Being a woman in agriculture could get a little more comfortable thanks to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine. Pingree operated a farm with her family for years before entering politics, yet she hasn’t let her passion for agriculture fizzle. In June she introduced two acts that could change the game for female farmers across the U.S.
Pingree argues that farm tools and equipment are made for the height, weight, and strength of men, which is not suitable for all women in agriculture. As the agriculture industry becomes more diverse, this is an important problem to address, which Pingree is addressing in her Women in Agriculture Act (HR 4425).
Pingree is also fighting for more funding for childcare in rural areas in her Expanding Child Care in Rural America Act (HR 3922). She believes that a lack of access to childcare or the ability to pay it all year holds women back from being in the barns and fields.
Both acts are recently “in committee,” which means that they have just started to be analyzed and have not made it to the full chamber.
Pingree states in her news release that although the number of women farmers is growing, they are still faced with disparities and discrimination, along with having more trouble attaining loans and other resources.
While a bill is not going to solve discrimination, the Women in Agriculture Act aims to amend the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Reorganization Act of 1994. In that measure, the secretary of agriculture was given the power to rearrange the USDA to achieve greater efficiency, in which a stipulation was to remove 7,500 employees from the agency within five years of the act coming into play.
By amending the USDA’s Reorganization Act, Pingree can bring in a Women Farmers and Ranchers Liaison into the agency’s team to better keep women in the conversation.
In 2019 the USDA surveyed farmers across the U.S. to see how many primary and secondary farm operators are women. What they found was that on 51 percent of farms across the U.S. at least one operator either primary or secondary is a woman.
They also found that while 14 percent of farms in the U.S. have a primary woman operator, these farms contributed less than 5 percent of total production across the U.S. in 2019. They also found that 78 percent of the secondary women operators are the wives of the primary operator.
Women are certainly not the most underrepresented population in farming, but Pingree’s work will open doors to even more inclusivity down the road.
Pingree hopes to make agriculture more inclusive by giving women a stronger voice and increasing availability of childcare services. While she has not mentioned any specific things she wants to see made more fit for women in agriculture, I think all of us women in agriculture can think of a few things we would like to see!
If you want to support the passing of either of these acts, you can follow their progress (Bill Track is a great website to do so!) and write in to the committee, or your local legislator, if the acts make their way to the House and Senate floors!
Elizabeth Maslyn is a born-and-raised dairy farmer from Upstate New York. Her passion for agriculture has driven her to share the stories of farmers with all consumers, and promote agriculture in everything she does. She works hard to increase food literacy in her community, and wants to share the stories of her local farmers.