Skill Training for Beginning Farmers

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (other), melons, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, sheep, swine


  • Animal Production: preventive practices
  • Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, decision support system, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, study circle
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, agricultural finance, market study, risk management, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: indicators
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, economic threshold, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - killed, mulches - living, physical control, prevention, row covers (for pests), weather monitoring, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: earthworms, green manures, organic matter, soil analysis, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, analysis of personal/family life, employment opportunities, social networks


    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.

    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.