January 24, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

The number of women involved in Kentucky agriculture is rising. In fact, nationwide, the number of women farmers rose 3.4 percent from 1978 to 1997, while the number of male farmers decreased from two million to 1.75 million.

Women are up to the challenge and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture and Cooperative Extension Service are taking notice. Many counties have begun offering programs directly aimed at women in agriculture. Recently, the Bluegrass Region hosted a seminar addressing the financial aspects of agricultural businesses.

Betty King, Extension specialist for rural economic development from the University of Kentucky, said farm women have some characteristics to set them apart from their male counterparts.

"Women farmers usually have higher educations, operate different types of farms and own more of the land they farm with less debt than men," she said. "They make less money, but often they are more successful."

King said these characteristics are especially advantageous to Kentucky farm women, since 8.5 percent of tobacco farmers are women. Many women involved with tobacco already are operating alternative enterprises and they are the fastest growing group of business owners in the Commonwealth.

Kathy Moats and Debbie McKnight from the Lexington Area Small Business Development Center offered tips for those wanting to start a small business, emphasizing their "Smart Steps to Smart Choices" program. Moats said reasons people go into business for themselves are independence, control, family commitments, challenge, lifestyle, respect, and/or money. They will have to wear many hats, such as overseeing product and service development, operations, sales and marketing, management, finance and personnel issues.

McKnight reminded women that their customer could be anywhere now, because of technology and the Internet.

Regardless of the type of farming operation, women will become more visible and powerful in the future.

"I believe women sustain the spirit of home and community," King said. "Farmers have a unique relationship to place. They play an important role in anchoring farms to communities. Policymakers will have to do a good job of targeting and including women in the future."

To get more information about women involved in agriculture and the financial aspects of farm operation, contact your County Extension office. Or, browse through UK's women in agriculture web site at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AgEcon/.


Betty King 859-257-7287