Your farmer husband dies or divorces you. Or you and your siblings inherit the family farm. You join the ranks of the country’s 1 million lady landowners.
University of Missouri Extension agriculture business specialist Joe Koenen helps women navigate farm ownership and management through MU Extension’s Lady Landowner series.
Cindy Whitlock of Queen City uses the MU program. A fifth-generation Schuyler County farmer, she raises show sheep on 40 acres. There’s also a menagerie of guineas, peacocks, donkeys, cats, dogs, chickens and “whatever else anybody dumps out on the road.”
Her husband is a country doctor in nearby Lancaster. Both retired from the military before returning to Schuyler County. She wanted a rural lifestyle that revolves around knowing your neighbors, growing your own food and sharing time on the farm with grandchildren.
Whitlock represents many lady landowners who make a living and a life from the land. She was a member of MU Extension’s Downing 4-H Club 51 years ago and now helps as a project leader.
She and her husband follow grandchildren to FFA and 4-H shows during the year. “We haven’t had a vacation that doesn’t involve livestock. We don’t do vacation. We do ‘show-cation,’” she says.
Whitlock says programs like Lady Landowner help her learn about farm finances, agronomy, livestock and more. MU Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Service sponsor the program. No two lady landowner operations are alike, Whitlock says. There are landowners who are livestock or crop producers, and there are those who own the land but don’t farm it themselves.
Farm ownership is complicated, Koenen says. Education on leases, fencing, succession planning and other issues provide help. The program also addresses family relationships within farm operations with assets of land, livestock and machinery.
More women than ever are landowners, Koenen says. Women outlive their partners 87 percent of the time and many want to keep the land to pass on to the next generation.
“Farming is different from a lot of other businesses,” he says. “People want the farm to stay in the family. Oftentimes, emotional ties to the land and a rural lifestyle make it difficult for families to make objective decisions about land ownership and management, and that’s where MU Extension and the Lady Landowner program step in.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture census figures from 2012 show 7 percent of U.S. farmland is controlled by women. Their farms are likely to be smaller—an average of 180 acres—and 76 percent had sales of less than $10,000 in 2012. Women operators average 60.1 years of age and are likely to work off the farm.
For more information about the Lady Landowner program, contact your local MU Extension center, or Joe Koenen at 660-947-2705 or KoenenJ@missouri.edu.