A program designed to empower farm women is seeing increased interest across Ohio as more women take on leadership roles on the farm and look to strengthen their roles in agribusiness.

Annie's Project, now in its 10th year nationwide, is a six-week course that teaches women about problem-solving, record-keeping, decision-making and property ownership issues. Ohio organizers expect the program to reach more than 200 women in 10 sessions statewide this year, said Gigi Neal, an Ohio State University Extension educator and state coordinator of Annie's Project.

"There is a clear need for the program as women want to become stronger leaders within their agricultural businesses," she said. "Times are changing for women as they've become more involved in the business side of their families' businesses in addition to juggling families and outside employment."

More women are running farms and ranches, operating more land and producing more agricultural products, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the most recent data available). Women farm operators have increased 19 percent nationwide since 2002, according to USDA, and of the 3.3 million U.S. farm operators in 2007, more than 1 million (30.2 percent) were women.

In Ohio, 9,127 women were reported as principal operators of farms in 2007, covering some 721,851 acres of land, the USDA census found.

Annie's Project focuses on the five broad areas of agricultural risk management: production, financial, market, human resources and legal risks. The sessions foster problem-solving, record-keeping and decision-making skills in farm women and are designed to be very interactive between the presenters and the participants.

Information presented is tailored to meet the needs of participants in their own geographical areas.

"One of the things that we're seeing is that the program empowers women to become better business partners with their farm enterprises," Neal said. "Women across the state and nation are becoming the leaders and, in some cases, the sole decision-makers of their enterprise, business.

"So having this kind of information helps them to access their property, what risks they need to take, whether with grain production or livestock production, and whether they need to keep their farms, sell it or transfer to another person."

Annie's Project was founded in 2000 by Ruth Hambleton, an Extension educator at the University of Illinois, based on the experiences of her mother, Annie, who worked with her father on the family's farm. It was introduced in Ohio in 2007.

The Ohio courses are taught and coordinated by OSU Extension educators with assistance from local resources statewide throughout the year. Farm Credit Mid-America is a sponsor of the courses.

Upcoming classes are scheduled for the spring, summer and fall.

For more specific course dates and locations, interested parties can contact Christine Kendle, an OSU Extension educator in family and consumer sciences who also is an Annie's Project state coordinator, at 330-339-2337 or by email at kendle.4@osu.edu.

Interested participants can also contact Neal at 513-732-7070 or by email at neal.331@osu.edu.