This year’s USDA Census of Agriculture includes questions about decision-making participation for up to four farm operators. This change is in response to increasing size and complexity of U.S. farms and a recognition that there is a need to better understand women’s roles in farming.
As farms become larger and include multiple families and generations, decision making is increasingly shared among multiple operators, both male and female, and little information about women’s participation in different kinds of decision making is available.
The 2017 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll adapted the Census of Agriculture questions for use in Iowa. The first question asked respondents to report how many men and women, including themselves, family members and hired managers, were involved in decisions for the farm operation.
Overall, respondents reported an average of 2.1 decision makers per farm operation, with a maximum of 15. The average number of men involved was 1.5, and the average number of women was 0.6.
Respondents reported that 97 percent of the primary operators were male and 3 percent were female. For operators 2 and 3, the gender distribution was more balanced, at 48 percent male and 52 percent female and 51 percent male and 49 percent female, respectively. Forty percent of those in the operator 4 position were male, and 60 percent were female.
The data show clear gender-related patterns by decision-making area. Men tended to predominate in crop management and soil and water conservation decisions, while women participated in financial management and estate planning at higher rates than men.
The percentages represent the proportion of farm operators within each gender category who participated in each type of decision, so they do not add up to 100 percent.
For crop-related decisions, men were substantially more likely to participate than women across all operators. For operator 2, 71 percent of men participated in crop decisions, versus 26 percent of women, a difference of 45 percentage points.
Men also participated in nutrient management decisions at a higher rate than women, with percentage point differences as high as 41 points. Decisions about conservation practices showed a similar participation gap as high as 30 points.
Men and women participated in livestock management decisions, marketing decisions and day-to-day decisions at more similar rates. Decision participation was still somewhat skewed toward men, however.
Women participated in record keeping and/or financial management and estate planning or succession planning at substantially higher rates than men. For record keeping, 43 percent of male operator 2 participated in decisions compared to 67 percent of female operator 2, a 24 percentage point difference.
In the realm of estate or succession planning, women clearly predominated.
The Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll is an annual survey of Iowa farmers. Iowa State University Extension, the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Agricultural Statistics Service are partners in the Farm Poll.
The 2017 Farm Poll questionnaires were mailed in February of last year to a statewide panel of 2,080 farmers. Completed surveys were received from 999 farmers.
On average, Farm Poll participants were 66 years old. Because the Farm Poll is a panel survey, in which the same farmers participate in multiple years, participants are somewhat older on average than the general population of farmers. Farm Poll participants’ farms were also somewhat larger than average, with a mean of 432 acres, compared to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture Iowa average of 345 acres.