Women for the Land: Helping Women Farmers Advance Soil Health in Pennsylvania

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $106,847.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2025
Grant Recipient: American Farmland Trust
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Jamie Mierau
American Farmland Trust


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational, grazing management
  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, nutrient management, pollinator habitat
  • Education and Training: mentoring, networking
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Opportunity and Justification: As one of six states comprising the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed, Pennsylvania has an enormous responsibility for ensuring that pollution and excess nutrients from cities, industries, and farms are stored and filtered before entering local waterways.

    Women, a historically underserved population in conservation agriculture, are entering the field as new farmers, widows, and inheritors of farmland in unprecedented numbers and thus are poised to play a significant role in agriculture in the years ahead.

    Despite their growing numbers, women are underserved by technical and financial resources that help them manage their land for long-term sustainability. This under representation is due to a lack of knowledge by women farmers about the resources available to them and how to access them.

    Solution and Approach: Intentional education of and engagement with women in agriculture is critical to achieve broader adoption of soil health and other conservation practices on America’s farmland. This project will ensure women farmers in Pennsylvania have the knowledge, skills, and access to technical and financial assistance they need to adopt soil health practices on their farmland.

    AFT will recruit and train 10-15 women farmers in priority counties within the Susquehanna River Watershed in Pennsylvania to participate in virtual and in-person training and farm field days over eight months. Through Learning Circles, women farmers will receive substantive technical assistance on soil health practices that promote long-term sustainability, including residue and tillage management, cover crops, nutrient management, and use and operation of key soil health management equipment. Curriculum will be created and delivered by AFT and its advisory group made up of women farmers and service providers.

    To increase impact, AFT will provide stipends to 8 Learning Circle participants to cover some or all of the cost of adopting soil health practices on their farmland. Practices could include cover crops, compost application, planting to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, and prescribed grazing. See below for more information about stipend eligibility.

    Additionally, AFT will create a compelling case study that quantifies the economic, water quality, and climate outcomes of a women farmer in Pennsylvania who has successfully adopted at least one soil health practice for at least four years. AFT has published nine such AFT-NRCS co-branded economic case studies (https://farmlandinfo.org/publications/soil-health-case-studies/) and seeks SARE’s support for the first such case study featuring a woman farmer.

    While many farmers believe the scientific evidence that soil health practices improve soil and water quality, they are reluctant to change management techniques without knowing how much the soil health practices will cost or benefit them. The case study will educate participants about the benefits of soil health practices, reduce uncertainty, and result in women farmers’ adoption of soil health practices.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Eight women will adopt soil health practices (residue and tillage management, cover crops, nutrient management, prescribed grazing, etc.) on 1,000 acres of farmland resulting in 10,000 pounds of nitrogen loss reductions, 3,000 pounds of phosphorus loss reductions, and 550 tons of sediment loss reductions, on average, per year.

    EPA’s STEPL Tool in the Muddy Run-Mill Creek HUC12 in Lancaster County, PA was used to create this estimate assuming:

    • 500 acres of cropland adopted early planted cover crops, conservation tillage with 60% residue, and nutrient management
    • 500 acres of pastureland adopted prescribed grazing, pasture, and hayland planting and livestock exclusion fencing
    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.