The Female Farmer Project™

documenting the rise of women in agriculture

ask a farmer: land ownership

Originally published: January 08, 2015

According to the USDA 2012 Census, women represent only 14% of owners and operators of farms in the United States. When women make up 47% of the workforce and 28.7% of non-farm business owners, there seems to be discrepancy too large to ignore.

In an effort to begin to understand this discrepancy, I reached out to the women farmers on social media accounts for the Female Farmer Project, and asked them about land ownership and what was the biggest challenge to land ownership. The most interesting tidbit that I discovered is that a few women in an effort to buy land had to acquire residential loans because they were unable to get agricultural financing.  This is important to note because agricultural loans imply that business is being conducted, and will allow for purchase of farm implements (tractors, etc). 

It’s been over two years since the USDA agreed to settle claims from Hispanic, Black and Women farmers that were denied loans from the USDA due to bias.  The claims resolution is still ongoing and was the result of lawsuits and court cases that had been underway since the late 90’s. Since then the USDA has created loan programs targeted to minorities and women.

A recent story on NPR about Farmer Kate Stillman illustrated perfectly the objections and bias and that a woman often faces to acquire financing for her farm.

I believe we are just scratching the surface of the bigger question of why only 14% of the farms are owned and operated by women. Land ownership is just the beginning.

The Female Farmer Project is fortunate to have a series of great conversations happening on our Facebook page.  The information and advice that is being shared is too valuable to let it slide further and further down on the page.  This series is hopefully a way to capture and preserve the advice, wisdom and conversation.  Thank you to all the farmers that contributed to this conversation!

Do you own the land you farm on? If not, what is your solution? Do you lease? Are you actively seeking land to purchase?What is the biggest obstacle to buying land for you? 

Jean Sargent-rouillard We own our own 30 acres luckily. However, we live in Maine and MOFGA has amazing programs for new /young farmers to help them get started into farming and mentoring etc,

Nika Ridley I have done a variety of creative things over the years. I work full time managing various sustainable farm operations, (meaning, I've done this at a few different farms now) and I was live working on farms before/after work and on my days off. I burnt out pretty quickly. My most fervent dream is to buy land/a home and run a small diverse farm, food/animals, but as a full time single mom and farmer/worker, just getting by, I haven't figured out how to make that happen yet. The cost of land where I live (Sonoma County California) is some of the highest in the country, and with 25 years here, friends, family, professional network, farmers, and restaurants/farmers markets as well as a year round growing season, I'm unwilling to leave the area. So, around here, the cost of land is the biggest issue. Im not able to rent land or do work trade any more, after seeing everyone I know who farmed that way get burned, one way or the other, with all of the financial, time, and energetic investment, and having experienced it myself repeatedly, I just want to wait until I have my own place.

Augustus Gibson We have an indefinite lease on our 3.48 acres with a land owner who loves us and does not want to see us move ever. We scratched our farm out of BlackBerries and IV with a broad fork and hand tools. We have managed three year round farmers market and full share 20 week CSA memberships for three years now. We are now looking at trying to buy 20 to 40 acres depending upon the layout of the land. Property prices here in the Pacific North West are out of our price range. We are considering moving back east to my wife's family and trying to buy a farm there. We have worked so hard to establish ourselves here it will be like trying to start all over. The same issue is buying land with only $40,000 down. We are looking for a transitional farm situation.

Sherry Johnson I do own the land I farm on. I did not grow up on a farm, nor did I inherit one. It was always my dream to own a farm and farm it with my family, it took me until my 50th birthday to be able to afford to sell my home and 2 1/2 acres in the High Desert of Southern California and purchase a 58 acre farm in north eastern Alabama. The biggest obstacle was financial.

Katherine Stewart I just started farming last year and lease land from Sno Valley Tilth, it is a great program for beginning farmers. I would love to own my own land in the next few years, but to do that, acquiring the down payment will be a bit of a challenge but I'm pretty determined.

Melinda Groth I rent all of the land that I crop farm. Some of the land is owned by older generation family members so hope to eventually buy from them, but the rest is owned by non family landlords. The biggest obstacle for me is finding land to rent that I'm able to to offer a competitive price. Since I'm just starting out, my costs per acre are still pretty high so I can't afford to spend top dollar to compete with farmers who are more established. All part of the growing process though!

Mickey Clayton I own my land, but I had to buy it under a residential loan because I wasn't able to get financing for farm land. The work around: Buying rural land in an area that was zoned farm/forest. The downside: because it had fallen out of farm deferral, it will take five years of me making a certain income per acre to get it back under farm deferral. The workaround for the workaround: Part of the land is now under timber deferral, and I silvo-pasture manage my animals.

Shannon Shell Cline We bought 10 acres and are paying the bank to live and grow on it. I hope we can pay it off and leave it for our daughters to work for many years after we are gone. Hoping to be able to afford more soon...

Christina Copeland I lease the land from my mom. She gets 33% of the profits. I am an only child so I will inherit it all anyway. We live on the same land. We have a lease agreement to my LLC to protect it against seizure. I would like to buy more land down the road someday.

Patricia Lara We are paying for our farm 5 acres 3 grand monthly payments in Arlington we rent 20 more acres we farm only about 18 only

Nicole Smth I own 16 acres. Took out a rural loan and am trying to build a small house and get raised beds for gardening. The old barn is almost a pile. So am gathering recycled materials to build a small barn shed combo. The land was a cattle farm 60 years ago. So lots of brush to clear.

Tracy DW Jones I had a 4 acre small holding in Ireland for 9 yrs but for a variety of reasons had to make a move back to UK last yr. I'm writing my MSc organic farming thesis, am a board member of the CSA network uk and a farm committee member of the Vana Trust organic care farm. But I really, really miss having my own land and livestock. I'm just at the stage now where I'm starting to think about my options. I now live in a v affluent area for my husbands job but don't have money to buy my own land again and small pockets of land to rent are quite rare here. If I keep livestock again I can't see that it's feasible to rent land along way from where I live!

Farmer "K" - I am a vegetable farmer in Iowa. This spring will be my fifth year of farming. I am actively seeking to purchase land. The biggest obstacle for me is finding a piece that is the appropriate size within workable distance from my markets. In our area when farms get sold most acreages get sold off in 3-5 acre parcels and the farmland gets sold in larger parcels. This of course is a result of the consolidation of farmland. I am looking for a piece of property that is within 15 minutes of my CSA drop sites that would be around 20 acres with a house and buildings. I'm just in the beginning stages of looking but I'm finding that it is hard to find this particular situation. In addition, in our county you have to have 40 acres to be considered a farm, thus forcing me to look outside our county to neighboring counties for a piece of property. 



Thank you to the participants in the conversation and we’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Judith A year ago

I didn't know about the bias with regards to funding women farmers. While I'm not shocked (discrimination is everywhere) - I thought this was especially short-sighted. Do women farmers have a lobby for congress? They should definitely organize.

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