Skill Training for Beginning Farmers

Final Report for LNC99-151

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1999: $30,886.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $7,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Jerry Jost
Kansas Rural Center
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Project Information


Ten educational needs that create barriers to successful marketing and management were identified by Kansas farm women. A series of 16 workshops presented the following skills through hands-on learning: business and market planning; record keeping and enterprise analysis; marketing value-added products; small engine repair and maintenance; market garden and flower production; small frame construction; concrete and foundation work; hoophouse construction; soil quality; fence selection and construction; animal wellness and low-stress animal management; and recreational services provided on farms and ranches. These workshops were targeted to women farmers and generally limited to 20 participants. This series of 16 workshops drew 228 participants. All but one of the workshops were led by a woman trainer.


The Kansas Rural Center has worked with a cluster of farm women, the Sundog Farmstead Alliance, to develop value-added micro-enterprises. These micro-enterprises have included direct marketing of poultry and fresh garden produce in two new farmer’s markets and the development of a local CSA. These women have identified educational needs in developing the skills necessary for the management and marketing of on-farm micro enterprises. These women desire to use these skills to serve their farm and community through the enhancement of agricultural profitability, land and water conservation, and quality of life for farm families.

These women, as many women emerging into higher levels of farm management, have encountered social and cultural barriers as they refine their managerial expertise. These barriers have included the lack of understanding technical language, not knowing where to go for information, and failure to receive respect in their search for answers. Additionally, these women have requested an educational environment composed of a female majority facilitates learning. Therefore, while this project welcomes male participants and trainers, the targeted audience will be women farmers.

The Kansas Rural Center conducted a survey in 1998 of farm women that attended a Kansas sustainable agriculture roundup to assess what technical skills were most needed by women. Marketing was the top priority skill followed by mechanical skills and organic gardening techniques. One respondent to this survey wrote “I was raised in the city with no farming background. I like the idea of education events which included some ‘Agriculture 101' aspects to them.” This project will be targeted to this level of training.

A brief survey of literature published about the training needs of farm women in the past two decades reveals that the number of women farm operators is increasing, and that farm women are becoming more active in soliciting training for their changing roles and responsibilities. A 1998 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study reports that “while farms and their number of farmers are declining, women farmers and operators are growing in numbers.”

A 1986 survey reports that only 4 percent of farm women in that year made final decisions about marketing products; only 3 percent made decisions alone about implementing a new production practice or trying a new crop or breed of livestock; and only 2 percent decided alone about purchasing farm equipment or machinery (Kinsey). However, census data show that in a 14-year span, the proportion of women employed as sole farmers or farm managers rose from 5.2 percent to 7.5 percent of the total farm population (USDA, 1998).

In 1987, Kinsey wrote that “educational needs of farm women vary, but there is an increasing emphasis on vocational education in the business and technical aspects of farming.” A 1996 report called “Training Needs of Canadian Farm Women,” shows that the strongest commitment to training is from farm women between the ages of 26 and 45. This group represents the largest portion of the female farming population and is characterized by high levels of overall optimism and by the greatest commitment to remaining in agriculture. Skill-level training in farm business management was the need most often expressed by the farm women surveyed (Rock, 1996).

In a study of 42 female operators in Ontario, participants identified three myths that act as barriers to women farmers, including the myth of male technological know-how, which assumes that males are more capable than women of operating machinery and equipment; the myth of farming alone, which stems from the historic invisibility of women’s contributions to the farm, and insinuates that men farm alone even if they choose to hire help, whereas women are not capable of farming alone; and the myth of physical strength, which persists even though farmwork is not as labor intensive as it used to be, and which can be overcome by appropriate equipment or facilities (Leckie, 1996). Leckie adds, “Since a farmer represents the most non-traditional role that women in agriculture can have, they continually confront a system which has not been attuned to their talents, needs, or viewpoints (Leckie, 1996).

Project Objectives:

Beginning farmers gain critical skills involved in the production and marketing of sustainably grown food products. The targeted audience was female farmers who lack access to relevant training and information.


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  • Teresa Oliver


Materials and methods:

A series of sixteen workshops presented the following skills through hands-on learning: soil quality and testing; business and market planning; record keeping and enterprise analysis; marketing value-added products; small engine repair and maintenance; market garden and flower production; small frame construction; concrete and foundation work; hoophouse construction; fence selection and construction; animal wellness and low-stress animal management; and marketing recreational agriculture. These workshops were organized by one of the Sundog farmers, Teresa Oliver, who has been the sole farm manager since the death of her husband. Ms. Oliver collaborated with the other Sundog Farmstead Alliance members, the Kansas Rural Center, and Kansas State University Extension.

All workshops were open to the public and usually limited to 20 participants to facilitate hands-on learning. Some of the construction workshops were offered sequentially to permit participants to learn more in-depth skills. Trainers for these workshops included farmers, producers involved with previously funded SARE projects, construction business owners, a veterinarian and a mechanic.

Research results and discussion:

A series of 16 workshops drew 228 participants.

Research conclusions:

The following outcomes were identified:

After building the cold frame in the basic construction skills workshop, 65 percent of the participants planned to go home and build a small-framed building on their farm.

Of the 26 participants at the greenhouse production workshop; 23 percent of the participants planned to propagate plants in new ways, 8 percent planned to build a greenhouse and implement new methods of pest and nutrient management.

Following the small engine workshop, 80 percent of the participants planned to be more involved in the maintenance of their equipment and 15 percent plan to refer to the workshop manual to improve their repair and maintenance skills.

After participating in the concrete workshop, 60 percent of the participants planned to work with concrete on their own farms and 25 percent plan to build a small building.

Following the fence workshop, 100 percent of the participants planned to build or repair fence on their farm.

Following the business planning workshops, 66 percent of the participants plan to invest more effort into better business planning.

Following the hoophouse workshop, 30 percent of the participants plan to explore the possibility of building their own hoophouse for horticultural production.

Following the small frame construction workshop, 80 percent of the participants plan to build a small frame building on their farm.

After participating in the added value workshop, 80 percent planned to be more assertive in diversifying their enterprises on their farm; 50 percent of the participants planned to put more effort into business planning; and 15 percent planned to commit more resources toward improved financial management.

Eighty percent of the participants in the recreational agriculture workshop plan to explore new enterprises on their farms.

Teresa Oliver, the farmer who implemented this project, learned computer skills and completed an associate’s degree at a local college. Her children became more engaged in the farm and work part time on the farm. She attributes all these outcomes as a direct result of this project. She writes, “I have learned that I can either figure out how to solve problems creatively, learn from other people’s experiences or seek help in solving the many challenges that are involved in adding to income on the farm. Meeting women who were interested in changing their lives by staying on their farms and acquiring new skills and marketing techniques gave networking a new definition - a very positive web that can be used by everyone involved.”

Economic Analysis

No economic analyses were developed as a component of this project.

Farmer Adoption

The project evaluation surveys indicate the most common outcomes were the generation of ideas, networking with other people and building personal confidence. For approximately a quarter of the participants, increased planning and problem-solving abilities were important new skills learned. Another quarter of the participants attended the workshops to build or implement a specific technology. Hoop houses for horticultural production drew the most interest.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

A resource manual which compiles the written workshop handouts is submitted to the SARE program with this final report. Besides numerous press releases announcing workshops, five articles on the workshops were sent to Kansas farm newspapers. Numerous articles appeared in the Kansas Rural Center’s newsletter throughout the project. A feature story describing how to build a horticultural hoop house will appear in Mother Earth News next year.

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

Some of the women in this project want to develop an ongoing network of women entrepreneurs who are developing small enterprises on their farms with their children. This network would provide both technical skill development and psychological support. A valuable outcome could be a speaker's bureau of women available to teach skills to other women. Also needing development are planning exercises that help farm families integrate the management and interpersonal skills integral to being both a family and a business.

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.