughout the U.S. We have also benefited from materials developed for a SARE project, “Hispanic-Latino Farmers and Ranchers,” which was conducted from 9/2006 – 9/2007. That project interviewed small-scale Hispanic farmers in California, Missouri, Florida, New Mexico, Texas, and Puerto Rico.

Process for building a contact list of Hispanic farmers:
a) develop a list of organizations and agencies that work with Hispanic farm operators
b) voluntary agreement to be interviewed from individuals who received our survey through the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS)
c) selected county list building through on-the-ground visits and collection of land-records lists

Process for building a contact list of women farmers:
a) voluntary agreement to be interviewed from individuals who received our survey through the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service (WASS)
b) outreach through various conferences
c) networking with groups that serve women farmers

Creating Survey and Interview Instruments

Surveys were developed by our project team, with assistance from the Evaluation Specialist for the Environmental Resources Center (ERC). We developed surveys and interview tools specific for each group of farmers contacted (attached). The survey that we mailed to Hispanic farmers through the WASS database was kept intentionally short, in order to improve response rate. We mailed both a Spanish language and an English language version with each mailing. When analyzing this survey, we realized that the brevity of the survey tool impeded our ability to get in-depth data from growers. We later developed a long version of the survey. This version was sent to individuals from the county land records list. Unfortunately, the response rate from the second survey was negligible.

Ground-Truthing the Agricultural Census Data on Hispanic Farmers

We used multiple methodologies (above) to locate Hispanic farmers in order to ‘ground-truth’ census data. We anticipated that once we identified a few farmers through our survey (of those who responded to the Census of Agriculture), they would then identify others within either a geographic area or a commodity group or production practice. This ‘snowball’ effect never happened: when we did locate Hispanic farmers who would talk with us, they indicated that they were not aware of other Hispanic farmers. The difficulties that we experienced in locating Hispanic farm operators leads us to believe that the increase in reported numbers of Hispanic farm operators in the 2002 census does not reflect an actual surge in Hispanic operators, but is rather an artifact of incomplete lists of operators and calibration errors.

Hispanic Farmers in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Hispanic farmers are characterized by diversity – in farm operation, country of origin, path into farming, and other aspects of the farming operation. They have entered into farming through diverse paths, but most commonly by marriage into a farming family. These farmers get information from a variety of sources, including other farmers, farm magazines and newspapers, internet, farm supply dealers or producer cooperatives, radio, and television. They experience challenges similar to other farmers, including capitalization, access to loans, profitability, and finding suitable markets for their products. Immigrant farmers experience additional unique challenges, such as lack of knowledge and experience about farming (in general, and in this country), language barriers, culture shock, and not knowing how to get assistance.

Type of Farm Operation: Survey respondents were asked to check each category – from U.S. Agricultural census designations – that applied for type of operation. The greatest number of operators manage beef cattle operations (33 % of respondents), row crops (25%), vegetables and melons (20%), dairy cattle (19%), tree fruit (19%) and berries (15%). There were also a large number of operators who choose a catchall ‘Other’ category (27%), which represents a variety of different enterprises. Types of operations with responses in the ‘Other” category include: horses (4 operations), Christmas trees (3) CRP (3) hay production (2), and grapes (2).

Categories of Information Desired: Survey respondents were asked the question “Do you want any information or training on the following topics?” The topics were general categories, rather than specific training areas. While there was no clear topic for which the bulk of farmers wanted information, three categories: sustainable or organic farming practices (37%), environmental improvement and conservation (35%), and marketing (35%) received higher percent ‘yes’ responses. All topics suggested received less than 40% ‘yes’ responses.

Information Sources: Survey respondents were asked four questions regarding their information needs and preferred means of getting information. Respondents were asked: “During the past year, did you consult with any of the following people or organizations when making decisions about your farm?” Of all sources of information listed, survey respondents reported that they tended to consult other growers or farmers (64%) for information more than other sources, followed by farm supply dealers or producer coops (49%), and the Farm Service Agency (41%). The relatively high utilization of the FSA is probably related to the availability of loans for minority and underserved farmers. Less than 30 percent of respondents reported using state-run sources such as UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

Print/Other Media for Information: Access to information is critical in a field such as farming, where farmers need to be well versed on a wide range of topics, from agronomy and animal husbandry to marketing and regulations. We asked survey respondents “Do you use any of the following to find information regarding your farm?” Our findings indicate that farm magazines or newspapers are the primary source of information for the majority of Hispanic farmers (70%), but that use of the internet is also widely used for finding information for the farm operation (60%). Radio, television, and the local newspaper each were utilized by 49%, 47%, and 46% of the surveyed population, respectively.

Use of Internet: To understand how farmers are using the internet, we asked: “Listed below are internet-based ways to receive farm-related information. Would you use any of them?” We found that the traditional format of information summary sheets or full reports was still the preferred method to receive information (43%).

Interview Information: Interviews with Hispanic farmers provided rich portraits of selected individuals. Our interview sample included 16 immigrant farmers, 3 first generation farmers, and 6 second generation farmers. There was great diversity in the type of operation that these individuals managed, although all would qualify as small farms. We asked interviewees general questions about their farms and their path into farming, marketing strategies, environmental management issues, how they got information, and challenges or barriers they faced.

Individuals followed various paths into farming:We identified the following different ways in which interviewees got into farming (followed by the number of individuals)
1) Marriage into a farm operation
• Hispanic woman marries a man from a Wisconsin-based, non-Hispanic farm family (7)
• Hispanic man marries into farm family (1)
• Hispanic parent married into farm family (2)
2) Farmers works/worked at another job, then buys land (4)
3) Primary work as agricultural consultant/researcher, farming part time (3)
4) Sponsor or partner’s family lets grower use land for vegetables (3)
5) Dairy herdsman/foreman becomes employer’s partner (1)
6) Dairy herdsman buys heifers in order to own share in farm (1)
7) Dairy herdsman raises steer on employer’s farm (1)
8) Land managed in forest (2)

While we anticipated that many of Wisconsin’s Hispanic farmers were from Mexico, we were surprised by the wide diversity in country of origin. Of the immigrant farmers (where the individual interviewed was born in another country and subsequently immigrated to the U.S., even if this immigration occurred many years ago), 8 out of 16 were from Mexico. Others were from Columbia, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Brazil. First and second generation farmers were from Mexico (7 out of 9), Puerto Rico, and Cuba.

Farm Challenges: Of the farmers we interviewed, several farm challenges were predominant and consistent, regardless of whether the respondent was a new immigrant or a second generation farmer. Those challenges were: capitalization (access to loans), profitability, and marketing.

Immigrant farmers cited several additional, unique challenges (i.e., different from 1st and 2nd generation Hispanic farmers, and from the farming population in general), including: lack of knowledge and experience in farming, language barriers, culture shock, lack of a drivers’ license, not knowing who to go to for assistance, and difficulty understanding regulations. Some immigrant farmers reported having more difficulty finding information pertinent to their farming operations and services to support their enterprises. Additionally, several of these farmers tended to operate outside of formal channels and expressed lack of familiarity with Extension and other farm services. Many lived in areas where there was no solidly defined Hispanic community, and they reported limited networks of social capital. The farmers we interviewed tended to be risk-takers, but they did not tend to manage their operations with a business or marketing plan.

Women Farmers in the Direct Market Sector, Survey Results

Wisconsin’s women farmers in the direct market sector raise vegetables, poultry and eggs, beef, tree fruit, and flowers, nursery crops, and grains. Most (72% of survey respondents) farm fewer than 100 acres. Women in the dairy sector own an average of 180 acres (range from 1 – 1,100 acres) and manage a herd of 87 cows (range from 1 – 3,450). Women get information from a wide variety of sources, but the most important sources are farmer-to-farmer exchange; family members; and the internet. Women farmers are concerned with a wide range of issues, including farm profitability, whole farm environmental management, health care, and work and life balance.

Type of farm operation: Respondents were asked to check each category that applied from a list of U.S. Census of Agriculture designations. The most frequently mentioned products raised were vegetables (40%), poultry and eggs (35%), beef (31%) and tree fruit (30%). Also mentioned were berries, fish, grains, and several minor crops. Less than half (37%) of the women described their farm operation as conventional, and the remainder described their farms as non-certified organic (30%), certified organic (6%), sustainable (16%,) transitional organic (3%), biodynamic (1%), or other. Of our respondents, 65% described themselves as the primary farm operator; another 33% were equal partners in a jointly managed farm. Over half of our respondents worked off farm full-time (30%) or part-time or seasonally (25%). Spouses who worked off-farm were more likely to work full-time (45%), than part-time (8%). Most (72%) Wisconsin women direct market farmers manage operations of fewer than 100 acres.

Challenges: To ascertain the types of challenges that women farm operators experience with greatest frequency, we divided farm challenges up into three types of challenges: start-up/operations issues; business management issues/practices; and production issues/practices. We then asked respondents to identify the frequency (very frequently, frequently, occasionally, never) in which each of a number of identified issues are of concern or worry. Women farmers in the direct market sector reported the following were concerns ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’:
- Start-up/operations issues: health care (37%), access to labor (28%), quality of life (27%).
- Business management issues/practices: farm profitability (71%), marketing (46%), feasibility planning (43%).
- Production issues/practices: farm energy use (47%), soil and water conservation (37%), ecological health (34%).

Conservation Practices: Despite the smaller size of direct market farms (relative to dairy farms or cash grain farms), use of conservation practices is reported by many women farmers in the direct market sector – though not to as great a degree as use by dairy farm women operators. Direct market women report use of the following practices on their farms: wildlife/insect habitat areas (63%), cover crops (55%), woodland management (44%), shelterbelts, windbreaks (44%). All other land management practices were utilized by less than 40% of respondents. Less than half of the women farmers in the direct market sector report participation in conservation planning practices: 42% of respondents have a soil and water conservation plan, 41% have a nutrient and pesticide management plan, and 37% have a manure management plan.

Participation in Government Programs: Only a small percentage of the women direct market farmers participate in government programs, with the most (16%) enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or Conservation Enhancement Program (CREP). Many (between 42-51%) were not aware of other similar programs. Farmer respondents, when they did not participate in a program, were likely to answer that the program does not fit their farm (between 26-46%, depending on program). Women who farm fewer than 30 acres were least likely to consult FSA, NRCS, bankers, or County land offices.

Perception of Environmental Issues: We asked two similar questions regarding perception of environmental issues. First, we asked “How much do you think each of the following is a problem on your farm?” and then listed a series of broad environmental problems. We followed this question up with the question “How much do you think each of the following is a problem in what you would define as your region?, followed by the same list of problems.” Wisconsin’s women direct market farmers, to a great extent, perceive environmental problems for the region, but less so on their own farm. The largest number (31%) indicated that poor soils were a moderate or substantial problem on their own farm. Other categories were rated as moderate or substantial problems 6-10% of the time. In contrast, these respondents felt that several environmental issues where “substantially” or “moderately problematic in the region: poor soils (39%), groundwater contamination (37%), surface water contamination (36%) and stream bank erosion (31%). Women farmers perceive problems of groundwater and surface water contamination, but are clearly saying that these problems are emanating from other farms or other land-uses.

Farm Marketing Practices: We asked respondents what products they marketed using direct market venues, and which types of marketing arrangements they participated in. We found a wide diversity of products being marketed through direct marketing, and similar diversity in the venues used for marketing. Of note is that 41% of our survey respondents used farmers’ markets to sell products, 32% used farmstands, and 26% marketed through wholesale avenues. Although community supported farming is recent in its arrival to Wisconsin (early 1990s), a surprising 16% were involved with community supported farming (CSA) as a marketing option. Women farmers use a variety of eco-labels and value-added labels. The degree of participation in eco-labeling programs varied, with few marketing under fair trade (1%) or Food Alliance certified (1%), or the better known USDA certified organic label (4%). Other labels, including ‘Buy Fresh, Buy Local’ (13%), ‘Grass-fed’ (13%), “Free range” (13%) or ‘Something Special from Wisconsin’ (7%), were used to a slightly greater degree.

Information needs and sources: We asked survey respondents if they wanted information or training on various topics. Direct market women farmers responded that they wanted training on government programs (53%), sustainable or organic farming practices (50%), marketing (49%), and environmental improvement and conservation (43%). Between 28% – 38% of respondents wanted information on other topics (financial record keeping, business planning, animal husbandry, crop production methods).

When asked about people consulted in the past year, direct market women farmers overwhelmingly listed other farmers (83%). They also consulted farm suppliers, equipment dealers, or producer coops (57%). University Extension was mentioned by only 36% of the women, and FSA by 30%. Other sources (State Department of Agriculture, Grower associations or farmer organizations, County Land Conservation Departments, Natural Resources Conservation Service, organic certifiers, bankers or financial consultants) were consulted less often. We followed up the question about who was consulted with a question to rank the importance of various information sources (we listed primarily media sources, not support individuals). When asked “How important is each of the following as a source of information for your farm?” respondents showed clear preference for other growers or farmers (65% reported this source as “very important”). Other important sources of information for direct market women farm operators are family members (47%) and the internet (41%). Women who farm fewer than 30 acres placed slightly less importance on farm magazines and newspapers and on brochures from equipment dealers or suppliers than do farms of larger acreage.

Women Farmers in the Dairy Sector, Survey Results

Type of farm operation: Within the dairy sector, there is a diversity of types of operation, from concentrated animal feeding operations, to small scale grazing systems, to calf care operations. We asked respondents to select a category that best described their farm. The vast majority of respondents identified their operations as “conventional” (59%), with an additional 14% characterizing their operation as a concentrated animal feeding operation. Rotational grazing was the option chosen for 17% of respondents, with an additional 4% voluntarily reporting this option as their second choice. Three percent (3%) of respondents indicated that their operations were certified organic (again, with an additional 4% voluntarily reporting this option as their second choice), and an additional 3% reported that their farm was non-certified or transitional organic. Of our respondents, 54% described themselves as the primary farm operator (less than the percent for direct market women farmers); another 38% were equal partners in a jointly managed farm, while an additional 8% reported that they were not the principal decision maker for the farm (despite designating themselves as such for Census of Agriculture survey purposes). Dairy farm women work off farm less often than do direct market women farmers, with respondents reporting that they work off farm full-time (12%) or part-time/seasonally (12%). Likewise, spouses of dairy farm women are also less likely to work off farm (23% full time, 8% part time).

Challenges: Women farmers in the dairy sector reported the following issues as concerns ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’ (see description of questions on farm challenges in this section for direct market women): Start-up/operations issues: health care (55%), farm succession (34%), quality of life (32%). Business management issues/practices: farm profitability (68%), feasibility planning (31%), record keeping (24%). Production issues/practices: animal health/nutrition (35%), farm energy use (32%), food product safety (20%), soil and water conservation (20%).

Conservation Practices: Women dairy farmers are more likely to utilize crop management practices than are direct market farmers. Women dairy farm operators report using cover crops (73%), conservation tillage (63%), no-till farming (49%), and contour farming or strip cropping (44%). Of those practices that we identified as ‘land management’ practices, dairy farmers indicated using the following: wildlife habitat areas (50%), livestock exclusion areas (48%), riparian buffer strips or grassed waterways (46%), and rotational grazing (42%). Dairy farming women were more likely to use the planning practices we listed than were direct market farming women. Of dairy farming women operators, 58% of respondents have a soil and water conservation plan, 51% have a nutrient and pesticide management plan, and 59% have a manure management plan.

Participation in Government Programs: Dairy farm women are more likely to participate in several of the farm conservation programs than are their counterparts in the direct market sector, with 29% participating in the Conservation reserve program, 23% participating in EQIP, and 36% participating in the Wisconsin farmland preservation program. Those that reported non-participation in these programs indicated that it either didn’t fit their farm (especially CRP) or that they didn’t know about it (especially CSP).

Perception of Environmental Issues: When asked “How much do you think each of the following as a problem on your farm?” dairy farm women indicated that poor soils were either moderately or substantially a problem 18% of the time. For other issues, the perception of environmental problems on their own farms was very minimal (respondents rated other environmental issues as a moderate or substantial problem only 3-9% of the time). When respondents were asked the follow up question, “How much do you think each of the following is a problem in what you would define as your region?” dairy farm women report only slightly higher rates of concern, with poor soils (24%) and surface water contamination (23%) leading the list. Other environmental concerns were perceived as moderate or substantial problems by 15-19% of respondents. In general, women direct market farmers reported regional environmental problems more so than did women dairy farmers.

Information Sources and Training: Dairy farm women want information on government programs (45%) and on animal husbandry (33%). Only 26-29% of respondents want information on other topics (crop production methods, sustainable or organic farming practices, environmental improvement and conservation, marketing, financial record-keeping, and business planning).

When asked about people consulted in the past year, women dairy farmers are similar to direct market women farmers. Women dairy farmers consulted other growers or farmers (74%) when making decisions about their farms. Respondents also indicated that they had consulted farm supply or equipment dealers (75%) and the Farm Service Agency (70%). Bankers were consulted by more respondents (54%) than was the University of Wisconsin Extension service.

When asked “How important is each of the following as a source of information for your farm?” the top response for women dairy farmers was family members (62% reporting this sources as “very important”), followed by other growers or farmers (53% as “very important”. For women dairy farmers, the sources of information that are either “somewhat important” or “very important” include farm magazines or newspapers (94%), other growers or farmers (93%), family members (90%), and equipment dealers or supplier publications (77%). University of Wisconsin Extension publications were “very important” to 23% of respondents and “somewhat important” to 47% of respondents (for a total of 70% of respondents).

Highlights from Interviews and Focus Groups with Women Farmers

In the 2009 calendar year, our women farmers’ research coordinator conducted interviews with 8 direct market farmers. We also conducted a large discussion group (called a “conversation circle”) at the Organic Farming Conference sponsored by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). We had open participation for this session, and were surprised when over 40 women farmers attended over lunch. This venue attracted women farmers from the value-added sector, many of whom were organic farmers or transitioning to organic farming. The conversation was vibrant and stimulating, with women sharing information and ideas with each other and with the researchers.

In 2010, our women farmers’ coordinator conducted interviews with an additional 9 women from the dairy sector and held 3 focus groups, each with 6-8 women dairy farmers. The interviews and focus group discussions were transcribed, and coded using the Atlas-TI qualitative research program. These nuanced, heart-felt discussions provided greater insights into womens' experiences in farming, summarized below:

Challenges Specific to Being a Woman Farmer
In focus groups and interviews with women farmers, the most important and frequent challenge brought up by women farmers is being treated by others with a lack of respect for the woman as farmer. Women described being treated as though they were less knowledgeable and less responsible for making decisions than their spouses, sons, or fathers. Women farmers, either solo or in partnership with men, desire to be treated by agency personnel, implement dealers, and suppliers as informed and capable of making decisions. These authors identify the issue of respect as the main issue to be addressed in order to improve the work environment for women farmers.
Other challenges that women brought up include:

• not understanding the jargon of government programs and sometimes the technical language of farming or equipment maintenance and repair,
• problems dealing with machinery,
• difficulty getting credit or loans,
• challenges maintaining a work and family balance,
• finding time and energy to take care of children, parents, and disabled family members,
• safety of kids on the farm (primarily for dairy farmers).

How do Women Farmers Have Contact with UW-Extension?: Women farmers mentioned contacting Extension for very specific needs such as to borrow a soil probe, become a 4-H leader, attend a workshop, or take a class to write a business plan. Women dairy farmers reported seeing Extension educators at events such as Farm Technology Days and farm organization meetings and events. Women farmers who sought information from Extension expressed frustration that even if their county agent did not know the answer to a question, they wished that their agent would guide them to an expert who could respond to their inquiry.

How Can Extension and Other Agencies Improve Outreach to Women Farmers?

1) Reinforce a culture of respect: Extension and other agency staff will improve their work with women farmers if they can reinforce a culture of respect for the farmer as the decision maker and farm manager.

2) Target smaller scale farms and beginning farms: Direct market farm operations range in size and degree of capitalization, with the vast majority of these farms under 100 acres (and many between 3-10 acres). To reach farmers on smaller acreage, Extension staff must adapt educational programming and outreach methods to cater to these farmers and their enterprises. Educational programming focused on issues of value-added marketing, business management, and organic/sustainable production practices will have more appeal to these farmers than more traditional crop and animal management education.

3) Advertise programs through traditional and new methods: To reach women farmers, announce educational opportunities through 4-H, Family Living (nutrition), and across other Extension programs. When trying to reach Wisconsin’s women dairy farmers, traditional print media outlets, such as Hoard’s Dairyman and The Country Today, as well as farm radio, are effective. To reach women direct market farmers, new methods are encouraged, such as announcing programs through list-serves of other organizations to which these women are affiliated, including the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) “Something Special from Wisconsin” program, non-profit organizations that support community supported agriculture, farmers’ market organizations, the “buy local” movement, and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

4) Use clear language: When speaking with women farmers or preparing program materials, use clear language without jargon.

5) Support farmer to farmer educational programming: Farmers appreciate learning from other farmers. Farmer to farmer exchange supports innovation, cooperation, and encourages a culture of respect. In focus group discussions and interviews, farmers repeatedly stressed that they would like Extension educators to serve as facilitators of farmer information exchange (through activities such as farm walks, farmer networking, new farmer mentoring, and organized tours on diverse farm operations). Farmers have a great deal to teach Extension staff and staff from other agencies, as well. Extension staff can increase their own knowledge and credibility with women farmers by inviting farmers to help teach programs.

6) Assist farmers with information searches by referral: Extension and other agency staff who cannot answer a farmer’s question should be able to refer the farmer to another person or expert who can. Dairy farm women suggested that Extension educators can help farmers who are attempting to solve a problem or redesign features on farm (e.g., install a new milking parlor, work with different bedding materials, improve calf care) by referring them to other farmers in the region who have successfully navigated similar problems or redesign.

7) Improve websites: Websites for Extension and other agencies that serve farmers should be reviewed for ease of use. Extension publications are difficult to find through search engines; professional web designers should identify ways to improve how Extension documents are retrieved by search engines.

8)Encourage participation in programs for farm women: Although women farmers did not express a common desire for informational programming geared specifically to women, they did express a need to gather and talk with other women farmers to reduce their sense of isolation. There are many successful programs for women farmers in Wisconsin and neighboring states. We encourage Extension staff and other agency staff to make these opportunities known to women farmers and to increase their participation. Some of these programs are: Heart of the Farm (UW-Extension), Annie’s Project (UW-Extension), Gathering Circles (WI Rural Women’s Initiative), Connecting Threads Conference (WI Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection WIDATCP), Rural Women’s Project (Midwest Organic Sustainable Educational Service MOSES), Wisconsin Farmers Union Leadership Retreat, and the Iowa-based Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Strategies for Reaching Women and Minority Farmers

Our research findings have suggested various outreach strategies and materials for improved interaction with and service to minority and women farmers. Specific projects to reach minority and women farmers include:
1) the creation of audio and video recordings in the language of minority farmers
2) support for women farmer networking groups and farm walks
3) new communications strategies with and among farmers (specifically, mediated blogs)
4) tools to help women and minority farmers understand and navigate government programs.

With the input of outreach workers who focus on the Hmong and Hispanic farming communities, we are writing a series of growers guides tailored to Hmong and Hispanic direct market farmers.

Perhaps the strategy that has the most salience and staying power is continued support for existing mechanisms to reach minority farmers, for example, through our collaborating partners in the ‘Minority and women farmers outreach and assistance project.’ This project uses traditional outreach techniques: direct communication and assistance from outreach workers speaking the language of the farmer. Hmong and Hispanic outreach workers identify farmers and gardeners, have direct contact with these individuals to determine their information and resource needs, and arrange direct assistance. The project also organizes training sessions for groups of individuals, and provides translation support, so that individuals who are not conversant with English can attend conferences.

Wisconsin already has a wealth of opportunities for women farmers to come together and learn from each other or in the company of other women farmers. Many women farmers do not know about these opportunities, and in fact many agency staff who work with women farmers are also unaware of the breadth of programs. This lack of information became apparent when we convened a stakeholder meeting to discuss the results of this project. An informal networking collaboration began, and the first task was to create a spreadsheet of programs and contacts for women farmers.

Research conclusions:

1) Increased understanding, on the part of Extension educators and state and federal agency representatives, on the characteristics of Hispanic and women farmers in the state.

2) Improved networking of people involved in supporting minority and women farmers: We sponsored three networking meetings for agency representatives, outreach workers and farmers working with women, Hispanic, and Hmong farmers.
a) We shared the results of our research at these networking meetings.
b) The networking meeting regarding women farmers led to an invitation to attend a meeting with USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan to discuss ways to reach women and minority farmers throughout the nation. The meeting was convened by the NRCS state outreach director, who had been involved in our project and participated in networking meetings. Members of the network that we had assembled were invited to this meeting.

3) Increased collaboration between the Environmental Resources Center and the Wisconsin Farm Center (a unit of the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection), and with other organizations that serve minority populations:
a) Farley Center Farm Incubator program: Sharon Lezberg, project coordinator, serves voluntarily on the advisory board for this new project that provides land, training, and marketing assistance to minority farmers. Astrid Newenhouse, women’s outreach coordinator, serves as project evaluator.
b) Growers’ Guides: Astrid Newenhouse, is writing vegetable growing guidebooks ‘in plain English’ for Hispanic and Hmong farmers on behalf of the Wisconsin Farm Center. The booklets follow the format of the Federal Plain Language Initiative and will be translated.
c) Collaboration of the Environmental Resources Center (Astrid Newenhouse), the Wisconsin Farm Center, Extension, and other agricultural agencies to submit a pre-proposal to the USDA Risk Management Agency concerning outreach to women farmers.

4) Recommendations on how to effectively reach minority farmers shared with Extension and farm agency personnel.

Farmer Adoption

Our project partners at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection/Wisconsin Farm Center have provided training and one on one consultation to farmers on sustainable farming methods, organic production, marketing and record keeping. These programs are continuing through the Wisconsin Farm Center and the Farley Center Farm Incubator Project. There were no explicit farmer adoption goals associated with this project.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

We have communicated with collaborators and shared results through our network meetings:
1) Women Farmers/Agency Outreach/Networking Meeting, August 31, 2010. Madison, WI;
2) Minority Farmers Outreach/Networking Meeting, October 16, 2009. Madison, WI;
3) Minority Farmers Outreach/Networking Meeting, December 12, 2008. Madison, WI:
4) Project Kick-off Meeting with collaborators and Juan Marinez (consultant), July 31, 2008, Madison, WI.

We’ve shared our results through conference presentations and poster presentations.

Lezberg, S., Schmitt, K., and Parker, J., 2011. Building Diversity in Agriculture: Programs to Provide Training & Technical Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers. Conference session at the Wisconsin Local Food Summit, Elkhart Lake, WI. Jan. 13.

Newenhouse, A. and S. Lezberg, 2010. Reaching Women Direct Market Farmers and Women Dairy Farmers. Poster presentation. UW Cooperative Extension All Staff Conference, Madison WI. October 19, 2010.

Lezberg, S., Newenhouse, A., and Hamann, J. 2009. Effective Outreach for Wisconsin’s Women and Hispanic Farmers: Using Community Based Social Marketing Strategy as a Research Tool. Conference session at the 5th National Small Farms Conference, September 15-17. Springfield IL,

Newenhouse, A., Lezberg S., and J Hamann. 2009. How Extension can Better Serve Wisconsin’s Women and Hispanic Farmers. Conference session at the UW Cooperative Extension ANRE Program Area Annual Meeting, October 22. Chula Vista, WI.

Our plans are to continue sharing the results of our findings through three methods:
1) publication of a research summary (an expansion of the ‘briefs’ attached to this report) through ERC
2) submission of a journal article
3) update of our web-site to include information from the reports

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

This project did not address other minority farming populations (Hmong, African American, Native American). Our collaborations lead us to believe that the following outreach activities would be beneficial:

1) Work with Hmong farmers through existing organizations and networks that support Hmong people by providing continued technical assistance on small/medium scale direct marketing (especially record keeping, marketing, organic/sustainable production practices, IPM, improving soil health, small animal husbandry).

2) Expand Extension outreach to urban minority populations through a wide range of urban agriculture enterprises and community food security initiatives.

3) Work with tribal people on preservation of native foodways and practices.

Extension can be effective at reaching minority populations by designing small scale workshops with native speakers as trainers.

Extension can expand outreach activities to women farmers by concentrating on meeting the needs of small and medium scale growers in the direct market sector.

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.