- Education and Training: focus group, networking
- Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, social networks
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.
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.