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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, networking, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, social networks, sustainability measures


    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.

    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.