- Agronomic: corn, rye, soybeans, grass (misc. perennial), hay
- Additional Plants: native plants
- Animal Production: grazing - rotational, feed/forage
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, study circle, workshop
- Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
- Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
- Soil Management: soil analysis, organic matter, soil quality/health
- Sustainable Communities: social networks
This two-year project focused on delivering targeted conservation outreach to women farmland owners in IA, NE and WI. Women now own or co-own up to 50 percent of Midwest farmland (Duffy and Smith, Iowa State University, 2008). The percentage of women who are sole landowners is rising as women inherit land from husbands and fathers. Many women express strong conservation values in meetings and surveys, but are often unsure of how to turn those values into action as they have not been involved in farm management decisions in the past.
WFAN has developed its Women Caring for the LandSM program to meet the needs of these women for information, as well as for increased confidence as decision-makers. The methodology is based on a “learning circles” model–bringing together groups of women landowners from 2 to 4 contiguous counties for women-only, informal, facilitated discussions. Female conservation professionals are on hand to participate in the discussion and inform the women of best practices and available resources in soil and water conservation.
Fifteen women landowner meetings were held in the three states over the two years of the project as a result of this SARE grant. One hundred and eighteen women landowners attended, who owned a total of 24,300 acres in the region. Follow-up surveys show that 52 percent of the women who responded had made at least one change in farm management to improve soil and water conservation on their land within 6 to 12 months of attending a meeting. Actions ranged from installing grassed waterways and buffer strips to meeting with NRCS personnel to create a whole-farm conservation plan.
The second goal of the project was to create, improve, and disseminate information about the rationale and methodology of the program, as well as the targeted print pieces we have developed, to conservation professionals in the three states. The print materials we developed focused on the use of cover crops as a topic (two brochures and a longer booklet), and are available for free download at the Women Caring for the Land website (www.womencaringfortheland.org). We also have developed a PowerPoint presentation for use by WFAN staff in training conservation professionals in our methodology and tools for targeted conservation outreach to women landowners.
Finally, through other funding, we have created a 90-page curriculum guide for use by anyone wanting to deliver targeted conservation outreach to women farmland owners, which covers everything from the demographics and rationale of the program to how to create, advertise, deliver and evaluate women-only meetings. This manual is also available for free download at the website, or in printed form at cost plus shipping.
Our primary goal with this project was to deliver conservation information to women farmland owners in Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin through informal, peer-to-peer facilitated conversations (“learning circles”) that would motivate them to work with their tenant farmers to improve conservation on their land. Fifteen meetings were held during the two-year project, through which we reached 118 women with information about how conservation fits in any type of farming operation. We further supported this effort by engaging an Iowa State University graduate student to conduct interviews and a rhetorical analysis to uncover not only what women thought about their role in managing land, but also how they spoke about it. Her work took the form of internal reports to WFAN, which were then used to shape the work of a second graduate student who developed outreach materials targeting women farmland owners. Ten women farmland owners gave us feedback from attending meetings and reviewing outreach materials.
We estimated we would reach 300 women with the peer-to-peer meetings. We reached 118 – an average of 8 per meeting. Meeting sizes ranged from 4 to 24 participants. We fielded requests for information from women who could not attend but requested additional information and were interested in being invited to future meetings. Women conservation professionals from WFAN, NRCS, FSA, state DNRs, state conservation agencies, and county conservation departments were present at meetings to provide information about programs that might be helpful to the landowners, and to discuss best practices for the range of questions women had.
Ten women farmland owner advisors assisted the project by attending meetings and offering feedback, and reviewing the outreach materials developed during the project. A total of two brochures and a booklet, two issues of a newsletter, and one PowerPoint presentation were developed. The PowerPoint presentation describes our methods and rationale for conservation outreach to women landowners, and will be used and customized by WFAN to train conservation partners.
The outreach materials have been shared through the WFAN website (www.wfan.org), the new Women Caring for the LandSM (WCL) website (www.womencaringfortheland.org), and at meetings of soil and water conservation professionals.
Our partners in Nebraska and Wisconsin have received requests for additional women landowner meetings. WFAN has received requests for assistance in Iowa from county conservationists, federal and state agencies (NRCS, DNR) and private non-profit organizations with conservation interests.
Fifty-two percent of the women farmland owners who responded to our surveys have undertaken changes in farm management to improve conservation on their land, affecting a total of 24,300 acres in the three-state region.
We are already seeing the benefits of conservation outreach to women farmland owners as we hear stories from conservation professionals and women themselves who have developed new relationships with their tenants and resource persons as a result of the meetings, and are taking steps to transform their land. Privacy protections within government agencies limit our ability to conduct more comprehensive evaluation of results, but we take these anecdotes as a good sign that reaching out to women farmland owners is working.