Rise in women farmers attributed to data collection change

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Posted at 6:01 AM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 08:01:42-04

CALDWELL, Idaho — Women are running about one-third of the farms in Idaho, but agriculture officials say that's nothing new.

The 2017 Census of Agriculture released earlier this year counted more than 10,000 women in leadership roles on farms and ranches in the state, the Idaho Statesman reported last week.

More than 17,200 women worked for farms and ranches in 2017, up from more than 13,000 women in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's not a male-dominated business, it's a family-dominated business," Idaho Farm Bureau spokesman Sean Ellis said. "Women have always been an integral part of family farms."

The department attributed the uptick to a change in how the data is recorded.

Work with focus groups indicated females and young people were likely being undercounted, said Randy Welk, a department statistician.

"One of the examples was that oftentimes, a great grandfather's name will be listed as the operator even if he's passed, and they don't count the people actually running the farm," Welk said.

Sisters Robin Kelley Rausch and Gretchen Kelley Bietz operate orchards that their great-grandfather established in Filer in 1908. Kelley's Canyon Orchard grows and sells a variety of fruit, including cherries, apricots, peaches and plums.

"It's all about passion, regardless of whether you're female or male," Rausch said. "Anyone who is in ag is not in it for the money. They are in it for a different purpose and a different story."

Farming in some areas is still a bit of a man's world, said Stephanie Mickelsen, chief financial officers of Mickelsen Farms, one of the largest potato farms in the state.

Women who want to be a part of it need to be educated in the issues and willing to work harder than anyone else and show they are looking out for the team and agriculture as a whole.

"Then, you'll have all the credibility in the world and be able to go out and change the landscape of agriculture in that way," Mickelsen said.